Monday, November 30, 2009

Angel in the Garden

Angel in the Garden. I dig the harp, I could hear it play celestial notes. I like the flowers. Angels should play harps and sit on roses. Almost earth angel, but not quite, a good thing. I like the roses are made of stone, everlasting and never wilting and yet we can see the Fall colors, late Autumn. Something is always fleeting about Autumn. You can imagine the lushness of Summer, the insects and birds who keep this Angel company. Memories are like dreams, only in your head. I love you, Angel, forever in this Garden, playing the Harp even for those who cannot see you.


Another solstice is just around the corner. Solstice, as in Sol, as in Sun. Saw this in this garden, the classic symbol of Sol, in a garden, a stone thing, part of a path. I think there was a stars, moon. Luna. But I like this Sol. I liked it closed up, looks ancient, fell from the ruins, then the whole picture, the autumn leaves, signs of winter. In search of the solstice until it is found, the days keep getting longer.

Uno: The Black & Whites

The Black & Whites is a new show of Graphic Work by Uno, who hails from Cleveland but has lived in Jersey City for six years. Hosted by the Fish with Braids Gallery, the show has a subtitle, “Featuring The Woman Freedom Fighters & Artists,” and consists of images of famous women digitally reproduced in stark, densely black lines with geometric backgrounds. Little to no gray is apparent; like the title of the show indicates, the images are rendered in simple contrasts, black and white. They reminded me of ink sketches but with broad lines that mimic photography (from which these images are inspired).

Some artists can talk about nothing but their work and never stop chattering. Other artists are more guarded and tight-lipped. Uno was the latter. He was soft-spoken and shy. I tried several questions and although polite, he was pretty much non-responsive to most of my various queries. I took a pause and asked, was there a problem.

“I have trouble trusting people,” he said.

“It’s just a blog, dude,” I tried to reassure him.

A tall man, bearded, with a long, thick mien of dreadlocks, wrapped like a turban atop his head. Quiet and dignified, wearing a top coat and wool scarf. The evening his show opened, the Friday after Thanksgiving, was the first that could be officially called wintry. The gallery is a small space whose inadequate heating was made even more inadequate by the fact the door kept opening and closing as more and more folks crowded into its cramped quarters.

Opening-night attendees were mostly the familiar faces of the local art crowd. They kept their jackets on as they drank wine from plastic glasses, enduring the intermittent blasts of gelid air that accompanied each new visitor.

Uno tells me this particular show is about “Iconography... iconic images of women, freedom fighters and artists.” I had to admit that the inclusion of Amy Winehouse baffled me. How can you put her in the same elevated pantheon as Billie Holiday, one of the greatest artists in the history of the world. I guess that’s my problem.

“These are icons in my mind,” he says. “They’re personal icons.”

“What’s the difference between Icons and Celebrity?”

He winces at the word celebrity. “Celebrity is transitory. These are women who have made lasting contributions. They will leave a legacy.”

Well I guess one might say that Queen Latifah is a celebrity, but she’s been around a while and has done a lot of work people respect and admire, so I can accept that she is a contemporary icon.”

“I saw her in Cleveland, in the late 80s, before the movies or the TV show, when she had just come out as a rapper. I’ll never forget that performance.”

In addition to Lady Day, there was Nina Simone and Sara Vaughan, Dorothy Dandrige and a naked Pam Grier, which Uno said was based on an old publicity photo. This image was about 20 years before Jackie Brown, the Tarintino Film. We see a sexual revolution free-love Grier at the height of her sex symbol status as the soul goddess of Blaxploitation Cinema. The depiction invoked the eroticism of both the actress and the era. A few names among the 13 women required a google, resulting in some fascinating entries, such as Kara Walker, a Macarthur Grant winner, who is an artist working in black & white silhouettes.

Then there was Angela Davis, famous black militant who in 1980 ran as the Vice Presidential candidate of the American Communist Party (Gus Hall was the Communist Candidate for President, naturally) against Ronald Reagan. Davis was not just a well known 60s radical by then—she was granted political asylum by Cuba at one point in the early 70s—but she took a hard-left stance during the height of the post-Vietnam phase of the Cold War as the majority of the U.S. population shifted rightward. This quixotic stunt got a lot of attention at the time, but it also was partially a personal vendetta. While Governor of California in the late 60s, Reagan ordered Davis removed from a professorship at a state school, which led to a court case that Davis eventually won.

