|Bob Dylan |
2 November 96
Pilgrim's Digress (More Travel Notes):
2 November 1996, 1:30 AM - The message light is flashing for the refugee in my motel room. "Call your wife," the desk clerk says. (I'd throw in something about a tiny man & a soldier but that would be too much.) My wife says that a rendevous can be arranged back in Meridian, cutting 4 hr from my driving time. "See if you can find a ticket for Birmingham," she suggests.
By 9 AM, I am heading south thru Okalona wishing I had a copy of "Ode to Ode (Clothes Line Saga)" to play on my defunct truck stereo but listening to Michael Feldman's "What Do You Know?" instead, broadcasting from, of all places, Birmingham. A ticket-groveling note has been left under a windshield wiper on the most Dylan vehicle I've ever seen & my newfound "But to live outside the law" bumpersticker is in place.
A car change in Meridian at Noon found me piloting our mini-van up I-59 toward Birmingham. No worries about the radiator hoses & the cassette works, but the other riders (wife & daughter) are in the "play the radio" faction & I'm out-voted. Can't find my favorite team's ballgame, either. I think of John Bauldie, another guy who loved his team & keep on keepin' on. By Tuscaloosa, I'm the only one awake & all I can think is "Make it to Birmingham and SLEEP." By Bessemer, I'm seeing four sets of white lines, 80 moons & SLEEPING midgets...
At 3:30 PM we are ensconced in a mondo-luxo hotel south of Birmingham, charging it up to the gymnastics sponsors. I make note to insist that our next international meet must coincide with Dylan's next European tour ;-) The women decide to go to the nearest mall (naturally) & after calling TicketLine to discover that "about 100 seats are left" in the nosebleed section but are unavailable by phone, I go back to sleep.
I'm awakened at 5:30 when we go to eat. Nice thick steak. Thanks again, sponsors! My wife -- yes, Christine, she detests Dylan -- tells me in no uncertain terms that I need to at least go by the Alabama Theatre & see if a ticket is available or she'll never hear the end of it.
So off I go...
2 November 96 - Alabama Theatre, Birmingham AL:
Following the directions given by a very nice lady on the phone, I find the Alabama Theatre. (Actually, if you can't see the marquee from the Interstate, you are blind...) I pull up next to a policeman to ask for directions to the parking lot & spy Rhett.
"What are you doing here?" "Never mind. Any tickets?" "A guy on the corner has 4th row." "I'm gonna go park... Cop it for me."
Back from the parking lot, I meet him & get a 4th row ticket at face value! Wow! Thanks, Rhett. I didn't see you again that evening, but you are an honest guy, even if I ain't your father ;-) This time there are numerous faces I know from the party in Tupelo. Much explaining to do. Christine, sitting on the lobby sofa, is not surprised. "I knew you'd show up."
The Alabama Theater is a 1920s vintage movie house, replete with thick seats & arabesque embellishments. Fine acoustics negate the need for over-loud sound. In a word, fine.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd holds no allure for me at all, but I sit through "Shame Shame" & head back to the lobby to visit. When I hear KWS start his Purple Haze licks, I know his set is about done & back in I go. Christine introduces me to Bill Pagel, who I must've walked past 3 or 4 times in Tupelo. No time to talk. Hi, bye, enjoy the show.And the time was right for the music to begin...
Bob's wearing the same white straw cowboy hat as last night & one of the tackiest silver suits this side of the Grand Ole Opry. No hats on the men with hats, except for Garnier who has his ubiquitous beret. (Is he bald like me, or am I just hopeful?) Incense fumes behind the drum kit. No harmonicas tonight again.
1st Electric Set:
"Down In the Flood (Crash on the Levee)" - Surprise, surprise! I thought that this was "on" in Tupelo. It's right on in Birmingham. People on the sides of the floor are up & dancing. Center section is up & then back down into those plush seats.
"If You See Her, Say Hello" - Oh boy! This one is gonna be a special night! Dylan uses alternate lines:
"We had a falling out like lovers often do, And the way she said goodbye, it chilled me thru & thru"
Then two obnoxious drunks plop down in the seats to my right & begin to talk incessantly & loudly. They ask for a pipe & I whisper that I don't have a book of poems. It's lost on them. They begin shoutingfor "Hurricane." A low point in an otherwise excellent evening. I can accept the stage dancers as a necessary evil, but the irrelevant talkers... bumMER :-(
"AATW" - So what else can you show me, Bob? Hey, wait, y'all are really cookin' tonight!
"Every Grain of Sand" - This one started very very tentatively, as if the band was getting the new drummer down in the groove. But it built to an absolutely incredible emotional finish. One muffed line in the 2nd verse made my scribble sheet:
"The sun beat down to light the way Of time to light the way."
With a sheepish eyebrow punch from the Man to indicate that he knew that we knew that he knew something... Rough sketch? Maybe, but what a treat! Did you know that Rhett & I were trying to pick this one together at the party last night, Bob?
