Alpine Valley Music Theater
July 15, 2000
Story by Tony BonyataSandwiched between the sets of two monster "jam" bands - Athens, Georgia's Widespread Panic and one-time Grateful Dead member Phil Lesh, rock legend Bob Dylan graced the rolling green hills of East Troy's Alpine Valley Music Theater last Saturday with a raucous, electrifying performance that highlighted many of the brilliant songs of his prolific career.
One of the founders of the folk-rock scene of the early '60s, Dylan has changed his styles many times over - acoustic folkie, plugged-in rocker, country balladeer and born-again preacher to name just a few. But just as his fans would begin to accept his newfound styles he would often shift gears and alienate many of them, as in the case when in 1965 he released the highly electric album, Highway 61 Revisited, which drew heat from folk purists. And just as heavy hitting folkies like Richard Thompson were holding court that same night in Chicago for the Old Town School Of Folk Music's Folk and Roots Festival, Dylan instead played a show which shook the hills of Southeastern Wisconsin.
Looking gaunt but fit for a man of 59, Dylan (clad in a black suit, and white spats) drew heavy from his early electric years, with almost a third of his show pulled from Highway 61 Revisited . While he may have lost some folk snobs in the early '60s with this rocking material, he's gained many more fans throughout the years judging from the enthusiastic crowd. The drastically reworked "Like A Rolling Stone," the no- nonsense rock of "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry," and the riveting title track "Highway 61 Revisited" all sounded refreshingly new.
Even though he played a good number of songs on acoustic guitar, his band, featuring guitarists Charlie Sexton and Larry Campbell, bassist Tony Garnier and drummer David Kemper, added a solid backdrop for Dylan's haunting ballads. Instead of performing tired, verbatim versions of old familiar folk-inspired numbers, he gave fresh overhauls to classics like "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Blowin' In The Wind" and "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," which featured a spontaneous "call and response" between his harmonica and the audience, proving that this one-time traveling minstrel still had a thing or two up his sleeve.
Inspired throughout his career by American roots musicians such as Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Big Bill Broonzy, Dylan offered up a healthy serving of his own brand of roots music. The low-country drawl of "Searching For A Soldier's Grave" reflected back to his late '60s affair with country music, while the earthy blues swagger of "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat," from his classic album Blonde On Blonde, sounded like he was juicin' up for a Mississippi juke-joint gig.
With his nasal-driven gravel truck of a voice, Dylan was in peak form. His guitar playing was also stunning - running from poignant acoustic ("Tambourine Man"), jaunting and jumping ("Things Have Changed"), spacey laid back slide ("Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues") to bone-chilling electric lead ("Highway 61 Revisited"), proving that Robert Johnson wasn't the only one trading at the crossroads.
Probably to align himself more with Widespread Panic and Lesh's more loose, jam-inspired sets, as well as the younger latter-day hippies attending this triple bill, Dylan's arrangements were much looser then previous tours - with longer solos and, what appeared to be, more improvised jams. These numbers could have easily been swallowed up in their own excessiveness, but instead of wallowing and noodling about in a Grateful Dead stupor, Dylan's band held tight on the reigns, keeping the freewheelin' from getting out of hand.
Like many of his early blues and folk mentors before him, Dylan proved that as a live performer he just keeps getting better with age.
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