"I remember her, from the civil rights era, with her big afro,” says Uno. “Her brother also was a Defensive Back for the Cleveland Browns at the time. I liked that about her too.”

Each image had a sort of logo of a growling panther. Uno said that “Pantha,” which I reckon is the idiomatic pronunciation of panther, is his brand. On one wall was a description of what Pantha means, a message of the universality of all people, a symbol of our common humanity.

Well, Uno, a nice guy, wasn’t that talkative, at least with me. The art talked for itself. I liked the directness of the images. They were iconish enough to be iconography. The prints, in poster sizes as well as smaller, card-sizes, are now being sold at the Fish with Braids Gallery (201-451-4295) at 521 Jersey Avenue. Owner of the Gallery, Uta is the creative force behind Creative Grove (and the creator of the
Jersey City Beer Stein), the Friday Art Market which is expected to run through the winter months. Uta will be featuring other shows by local artists on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. At least I was able to get a picture with the dream, five syllable caption: Uta & Uno!

For more Fish With Braids Gallery info click here

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New Sign

City worker erecting a Stop sign on that short cut from Jersey Ave to Cole Street.

Arborcide on Christopher Columbus Drive

Pruning our sidewalk trees, I thought as I strolled by. I’m always glad to see our city government willing and able to enhance our quality of life. Remove a couple of dead branches makes things safer.
But those branches didn’t seem dead at all. The autumn leaves still had a week or so before the golden turned to brown. I’m not a tree surgeon, but for some reason I seemed to remember that tree pruning is conducted in the Spring. Two policemen, a couple of trucks, a lot of noise—seems like a pretty big ruckus for a simple pruning. Wait, that’s a wood chipper! This isn’t a pruning! It’s ARBORCIDE!

Sadly, it’s sanctioned Arborcide. A call to the city government, Department of Parks & Forestry. I was informed the trees were ordered destroyed as part of the plan to widen Christopher Columbus Drive. I remember reading something about this, but I paid it no mind, never thinking it would cost some of our very precious and very few trees. I supported the bill that would make Christopher Columbus more narrow and return its original name, Railroad Avenue.

Excuse me. I thought that in this century, our nation wanted to both reduce greenhouse gases and our dependence on foreign oil? Wasn’t building a light rail and improving the PATH system part of achieving that goal? A way to eliminate automobiles, at least reduce the need for every citizen to own an automobile? Urban sprawl, green spaces, etc. etc. Shouldn’t we be discouraging more cars and traffic? With all those over-priced “luxury” condos down by the waterfront (and elsewhere) opening up, the new residents will be expected to drive. Can’t have a new population of the rich people if they can’t have their cars and we won’t be able to fit all them cars if the sidewalks are tree-lined and pedestrian friendly! Arborcide is always justifiable in the Domain of the Developers!

Monday, November 23, 2009

No Number One

Everyone who has passed this way, Coles & Newark, knows why this sign adorns the back of Pinos. Panhandlers station themselves on the north side of Newark, harass pedestrians and the customers of Goody’s Chinese Food and the Paradise bodega, and use this spot as their toilet. I saw this many times. Nothing quite makes your night as having to cross in the middle of the street carrying your take out dinner in order to avoid the addict pissing behind Pinos. The panhandlers are usually benign, but sometimes, when they’re particularly high or drunk, they get belligerent. They seem to get chased away, but they always come back. Now there’s an official warning. No Urinating. Will it be heeded or ignored? Yes, we live in a city where people have to be reminded not to go to the bathroom in public. I wonder though, does the sign imply number two is permitted? And, can people urinate on the sidewalks by the those buildings that have no sign? Guess we’ll have to check the municipal codes to determine these violations. For now, one hopes the No Urination sign is more effective than Jersey City’s No Parking signs.

Dylan in Harlem (Pictures by Tina)

This photo gallery is by Tina, a woman I met at the Dylan show in Harlem. For my comprehensive review of Dylan & His Band at the United Place Theater (11/19/09) click here.

This photo gallery is by Tina, a woman I met at the Dylan show in Harlem. For my comprehensive review of Dylan & His Band at the United Place Theater (11/19/09) click here

Bob Dylan & His Band at the United Place Theater (11/19/09)

For the photo gallery of Dylan in Harlem (Pictures by Tina), click here.

