March 8, 2005

Lee, Haggard, and Dylan

The Modulators attended the opening night of Bob Dylan's tour and for a first night it was quite technically well done. Merle had issues with the sound during his set but it was, I think, more a problem for him than the audience. Set changes, etc., were carried off with precision and determination...really, it seemed there would be no extra time allowed for the first two acts.

Amos Lee walked on stage right at 7 performed a pleasing, low key, 30 minute set. I hadn't heard before but Mrs Modulator was familiar with him and looking forward to the performance. And, I can understand why. He has a great voice, good stage presence, writes fine lyrics, and is very easy to listen too. His music has a bit of a country folk feeling that sat a fine tone for the rest of the evening.He was off the stage at 7:30 with no encore allowed though I think the audience response warranted one.

Fifteen minutes later The Strangers played Merle Haggard onto the stage to a rousing, everyone on their feet, welcome. And then the crowd sat back down. A drag....

Merle's performance was strong and entertaining and even in the sit down crowd he still had us wanting to stomp our feet and, yes, also wanting to knock down a few long tall ones. Too bad they weren't available where you could enjoy the music. The 50 minute set was to0 short! Kind of like his songs. As noted above, Merle wasn't happy with the sound. He wanted more volume. Just like he has in his preferred setting of 40 years: bars and dancehalls.

Haggard's memorabilia table was overloaded with red, white and blue "love it or leave it" type of stuff. But, from the songs he sang and the words he spoke it was pretty clear that his version of "love it or leave it" is much more nuanced than what you will hear on talk radio or read on some blogs and mailing lists. His strong performance of That's the News brought a huge rsponse from the crowd. Especially the lines:

Politicians do all the talkin': soldiers pay the dues.
Suddenly the war is over, that's the news.
While he still wasn't going to hold back on hammering the media he was also not cutting any slack to the administration. Merle's voice was strong, the band played well, and all to soon The Strangers were playing Merle off the stage.

Dylan was a bit late. He didn't come out until 9:04..:) and he was gone at 10:49. Too short. But, then, we did get about 3 hours of fine performances from the artists. I shouldn't complain but I will anyway...give me more!

The Lee and Haggard sets almost, but not quite, prepare you for the ambiance. Think Dylan in a Vegas lounge; think the Roy Orbison Black and White Night show that is a regular on PBS; think Dylan run through the chops of the Cowboy Junkies!

Except that you would have been able to understand all the lyrics if Margo Timmons had been singing them. Yep, Bob brought out full gravel for this show. Long time Dylan fans are fully aware of this voice and it is powerful but I strongly suggest that those of you catching shows on this tour spend some time listening to the old and new albums, reviewing the lyrics and tuning your ears. Or bring your Startrek universal translator. Newbies be warned.

His set list was relatively short and, folks, you may not be ready for the new arrangements or, at least, the new sound. Bob endlessly changes what he does and this is a big part of why I go back regularly.

Bob's band for this tour was, last night, excellent and nicely built on the country/folk platform put up by Lee and Haggard. All the players1 were up to snuff and you will enjoy them! Of course, Bob and his players did have the blessing of full volume which was not given to the openers.

The selection was fine if abbreviated. But Dylan tunes are not Haggard length. Bob definitely has lyrics. One song probably has more lyrical words than either of the openers used in their entire sets and the breaks between songs, if they existed at all, were short. So, the 14 songs averaged out to about 7 minutes each of meaty performance. If you are not familiar with Dylan check out the lyrics to the song linked at the bottom of this post.

I'll jump right to the end because the three encore tunes were my favorite part of the performace. The entire audience finally got up and danced! Like a Rolling Stone was, for this night, pretty driving and the entire Watchtower was performed in a subdued, exotically tense mode much like Dave Matthews does the opening verse. Dylan closed with a moving version of Haggard's Sing Me Back Home. We thought Merle would come out and join in that finale but no joy. They wrapped it up and sent us home.

But even the President of the United States
Sometimes must have
To stand naked.

Bob Dylan, It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)

1For the curious Dylan is playing piano this tour.

Posted by Steve on March 8, 2005
follow me on Twitter