"I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" - Lotsa heavy Bucky Baxter steel gave this one the country flavor it deserves. There are couples dancing near me. This one is working really well, Bob. Really well.
"Silvio" - This didn't seem as "dead" to me as it did last night in Tupelo. The solos weren't quite extended & while I'm sure Jerry smiled, I didn't see his apparition in the air like last night.
No comparison to Tupelo. This is stellar! Perhaps it's the better acoustical environment or maybe the drummer is better tuned in. Or maybe it's just one night vs the next. Or maybe it's the weather or something like that... Same backdrop & lights are shown, except that the peculiar faces are absent. They must be used only for "Masters of War."
"Tangled Up In Blue" (a) - An excellent performance, not as good as Biloxi last year, IMO, but a real crowd-pleaser. Bucky & J.J. are playing well in the gaps between Dylan's licks.
"My Back Pages" - Absolutely fine! I think the last two verses got switched, but who cares. The band is clicking more & more & more & more & more.
"Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" - Bucky's mandolin fills make this old warhorse trot and prance. The band is smiling & even when Baxter drops his pick, there isn't a gap.
2nd Electric Set:
A certain rmd'r of the female persuasion instigates the stage rush & I decide that I might as well join it. Now I'm about 8 feet from Dylan, staring right at those blue eyes & grinning like a possum...
"God Knows" - God knows I still miss Winston's machine gun roll when the band kicks in, but he's not here & I am. All of a sudden, the stage is filled with dancers. I can't see Bob. Now I can. Now I can't. There he is, framed between the legs of a shapely girl...why didn't I bring my camera? :-) This is a bit extreme, but the stage is low. Bob seems to dig it, except that at the end of the song, the crowd goes for him. We're back on the floor shouting, "Don't hurt him." The crew clears the stage, thank goodness, but for this song, it was "Bob plays Shindig."
The players must've thought this was getting way cool, because the crowd was then treated to a minute or two of an unidentifiable instrumental noodle that had several of us wondering if we were aboutto witness something truly unusual. But it was just a tease...
"I'll Remember You" - When Bob Dylan sings this one while looking into your eyes from less than the length of a sheet of plywood away you gotta believe it. (Okay, he was looking into a woman's eyes, but there were about 6 or 8 of us who were about to go into terminal bliss down front...)
A fellow hops onto the stage & hands a slip of paper to Dylan. There'sa nod. A request? Who knows? I hope it was, because everyone on that cape of the stage seemed mightily pleased.
"Stuck Inside of Mobile (With The Memphis Blues Again)" - Bob Dylan took this one higher than I thought possible. The guitar solo easily went 7 minutes. My smile is frozen. John Jackson's smile is frozen. Bob is smiling, posing, camel-walking. The jam goes one way, back again, somewhere else entirely. Not one single foray onto a bad fret. Dylan & J.J. are doing twin leads, trading solos, trading rhythm chunks, looking at each other like "why stop now?" But they had to stop... Damn!
The guy standing next to me says "exceptional" which about sums it up. If the Englishman had been there, he'da certainly said "Fab!"
"Highway 61 Revisited" - Well, I complained that this was perhaps a little too basic last night in Tupelo, right? Wrong. It's the perfect format for some more excellent pickin'. This one rocks. More stage dancing (which is getting old, folks, your 15 minutes of fame are about used up). I start shouting for "Ballad of Donald White" for the acoustic encore, but I don't expect it and I don't get it...
"Forever Young" (a) - Major audience meltdown. J.J. trying to find the harmony vocals and, well, succeeding more often than not. Good lead picking. The houselights are turned to the audience at a couple of points.
"Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" - Another major sing-along. Puffs of smoke hit the stage. No high fiving from Bob tonight, just the "wild & crazy guy" pantomime & a big, smug smile. He knew it worked.
A high school kid walked by me saying "I was standing that close to Bob Dylan!" A pretty blonde saw me working on my scribble sheet & asked what "that great first song" was. A short woman in a leopard-skin pillbox hat got the cue sheet. Many were unable to move, just stood there while the crew began tearing the mikes down... But I had to move. Bye, Bob. Thanks again.
Final final comments:
Had I not seen this show, I'd've said that Tupelo was as good as it got. I was wrong. As good as it gets is always the last Dylan concert you've seen. Saturday night in Birmingham was, though, probably one of those rare nights when *almost* everything clicked perfectly & the things that didn't click *perfectly* worked even better than that.
This turned out to be a special weekend. Those who know me well know that it almost didn't happen at all. Special thanks to all the wonderful Dylan fans I met on the road & to my wife, who may detest Bob Dylan but realizes how much I enjoy his music. And very special thanks to Rhett for finding those tickets on the street!
Well, my daughter placed 4th all around at her gymnastics competition on Sunday, even after being bumped into a higher age group. And when we got home, a special friend had mailed my wife the "guitar pick that Kinky Friedman used when he wrote 'Waitret, Please Waitret.'" It's supposed to be lucky, which we can't help it if we are.
Can it get any better than this? Well, my alma mater rallied in the 4th quarter to win it's seventh straight football game...