My first Bob Dylan concert was in 1975. I’ve seen him dozens of time since, often going to multiple shows during a tour. Saw him a bunch of times in the 90s, but took a few years off this century. My last show was when Time Out of Mind was only a couple of years old; he had not yet switched to keyboards. No real reason why. Maybe the shows happened to be less convenient schedule wise when he came around. I just didn’t feel the need to make an effort. He’s always great in concert, don’t get me wrong. I guess other things were going on in my life. I just didn’t feel a compelling need to hear All Along the Watch Tower for the umpteenth time.

Of course, I’m still a die-hard Dylan fan, over the top and have been one since I was in grammar school which was about a year before I went to the first show, which by the way wasn’t just the first Dylan show, or also one of my first Rock concerts, ever, like third. The difference was that the other concerts were with my much older brother. The Rolling Thunder Dylan show was just me and my high school buddies; one of the first times I was allowed out of the house without adult supervision. We may have lied that there was some older brother involved. We took the bus to Port Authority and went to Madison Square Garden. I listen to Dylan all the time, have always kept current with his new material (and occasional bootleg) and have been a constant commentator on the Dylan news group soon after Al Gore invented the internets. Do some googling, you’ll find my sometimes whacked out posts.

My buddy David called me up last week said he had a ticket for the Dylan show at the United Palace Theater, of all places located up on 175th Street. Reports of the gigs on the latest incarnation of the Never Ending tour had been quite good and the old man has been mixing up the set list more than usual, including a couple of rare songs and half the set being made up of new material (which is what I consider the last four albums, roughly 97-09 to be). Plus Dion was opening up, “Celine Dion is opening up for Bob Dylan?” asked David’s wife. I had never heard of this theater, and have rarely been that far up Manhattan Island. Yet, I jumped at the chance to see Dylan again. The idea of venturing so far uptown (David & Monica live in the west village) had the feeling of adventure. The joke was, is there time to get a permit to carry, or the last time I was up there was for an eight ball and I was the one who stayed in the car. How wrong I was. What a fun, safe and funky neighborhood, real Latin vibe, just like my beloved Jersey City. A 24 hour check cashing, “instant loan” place, a pharmacy called St. Jesus that had a walk up Lotto, and this “Dominica” chicken rotisserie place, right across from the United Palace Theater, where I had one of the five best roasted half chickens ever and the best rice and beans. This joint was fun and lively—real neighborhood eatery—and inexpensive. The total bill was under forty bucks! I’m going back uptown just to eat here again.

The United Palace Theater was one of those Movie Palaces built in the 20s, just like the Beacon or our very own Leow’s. At some point in the 20th Century, this theater was bought by Reverend Ike, who broadcast his famed “the only color is green” preacher shows. I had the feeling that unlike the other inner city, movie palaces that had to be restored after years of disrepair and neglect, this venue has always been kept up. That glitzy 1920s faux opulence, rich with ancient Egyptian and Greek motifs is in full splendor in the lobby and throughout the theater. Acoustics were excellence, the ambiance fun and cozy. The only complaint and it is a serious one and perhaps a code violation, there is only one restroom in a theater that seats more than 3,000. The religious organization that Reverend Ike founded still owns the theater and holds regular services, but also rents it out to promoters. Reverend Ike died in July, but I had to look that up again just to make sure because the Lobby is filled with huge portraits of the money loving motivational preacher, quotes by the good Reverend in immense lettering on the walls—I’m a person not an opinion! Jazz-age opulence, statues of goddesses and roman soldiers, and insanely big pictures of Reverend Ike. The late Reverend’s name still adorns the marquee and amusingly, underneath this marquee, which is as wide as the grand theater—a plastic banner, like an after thought—Bob Dylan & His Band. Needless to say, the ambiance was bizarre on every level—a perfect setting for a Bob show!

