Reviews > Shows
Bob Dylan in Port Chester
Port Chester, NY
Performing the reopening ceremony of Port Chester, New York’s historic Capitol Theatre, Bob Dylan kicked off a new era at the venue with “Watching The River Flow,” singing lines like “If I had wings and I could fly, I know where I would go” and “But right now I’ll just sit here so contentedly” that rang true for the intimate sold out crowd of 1,835. The Capitol Theatre flourished in the early seventies with performances by the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd and more, and again in the nineties with Phish and even the Rolling Stones, but has not hosted concerts in fifteen years. Relix publisher Peter Shapiro has reopened the venue and spruced it up with a state of the art sound system and beautiful redecoration, while also maintaining its vintage charm. As Shapiro remarked in his opening speech, “If we could pick ANY musician to re-open the Cap we got THE ONE,” and there is truly no more appropriate choice to open a live music palace than Bob Dylan.
After the band warmed up with the hard rockin’ blues of “Watching the River Flow,” Dylan delivered a gorgeously slow take on “Love Minus Zero/No Limit.” “Love Minus Zero” was marred only very slightly by Dylan forgetting a line or two. His vocals were much closer to a croon than a growl, as his grand piano led the band through a delicate arrangement that fit some of his most romantic and gentle lyrics like a glove. “Things Have Changed” found Dylan moving from his piano to guitar, but here his voice struggled to keep up with his bandmates, who played the latter-day song at a much faster tempo than the original recording. Bob remained on guitar for “Tangled Up In Blue,” which featured some rare lead playing from him in addition to many completely rewritten lines. As they were for the Grateful Dead, songs are living, breathing organisms for Bob Dylan. And while no one will ever confuse him with a jamband, his songs grow along with life, and he has never been afraid to alter lyrics, arrangement or vocal delivery as he sees fit.
Dylan declined to share any songs off of his brand new album Tempest, but his set still featured a fairly balanced mix of 1960s classics and material from the past decade. “This Dream Of You,” from his last album, was more inspired than its studio counterpart, while “Shooting Star” was positively transcendent. Bob may sound a little coarser than years past, but as he reminisced about lost love on the longing “Shooting Star,” it was clear that he has mastered the art of using the weary gruffness in his voice to enhance his songs.
“Visions of Johanna” was even more sparkling than “Shooting Star,” as his voice seemed to improve as the show went along. “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Thunder on the Mountain” picked the energy back up with snarling blues rock that showcased lead guitarist Charlie Sexton and the rhythm section of bassist Tony Garnier and drummer George Recile, while even Bob himself delivered a couple of bouncy piano solos. But Dylan’s rendition of “Ballad Of A Thin Man” was the unquestionable highlight of the night. Employing an echo-effect on his vocals, the performance captured the haunting, eerie nature of its original 1965 recording. Renowned for completely ignoring crowds for much of his career, Dylan emerged from behind his piano to sing “Ballad of a Thin Man” center stage unencumbered by an instrument. With an ear-to-ear grin, Dylan struck poses, used hand gestures and even (kind of) danced while singing, making it clear that he was having every bit as much fun as his fans.
The show came to a close with the songs that most had paid to hear, a blistering take on “All Along The Watchtower,” a triumphant “Like A Rolling Stone,” and inspired reworking of “Blowin’ In The Wind,” which again found Dylan front and center, bending his knees and dancing around as he wailed away on harmonica. By giving the crowd some of the classics they want but dramatically changing them, Dylan’s songs sound as fresh and original as ever, and, like the newly reopened Capitol Theatre, he pays tribute to the past while refusing to feel like a nostalgia act.
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