In 1988 -- some 26 years into his career -- Dylan embarked on this Never Ending Tour. It's still going today. But how well is it going?
Bob Dylan + Merle Haggard + Amos LeeCity: Chicago
Venue: Auditorium Theatre
- He will not speak to the audience beyond mumbled band introductions
- He will wear odd black clothes that make his thin body appear equal parts European squire, modern-day cowboy, and Southern country gentleman
- He will eschew the guitar, preferring to stand behind an upright electric piano - an instrument he appears to play with vigor, but which is almost completely inaudible
- He will close with "All Along the Watchtower" and everyone will like it
Suddenly it's over, the war is fin'lly doneThese two bookends would find a powerful counterpart later in the evening with Dylan's thundering version of his own "Masters of War". To begin with, it must be said that Dylan's current band is not his best. Departed guitarists Charlie Sexton and Larry Campbell, who during their tenure were integral members of The Never Ending Tour Band, are nowhere to be seen. Without them, the guitar playing is considerably weaker and the overall sound is not as compelling. This absence is somewhat compensated by violinist Elana Fremerman who, though she only recently began touring with the band, is given a prominent role center stage. She plays with strength and verve, often taking parts previously played as guitar solos. Still, songs such as "Tombstone Blues" and "Highway 61 Revisited" suffer from the loss of Sexton and Campbell. Dylan also tries to compensate by stepping out from behind the piano to play several entertaining harmonica solos -- interludes that the audience finds particularly pleasing. The mouth organ serves as a link to the acoustic, folkie Dylan of the distant past and these are the only moments of a 21st century Dylan show that have something of the feel of nostalgia. For established Dylan fans, pleasure is found in simply discovering in real-time which pieces of his massive back catalog he'll unearth for tonight's show. On this particular evening, we were pleasantly surprised by "I'll Remember You" (from his underrated '80s album Empire Burlesque), "Absolutely Sweet Marie" off Blonde on Blonde, and "Under the Red Sky", a keeper from his fallow period in the early '90s. Opening the three-act bill was Amos Lee, an earnest young singer-songwriter who has been described as a male, guitar-playing Norah Jones. I suppose this is said somewhat disparagingly, but his 30-minute set of original songs was warm and tuneful and quite captivating. It can't be easy to open for two legends, particularly when most of the audience was still filtering in and paying little attention to Lee and his fine three-member band. Perhaps in another 30 or 40 years Lee will command headliner status and the type of adulation enjoyed by Dylan and Haggard if, like Bob and Merle, he keeps showing up.
Soldiers in the desert sand, still clingin' to a gun
No-one is the winner an' everyone must lose
Suddenly the war is over: that's the news
bob dylan + merle haggard + amos lee bob dylan + merle haggard + amos lee Bob Dylan + Merle Haggard + Amos Lee