Anyone reading this remember—if you ever go to see Bob Dylan, get there early and make a point of catching the opening act. They are always great and Dion upheld that fine tradition. A casual set, a five piece band that included keyboards and sax, got a 50s groove going and one of the musicians announces Dion, who comes strutting out in his trademark cap, wearing jeans. He looks very healthy for 70, and starts singing Ruby Baby, which apparently he had a hit with, then proceeds through a rocking set of Rock & Roll classics, including Rave On, Shake, Rattle & Roll, and Summer Time Blues—I love this stuff. I have rarely been blessed to hear these sacred anthems performed by someone with the authenticity of Dion. He is of the era. The guy was on Tour with Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper when they died in the plane crash—a show a teenaged Bob Dylan saw two days before that plane went down. After a bluesy Amazing Grace, Dion goes into Abraham, Martin & John, then King of The Streets of New York, his sort of comeback hit in the 80s—some members of the audience really whooped and hollered for this one—and then the expected, The Wanderer and Runaround Sue. It lasted about 30 minutes and for a moment or two everyone there got a glimpse of what it was like, the old style Rock & Roll. It was genuine. It was like it was back in the day from someone who was performing back in the day. Dion bridged the gap—one of the few to do so—between two strains of Rock & Roll, Doo Wop and the blues R&B country mash up of the Sun Sessions, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, et al. The crowd gave him a standing ovation. He said it was an honor to be here, that he grew up right around here, and struts off the stage. Cheering abounds. Applause roars forth.

Dion, after splitting with the Belmonts, was signed by Columbia Records, the label’s first Rock & Roll act, in 1960, about a year or so before Dylan was signed, and they had a mutual mentor in John Hammond. I’ve decided to pick up some Dion. A lovely young women in the seat next to mine asked me who was that? I explained what I knew—Good Lord, doesn’t anybody remember him? She said he was great. Not bad for a guy pushing 70! Following a 30 minute intermission, the whacky introduction that he’s been using for a while now, the Columbia Recording Artist, Bob Dylan is introduced. A thundering, hard rocking, blues-tinged Gonna Change My Way Thinking explodes. The lyrics and arrangement seem similar to the duet he performed with Mavis Staples, his only contribution to the Tribute to the Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan album.

His voice is harsh. It’s the last date of his Autumn leg of his 2009 edition of the Never Ending Tour. The phlegmatic death rattle that has been increasingly apparent since the mid-90s astounded me. Oh, I guess I’ve heard it before, and on the recent Together Through Life and The Heart of Christmas, the roughness nearly dominates.

At this show, no nearly about it. The voice is shot, and I guess being the last gig of the tour didn’t help it much. The “new” voice takes some getting used to, perhaps even tolerance. His organ playing though, that was mind blowing. He’s a great organ player. The sound of the organ I associate with the Hammond Organ, but I do not know what specific keyboard he was using. He mainly plays riffs, filling in the spaces. Opening with one of his Gospel numbers—especially the hard-edged Gonna Change My Way of Thinking—was well served by his organ technique playing, drawing on gospel music inspired inflections—Booker T comes to mind. The opening verse, which he used as the closing verse as well, seemed nearly identical to the original album cut and when I heard his growl intone: “Gonna Change my Way of Thinkin, Make myself a Different Set of Rules,” accompanied by the dramatic Gospel organ frills, my previous context for Dylan shows had an instant re-boot. It took me a while to identify the next song, “The Man in Me,” which I also never heard him play before.

If you go to see Dylan, or have gone back to see him again, you by now know you have to expect that most of the songs will not be like they are on record. Every tour he re-jiggers arrangements and deliveries. One of the games so to speak is to try and guess the song from the opening chords, and I have a decently astute ear if I do say so myself, and can usually guess the song before the opening lyrics. I did so most of this concert, except this time. I was in seventh heaven! My favorite Dylan concert moments are when I can’t guess the song! The Big Lebowksi number was one of these moments. Donnie Herron was playing a trumpet, Dylan left the keyboard and took center stage, and it took me a while a few lines before I recognized “Takes a Woman like you, to get through to the Man in Me.” Dylan is dressed in black jacket, with about dozen buttons and a wide brimmed grey Panama Hat. I’ve never seen him this animated, especially when he is on the center stage, just him in the spotlight with a microphone and his harmonica.

