"The Hurricane Opal Benefit"
Bob Dylan, Biloxi MS
14 October 1995
My immediate post-concert notes are posted at Bill Pagel's Tours & Setlists site. This is a longer follow-up review that I posted to rec.music.dylan. Click to see the marquee & the cue sheet.
Bill Parr also attended the "Opal Benefit." Read his review, too. But read mine first :-)
From: email@example.com (Joseph Cliburn)
Date: 17 Oct 95
Originally Posted On: rec.music.dylan
Minor Editing: 29 Dec 95
I have seen Bob Dylan in concert only 3 times: 23 Jan 1974
in Memphis TN, 29 Apr 1976 in Mobile AL, and last night (14 Oct 95)
in Biloxi MS. The fact that I hadn't seen Dylan live in 20 years
has been a source of amusement to many of my friends & associates.
But it's all over now, baby blue.
Of course, there are many who will say that I didn't miss much in
the interim, but that's neither here nor there. What I witnessed
last night was well worth the wait. I don't intend to miss another
tour & if work permitted, I'd be off tour-chasing for 2 or 3 days.
I failed to contact several rmd'rs reputed to be in town despite
diligent effort & long distance fees :-( However, Richard Batey
met me in Biloxi & we settled on the all-
you-can-eat at the Isle of Capri. Now, my travellin' companion &
personal bodyguard, Mark, can consume some chow & I have dined with
the infamous fatron, but Richard amazed me. His casino buffet attack
strategy would make the late Ben Ryan proud.
Richard caught the tour in Jacksonville during the hurricane
evacuation. I'm sure he'll post his thoughts when his server comes
back online... I gathered from his post-concert comments that he
thought J'ville was a stronger performance than Biloxi, but you
couldn't prove it by me. The Biloxi concert was one of the most
incredible instances of audience interaction that I have ever
witnessed. Richard was a few rows back & couldn't see what was
transpiring down front. So without further ado, here are my
impressions. I sat in Row 1, Section FL2 (Center), Seat 8, slightly
to Dylan's right between Dylan & J.J.
The opening act was a cajun/zydeco band from New Orleans. A nice
bouncy sound while folks drifted into the hall. There were reportedly
only about 2500 tickets sold (the hall as setup seats 6000). Dylan
contributed about $10,000 of the gate to the Hurricane Opal Relief
Fund. It's sad that there wasn't a bigger crowd & hence more money
raised, but at the same time, Dylan handled this crowd like the old
pro that he is & the crowd size was just about right for what that
old pro had in mind...
Zydeco can only keep my interest so long though (I don't speak French)
& thankfully, the houselights came on the the crew began changing the
stage. I'd have much preferred the bluegrass openers that graced the
Florida shows, but it appears that Dylan is using local talent with
an ear for traditional styles.
One "prop" that I've never heard mentioned in anyone's concert
commentary is the incense. As the road crew came out to clear
equipment & move up Winston Watson's drum kit, they placed white bowls
containing a couple dozen sticks of incense each on top of the speakers
on both sides of the stage & a couple more behind the drums & steel
guitar. I was told my a fellow sitting nearby that it was an expensive
& hard-to-find variety. This was one of the few concerts that I left
smelling better than when I arrived! But I am curious why this has not
been mentioned. Is it a recent addition to Dylan's stage "presence"?
Or am I so out-of-touch that it's so familiar to everyone else that
it doesn't merit mention? I thought it was a neat touch anyway.
And then the crowd began to stamp their feet & the house lights got dim...
Dylan in a shiny red French cuff shirt with large square cuff links,
black undershirt, embroidered black vest, & the infamous tuxedo pants
with small silver conchos, black boots. J.J. in a black pinstripe suit
with black hat; Tony G wore a brown suit with black hat & Bucky had a
strange long red coat & his cap. Winston Watson in white shirt & vest.
(i.e., the band was dressed as it usually is...)
The show began with Drifter's Escape, which now appears to have supplanted
Down in the Flood as the lead-off song in the set. Dylan's approach to
Drifter's Escape isn't what I imagined, but it's a good-rockin' opener.
It's still new to the number one slot & like Crash on the Levee, I think
it will mature over the next few weeks into a kick-ass little tune.
If Not for You and Watchtower followed -- similar to many '95 tapes I've
heard, nothing remarkable except the tightness & consistency that come
from lots of hours playing together.
It was during Watchtower that I noticed a peculiar stage move: on certain
solos, Dylan steps to his right to stand beside J.J. & then the two of
them take off on a tight twin-lead runs that sound distinctly Allmanesque,
posing like the ghost of Duane & Dickey. Around this point, my friend Mark
leaned over & said he'd wished he'd been at the Tampa concert. Adding
Dickey Betts to that mix must indeed have been a guitar fest!
Which brings me around to a point. Fred Schulte, writing in the Ft.
Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel about the "Edge" rehearsal show, mentioned that
Dylan "seemed hell-bent on remaking himself as an electric guitar hero.
At times he succeeded ... at other times his guitar licks tended to be
raucous, repetitive, and unsure." There were a few repetitive/unsure
moments in Biloxi, but on the whole, the performance was amazing. In
several instances, Dylan improvised himself into a corner & I wondered
how he'd pull himself out of it, but every time, he came up with a
turnaround. Next thing I'd know, he & J.J. would be cooking back off on
a run filled with those tight 3rds & 5ths that drive Southern audiences
So by the end of Watchtower, I'm still sitting in the front row, figuring
that the show won't be much different from the others recently. And then
they started playing Positively 4th Street. The song ended with Dylan
getting a healthy "amen" from the audience to virtually every line. A
brooding bluesy rendition of It Takes a Lot to Laugh followed. Here again,
some nice guitar work by Dylan & a prolonged closing harp solo made for
a memorable piece.
