By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Dylan on fire

I just got home from the Bob Dylan show at the Agganis Arena. I wouldn’t want to be a music reviewer, because the superlatives just get lame after a while. But Dylan was incredible, amazing, astounding, whatever you want to call it. He was absolutely on top of the moment, dancing and swaying at his keyboard, singing as well as his blown-out voice allows, even telling a joke near the end of his two-hour set. Media Nation Jr. and two of his friends came along, and they saw and heard something I hope they’ll remember for a long time.

This was the third time I’d seen Dylan. The first was in 1986, when he was playing with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers at Great Woods. The second was in 1989 at the Opera House [Note: This is a correction, as I’d originally said the Orpheum], with a small band fronted by G.E. Smith. He wasn’t bad on either of those occasions, and in ’89 he at least had a decent new album (“Oh Mercy”) to promote. But he seemed like a faded legend trying to push his career past the expiration date. Tonight he was a legend reborn.

OK, enough. Here’s the set list from tonight’s show:

  1. Maggie’s Farm
  2. She Belongs to Me
  3. Lonesome Day Blues
  4. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
  5. It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)
  6. Workingman’s Blues #2
  7. Tangled Up in Blue
  8. Blind Willie McTell
  9. Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine
  10. The Ballad of Hollis Brown
  11. Highway 61 Revisited
  12. Spirit on the Water
  13. Summer Days

The encores:

  1. Thunder on the Mountain
  2. Like a Rolling Stone
  3. All Along the Watchtower

The obscure favorite, for me anyway, was “Blind Willie McTell.” The most radical rearrangement was of “It’s Alright Ma,” redone as hard rock; I couldn’t place it until Bob got to the line about the president standing naked, always a crowd-pleaser.

I also didn’t understand why he included “Spirit on the Water,” one of the wimpier efforts from his new album, “Modern Times,” until he got to this: “You think I’m over the hill/ You think I’m past my prime.” (Cries of “No! No!”) “Let me see what you got/ We can have a whoppin’ good time.” (Cheers.)

Oh, yeah. His joke. After he introduced his band, which includes three guitarists, he leaned over his cheesy organ and said, “I’d like to play guitar, but then I’d have to find someone who can play one of these.”

The Raconteurs opened. They were loud and good. The weird highlight: a Led Zeppelin-esque remake of Cher’s “Bang Bang.”

A whoppin’ good time was had by all.

More: The Herald gets a review up on its Web site. Not bad, though reviewer Jed Gottlieb seems more surprised than he should be by Dylan’s late-career eccentricities. Nothing in the Globe, not even here.

Still more: The Globe finally checks in, with this Sarah Rodman review.

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Welcome, Bob Dylan fans


  1. mike_b1

    Why do you know Cher songs?

  2. Dan Kennedy

    I must be a lot older than you. “Bang Bang” was unavoidable if you were listening to the radio in 1966.

  3. CCFK

    I hope it was All Along the Watchtower, although All Along the Watertower sounds interesting as well.There must be something in the air, because I heard a band cover “Bang Bang” on Friday night.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Whoops. Now fixed. So much for the after-midnight posts.

  5. mike_b1

    Sorry, I’m happily too young for that.

  6. Anonymous

    CCFK,after the Judy Garland tribute?

  7. Anonymous

    1989 at the orpheum -do you mean the opera house ?

  8. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 5:11: I could have sworn it was the Orpheum, but the mind fades. You could be right.

  9. Anonymous

    Dylan played the Opera House in the fall of ’89 (Oct if memory serves). They were among the best shows I have ever seen (certainly a notch or two up from the current tour, which is certainly pretty good). but I agree with the the TP & the HB/Dylan tour was disappointing.

  10. Anonymous

    it was the opera house… i remembber it… pretty good show, for those days… not nearly as good as his more recent shows.

  11. Dan Kennedy

    OK, then, it was the Opera House. A few memories from that show: even though G.E. Smith was in the band, Dylan played a lot of lead guitar that night. He was pretty good, too. He did a great version of “Most of the Time.” And the opening band paid tribute with a cover of “Absolutely Sweet Marie.”

  12. Anonymous

    Gee, I thought the show on Staurday was good but far from great. The band is pretty amazing with some incredibly tasteful guitar licks. But I thought Bob’s vocal rhythms were terrible. It was almost as if he was in a different time zone from the band. The guy next to me has seen him 25 TIMES THIS YEAR! And he thought it was the worst show he’s seen.Having seen him 5 times (I think), going all the way back to the tour with The Band at the old Boston Garden, my favorite show was when he toured with Van Morrison. That night he was absolutely transcendent.

  13. Anonymous

    How were the acoustics at Agganis? I was scouting the location for a show and thought they were pretty good, but the FleetCenter…err…TD Garden has good acoustics when you’re just wandering around. Go in there during a hockey game and the acoustics are horrible.

  14. Anonymous

    Media Nation has friends?

  15. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 12:16: No, absolutely not. None. I said Media Nation Jr. has friends.

  16. Anonymous

    bang bang? cher? try nancy sinatra…

  17. Anonymous

    It actually was a Sonny and Cher song.

  18. another face at zanzibar

    Regarding acoustics, I like the quote from Billy Joel about the old Garden acoustics: “Even hockey sounds lousy there.” (Or words to that effect.)

  19. Anonymous

    A nice recap of the show. I wouldn’t say that “Spirit on the Water” is one of his “wimpier efforts,” though. I think it’s my favorite from the new album.

  20. Dan Kennedy

    Re “Bang Bang” … Sonny & Cher? No, but Sonny wrote it. Nancy Sinatra? Not really, though she did record it. this will explain all.

  21. Anonymous

    wow I thought it was nancy sinatra too. isn’t her version the more well-known one?

  22. Dan Kennedy

    Dawn: According to the Wikipedia article I posted, the Nancy Sinatra version was virtually unknown until it got used in “Kill Bill” a few years ago. I’ve never seen “Kill Bill,” and thus have never heard the Nancy Sinatra version.

  23. another face at zanzibar

    Isn’t “Kill Bill” Hillary Clinton’s favorite movie?

  24. Anonymous

    The concert up in the Cumberland Center (90 minutes north of the great city of Boston in Portland) was another one that defies superlatives. Dylan was using his voice like a drum–I’d never heard him do this. It was almost all-out hard rock for the Maine crowd. I’d die for a bootleg copy. Desolation Road was totally rearranged and came right before Highway 61. Really, best concert I’ve ever heard anywhere.

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