Rarely have I seen Dylan without a guitar, and either acoustic or electric. That guitar troubadour image was his stage persona for 40 some odd years. Standing behind the keyboard is quite a change too—in the rare instances when he did play keyboard at a concert, it was sitting behind a piano—and for me, that’s only been in footage—either singing the invectives of Ballad of a Thin Man during the 66 tour or when the Born Again Dylan testified When He Returns during the Gospel Year (s). With only the harp and the mike, the ones I recall are the Renaldo & Clara leg of the Rolling Thunder Tour and the Street Legal (Budokan Tour). Theatrics were more a part of the former, with the mime-white face painting and those ultra-energetic performances of Isis. The dude’s pushing 70, so energetic might have to be a qualified term, but he’s never seemed so totally animated. His still skinny form sways while his head remains rigid so his mouth remains in place by the microphone, his right hand holding the harmonica, his left gesticulating with an open palm. Sometimes he drops the mike into a jacket pocket so he can gesture with both hands by his side. Sometimes the palms are opened, other times he points as an emphasis to the lyric. It is almost like he is physically interpreting the song as much as singing it.

As his voice has grown increasingly cracked and worn on Time Out of Mind, Love & Theft, Modern Times and Together Through Life, Dylan’s song writing increasingly revolved around a singular persona, a man wandering since Love Sick, sometimes embittered, sometimes accepting and whimsical, always observing, but Just Walkin, as he sings in Just Talkin, which came later in the set. The rough-hewn vocal aside, Dylan seems very jovial as he sings the Lebowski Anthem, then goes into Beyond Here Lies Nothin, the band rocking out on the Samba-like tempo. “Broken Windows Made of Glass.” This song invokes a border-town ambiance, might be the last stop on the line but it’s better than what is “the mountains over the pass.” The narrator has wound him just like you and you feel compelled to listen to him, wizened voice and all. No matter how startling Dylan’s voice has become, it certainly works well for his new song. The crowd applauds widely for the first tune from Together Through Life—don’t forget it debuted at number one, a bona fide hit!—and this new song rocks out.

He has the crowd, they’re ready for anything. Dylan saunters back to the keyboard for a rousing Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine), following pretty closely the Before the Flood arrangement. “Time will Tell, just who has fell, and who’s been left behind, when you go your way and I go mine, “ his voice croaks, unable to hold and stretch out the notes and syllables, more of a gasp with the word mine, but shoot, he rips into the organ riffs as good as ole Garth Hudson did back in 74. Sexton is cutting Robertson in our memories. The conversation the guitar and organ is having is simply riveting. The audience is standing, stomping and shaking with delight and erupting with appreciation. Sexton is simply one of the greats and his understanding of the Dylan song book is uncanny. Dylan has played with some of the greatest guitarists who ever plugged into an amplifier—sometimes with timeless results (Mike Bloomfield), other times not so memorable (Jerry Garcia)—but the chemistry between Charlie and Bob is something else. Musically, it is like beholding a miracle. Dylan’s vibrant (albeit limited) organ riffs goad Sexton into some intense and tasteful playing. Yeowwwwwwwwwweeeeee!

The only Dylan guitar moment of the evening came next, with My Wife's Home Town and again, the voice worked best on the new numbers. The arrangement has changed a bit from the recorded version, into a serious Delta blues. Dylan seems to be holding the guitar kind of funny—the stage hands bring it to him, and the fret board instead of at a 3:00 O’clock angle, it is more at a 1:00 O’clock Angle. I wonder if that is for a playing effect—I think I’ve seen that in photographs, or is it because of the rumored back problems (the same rumors say that’s why he is playing keyboards). “Keep on Walking, Don’t be Hanging Around,” he intones towards the end, and I go back to that persona, now warning us about where he is. I think this is might be the best performance of the night, Dylan finally is able to take his idiosyncratic surrealist world—invoking strange images that are also familiar, flooding out of our collective Invisible Republic consciousness—and infuse to a traditional musical form, in this case a Delta electric 12 bar blues that would be standard operating procedure to Muddy Waters or Howlin Wolf (in fact, Dylan’s voice most closely resembled the Wolf at this performance). Although as sardonic as the studio original, live the song is much more serious, the Hell more real than a tongue in cheek reference. This performance, which reminded me of Blind Willie Johnson, the wife may be from the actual perdition. I guess that’s what happens when a performer like Dylan, takes one of his blues songs, and pushes it into a slightly new place, achieving enhanced authenticity with the push. Being played night after night, a new layer is added. The stakes in the song are higher; it’s still fun, just less jokey tonight.