There appeared to be a healthy contingent of deadheads present & Silvio
got an excellent response as the closer to the 1st electric set. The
first acoustic number, Tangled Up in Blue, created a nice emotional melt-
down for the audience & since our sound was mostly monitor mix, the sing
along refrain was clearly audible. And then the treat of the evening:
Gates of Eden.
Dylan was concentrating on this song, a lyrically complex one that
doesn't show often enough in his setlist. I'm down in the front row
singing along & totally engrossed when I glance over to see J.J. smiling
at me. He proceeded to lip-synch a verse for me, followed by a thumbs up
& a wink. This sort of connection between the band & folks in the
audience was continual, and as we soon discovered, extremely powerful.
Toward the end of Gates of Eden, an attractive young woman wearing a
white dress appeared down front near us & lifted her dress to the stage,
revealing an interesting selection of undergarments. J.J. was naturally
impressed. So was everyone else nearby ;-)
Through all of this (J.J. about to fall out laughing & trying to alert
Tony & Bucky) Dylan churned out those crazy lyrics without much more
than a lifted eyebrow in Jackson's direction. One has to wonder what
goes through his mind...
Don't Think Twice was the familiar version that's graced Dylan's
acoustic sets frequently. It was well-done, featured some nice twin
acoustic lead runs, ended with a harp solo. Another big audience
On the "What is Dylan's physical condition" front, I noticed him
doing some serious neck stretches when he changed guitars. Otherwise,
he looked like a guy who's spent most of his life on the road, but
was much fitter than I expected. A bit tired, maybe, but definitely
into the show & the crowd.
By now a fair number of folks, mostly young (younger than me, which
isn't difficult) were congregating on the floor down front. It was
a matter of stand at the rail & boogie or go home from then on!
Jokerman opened the 2nd electric set. More chances for twin electric
lead runs. More singalong choruses & lots of dancing down front.
In The Garden was rendered forcefully & danceably. The stage press
was full-on & then (when he healed the blind & the crippled) a
young man who had been in a second-row wheelchair was passed to
the front & supported by a group of cute girls about his age. What
a lucky guy :-)
Obviously 5 Believers rocked. The crowd was into a full-tilt frenzy
down front & I believe that had Dylan refused his usual generous
encore set, he'd have been culpable for inciting a riot. Did I ever
hear anyone say that Bob Dylan ignores his audience? Hell, Bob Dylan
was *controlling* this little crowd of lathered rock'n'roll freaks
on a Saturday night on the Mississippi beach! He knows just where
to touch you, honey, & how you like to be kissed. Whoa!
During the 1st encore (the Grateful Dead's West L.A. Fadeaway), a
couple of young women gained the stage. Neither was an especially
good dancer & they ended up comically between J.J. & Dylan trying
to light a cigarette with a lighter someone tossed up to them.
Two guys got on stage & walked across to touch Dylan. In both cases,
they were summarily hustled away. The girls, though, kept dancing.
They left after the song.
The second (acoustic) encore, The Times They They Are A-Changin'
ended with another tremendous harp solo.
A second mike for J.J. was added before the final encore (Rainy Day
Women #12 & 35). More than Dylan, J.J. led the crowd in the inevitable
refrain with Dylan whipping out the verses. The chant-singing of
"everybody must get stoned" was deafening. At the beginning of the
song the aforementioned woman-in-white reappeared at the apron of
the stage & pitched her panties up to J.J. The heroic sideman immediately
jumped forward & hoisted the girl to the stage. She was a much
better dancer than the others & was intent on demonstrating to all
present that those were her drawers on the stage floor. She remained
onstage throughout the number & was joined by a couple of blonde
hippie-type females who slinked around Tony.
Throughout this chaos, Dylan delivered his lines & played without
a glitch. There was a great moment when Dylan turned to see what was
going on with J.J. & the woman-in-white flashed him. What a grin!
Here I have another "is this so common & am I so backward" question:
Dylan & his band took a bow after each encore. I noticed a certain
stiff marionette-like move that each made. I might attribute it to
Dylan's legendary back problems (and he does twist his bows to the
right) but everyone took a little machine-man bow. After the 2nd
encore, Dylan made a few robot-like gestures (hands extended like
those photos on the tile roof in GBS V1-3 book) as he walked offstage.
Is this his usual bow? The final bow was a series of puppet jerks,
almost stylized, after which our man from Minnesota headed straight
for the equally stylized woman-in-white. The review in the newspaper
described her as "shapely" (an understatement) & said that he gave
her a "full-body press hug." (an overstatement -- J.J. was close by
& drooling ;-)
And then the lights went on & the crowd that had moments earlier
been whipped into an enormous communal mass of ectoplasm began to
disperse into the night & fog. The black bus with matching motorcycle
trailer pulled into the same blackness, still on the road headed
for another town. I'm glad you can still do it, Bob. You're real
good at it. Thanks for playing the show. Take care of yourself.
Sooo, after 20 years, I finally went to see Bob Dylan live.
I was impressed, but I knew I was going to be. A lot of folks who
were present were prepared for the worst & they were totally blown
away. I received much more than I expected for my entertainment
dollar :-) It was a rock'n'roll show. A damned fine rock'n'roll
If Bob Dylan is scheduled to play a concert near you, you owe it to
yourself to go. Don't think about it. Do it. You'll be glad you did.
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