Back behind the organ, the familiar melody of Desolation Row began. I’ve seen Dylan perform this classic masterpiece several times, long a favorite of mine. This time he rocked out the song, pumping on that organ. What a startling, fun arrangement. God Bless him, he also seemed to remember what seemed like all the verses. The vocal was intense as well—spotty might be an apt description, but I don’t mean for that to sound negative. It was like, you would hear, “Einstein disguised as Robin Hood,” nasal, clear, latter-period Dylan than a garbled harsh series of syllables, guttural moan almost—then clear again: “with his friend a jealous monk.” Everyone is on their feet. This version like I said, Rocked. The tempo was fast as any Dylan song. Sexton took that familiar, calypso-flavored licks and sharply turned them down a Hendrix road. When Dylan got to the capper for each verse—Desolation Row—everybody sang along, fists pumping in the air. The energy was high and infectious. When did this opus become an anthem? It was the kind of performance that leaves one awestruck. This will be the live version I will always remember and it will be a while before I hear the song without thinking of the energetic Desolation Row performed in Harlem.

Herron got out of the banjo and a killer version of High Water (For Charley Patton) ensued. Dylan was in a solid rock mode. The version had a sharper and harder edge than the studio cut. Gut Bucket Dylan. The band utterly, totally on fire too. They were taking no prisoners. Sexton is the band’s nexus point—even more so than Garnier. I guess they just finished their first tour with Sexton back in the spot. Back behind the organ, Dylan tried a ballad, When The Deal Goes Down, which didn’t seem to go over as well. It’s a great song, but this was the one weak performance in my opinion. They were just too hot to effectively slow the music down.

Another new touch, they all wore matching black suits—the band did. Black sharkskin suits, a different shade than Dylan’s somewhat Amish frock. Dylan is back in center stage, Sexton creates some feedback, and the band snakes into a blistering Cold Irons Bound. A full-throttle, petal-to-the-metal, unabashedly over-drive rendition of this great Time Out of Mind number. I consider it one of the “GREAT” Dylan songs. I’m not sure if it is a crowd favorite, or if the crowd is just glad to rocking hard tonight, but everybody is into this tale. What is the Cold Irons Bound – a mountain range, a prison? I love this song because we never really know what is going on; we just get the feeling of relentless foreboding. We only really know that it is 20 miles outside of town and the person heading there is hearing voices. Maybe this was my favorite number of the night. Sexton’s lead is fierce and unyielding. Dylan’s growl adding to the lyric, the harp issues forth stinging blues riffs. I guess there are still some old fogies out there, because sometimes calls would issue from the seats to sit down. But who can stay seated when the music is this rocking? He wasn’t playing folk music to contemplate—the lyric-filled, imagistic opus of Desolation Row he transmuted into a foot stomping jam and the electric blues of Cold Iron Bound demanded a physical response. The body just had to move.

So there would be shouts of sit down, and folks would sit down, Dylan played Workingman's Blues #2, Herron switching to Pedal Steel and he trades licks with Sexton. Mid-song, Dylan goes back to center stage and blows some poignant harp. Really has a great melody and it was like he starts off the musicians on the keyboard, lets them explored the ballad some and he finishes it up, animated, blowing harp and gesturing then bringing to a close.

Back behind the keyboard, Highway 61 Revisited begins, the familiar riff, executed so well in a night devoted to hard rocking blues song, this one of the first of the hard rocking blues he wrote and recorded, still one of the best. God said to Abraham, he rasps out, kill me a son! Nobody remains seated. A show that started with a hard rock gospel number, in a glitzy theater turned church for a charismatic televangelist, the biblical imagery just fit right in and again, the band rock. This band is just so on fire tonight. Dylan and Sexton again go at their gut bucket conversation—one of the best versions of this song, ever.

Still behind the keyboard, Herron now is on violin—although the concert notes on a website say it’s a viola—Ain't Talkin' comes on, again with a harder edge than the recording, in keeping with the sweaty blues fee of the evening. On the record this can sound like a New Age-ish folk song, it is one of his most utterly original songs—but even with it’s weird images of a Mystic Garden, the edge is sharper.

A rollicking Thunder On The Mountain follows, Dylan’s singing is still pretty harsh, but it the voice works better on these more recent numbers and he can still flow the lyrics. Really cool version. Then he takes center stage to close the concert, rocking into Ballad Of A Thin Man. Of course, a song Dylan originally wrote for him to perform on a keyboard—a recording that features his second (I think) studio keyboard performances (The first was Black Crow Blues), and a song where he would famously play piano with The Hawks while Richard Manuel took a cigarette break—and now one, where he doesn’t play keyboard at all. The invective in this song seems toned down, the singer seems to pity rather than despise Mr. Jones and is ready to play the ring-master to the surrealistic circus of the songs. The lyrics are rasped out by now, I find them barely decipherable, but what we lose in articulation we gain in mood. I love the way Dylan is so animated. I know I’ve used that word a lot, but I never really saw him this playful and energetic. Loosing the guitar has freed him and the Ring Master metaphor ain’t too far off. There are times he seems to taming Sexton seeing if he can make him roar, or jump through hoops and like the audience, he marvels at the sheer talent of the guy. One of the greatest evenings of rock guitar I’ve ever been lucky enough to see.

The encore, as has been well documented throughout the tour, was unchanged from other nights: Like A Rolling Stone; Jolene and (it was indeed for me the umpteenth) All Along The Watchtower. But the band had been so great I would be willing to endure any song just to hear these fellows play. Like A Rolling Stone may not have been enough to prompt Marcus to revise his book on that one song, but it was a nice rendition of the hit. Jolene was great, as fun and jaunty as the studio rendition. And All Along the Watchtower, overplayed, overexposed over-rated and yes, a signal that the concert is indeed over. But this band was having so an on the money night that it was well worth staying for. I suspect this was one of the best performances Sexton has given; it certainly was one of the best nights of any guitar player I’ve seen with Dylan (or anyone else). It’s not All Along the Watchtower’s fault that I’ve heard it too many times. And, in spite of that over familiarity, it is, without question or doubt, one of the greatest guitar songs ever written. Guitarists love to play the chord sequence. Dylan was obviously loving cranking out the keyboard riffs around the guitarists, especially someone as hot as Sexton was that night. All Along the Watchtower was a victory lap and I was cheering along with everyone else in the audience, all standing, all exhilarated.

So, we only got the planned encore but after watchtower, Dylan and the band stood side by side and bowed. Bowed? What the? I haven’t seen this ever before. Group bow? Heck, the whole band deserved and shoot, Bob deserves, a bow. Never rested on his laurels, never let the legend over shadow the artist. Dylan seemed unusually glad, atypically warm.

The pictures of Bob on stage—the ones that don’t suck—were not taken by me but by a lovely young woman who sat next to me named Tina, the one who asked me about Dion. She was extremely pretty. She had a serious looking Camera—not my $99 Nikon—telephoto lens, whole deal. She surreptitiously took out the camera and snapped a few before an usher could catch her. I gave her my email and she emailed some pictures for Dislocations. For the full Tina Gallery click here

David and I with the hordes departed Reverend Ike’s palace. The drizzle was steady, but oddly refreshing. I think this was my favorite of the Never Ending tour dates—that goes back a ways and I can’t remember all of them and I remember some rather good ones, a Roseland in 94 or the 96 William Paterson College show, (the one in a gymnasium). Oh shoot, Dylan is always good live, often great, and always compelling and fascinating. Nonetheless, a special night. Even Dylan’s voice, as shocking as I found it, worked. What I liked the most was that the majority of the songs I had never heard before. In fact, only three of the seventeen I believe I have seen live. That is always cool. Also, eight of the 17—about half the set—were all new songs, all from the last four albums, his most recent period of songwriting. I love these records and to finally hear live the songs you’ve been listening to is always a rush. It may not be as overwhelming a rush it was in 1975, but man oh man, it was still a tasty reminder that life is worth living.

The crowd made its way to the A Train Station. I don’t know how it happened but someone opened the gate—David said it was like the 60s—so at least a hundred people ripped off the MTA that night. A kind of jazzy band was playing and there was a party atmosphere. A guy was showing his pretty cool sketch of Bob at the keyboard. On the A-Train ride in the subterranean railroad that we rode for nearly the entire length of the isle of Manhatt, we were next to a young African American woman. She asked, what were all the people doing on the A Train this time of night, did a train break down or something, what was the reason so many people got on the train at 175th Street.

“There was a Bob Dylan Concert at the United Palace Theater.”

“Bob Dylan was playing Harlem,” she smiled. “How cool!”

For the photo gallery of Dylan in Harlem (Pictures by Tina), click here.