Dylan Brings It Home at the Mankato Civic Center in Minnesota
OCTOBER 24, 2019 — I wasn’t planning to see Dylan on this current leg of the Never Ending Tour, but the reviews have been so strong I couldn’t help myself. Tuesday evening I checked to see what was available and grabbed a $12 seat ($17.17 after fees) and then began working on how to get to Mankato from Duluth. When all was said and done, the experience was memorable.
Despite the knots of rush hour traffic in Minneapolis, and a Thursday Night Vikings game at US Bank Stadium, we navigated through just fine and there were no chewed off fingernails. After scarfing down a burrito at Kato Tacos, I passed through the security checkpoint and began circulating around the arena, grabbing a few fotos, greeting a few friends.
Upon finding my seat, still early, I had a chance to get to know a few of the others who were in this not-so-prime location for viewing the band. Roger and Debbie Seberson, from White Bear Lake, have been to somewhere between 40 and 42 Dylan shows. Jon Erickson of Bloomer, Wisconsin was attending his 49th concert. And young Brook Honig, who also drove down from Duluth but grew up in Wichita, Kansas, was attending his first Dylan concert.
At 8 p.m. the arena lights went dark and a cacophony of electronic sound erupted from the darkened stage as the players took their positions. When the lights came on Dylan was standing at the mic, guitar in hand, gold embroidered jacket, black slacks with a gold stripe on the outside of each leg down to his white boots. Hair frizzy and wild, voice strong, “Things Have Changed” was this night’s opener.
The energy in the room quickly amped. Or was it adrenaline pumping into bloodstreams?
After the first song Bob permanently discarded the guitar and took a seat at the piano for a beautiful rendition of “It Ain’t Me, Babe” that felt sincere and pained. When he stood to deliver the last verse the crowd responded.
As “Highway 61” kicked in the totally amped crowd was all in. The guitar players did the two step in sync, silver jackets glistening in the lights, Tony Garnier giving a fabulous bass line underneath. My feet were shuffling and the room was moving.
Bob remained at the piano for “Simple Twist of Fate,” with variations in the lyrics plus an extra verse, instrumental breaks between. The playlist was following the pattern of his Denver show.
For “Can’t Wait,” Bob left the piano and grabbed the mic, backing to mesh with the band at the back of the stage. This was a funky variation of the song, with especially strong emphatic singing. “I don’t know, said I don’t know, how much longer I can wait.”
The stage went dark as Bob re-positioned himself back at the piano to perform “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” The tune and tempo were different, but the singing sizzled and was heartfelt. Halfway through he shuffled to the back of the stage again and grabbed his harp, which seems to never fail to please the crowd, then finishing the last part of the song as a vocalist.
Moving again to the piano he took his Jerry Lee Lewis stance, legs spread with his weight on the right foot, belting out “Honest with Me” from Love & Theft. This was followed by his taking a seat to perform “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door” from Time Out of Mind.
This and later “Not Dark Yet” brought to mind how many of Dylan’s songs deal with the finite nature of life and issues of meaning. On his very first album we have selections like “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” and “In My Time Of Dyin’” and ten years later “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” It’s a recurring thread appearing several times this night.
Donnie’s violin opening to “Make You Feel My Love” was sweet, and used frequently during the show. Bob tucked himself back into the band again on this song, delivering lyrics with visceral power, holding the mic to his face with his right hand, punching the air with his left.
There was a new arrangement to “Pay In Blood,” which opened with a guitar intro. Bob, standing again toward the rear of the stage, balanced on his feet with legs spread, throwing that left hand forward with each phrase, like a boxer jabbing, only his fingers would be spread sometimes, squinting as his phrases burst out from a deep part of his diaphragm.
The darkness descended and when the lights lifted he was at the piano to sing Lenny Bruce. One of the emotionally charged tender moments of the concert. It’s a great song, though perhaps was a surprising addition to his Shot Of Love album when it was first recorded. There were lyrics changes now. On the original he sang:
Lenny Bruce is dead but his ghost lives on and on
Never did get any Golden Globe award, never made it to Synanon
Last night, however, he sang:
Never did make it to the Promised Land, never made it out of Babylon.
When Bob sang, “I rode with him in a taxi once, only for a mile and a half but it seemed like a couple of months,” he sang it with an affection you could feel.
The verses were re-arranged so that near the end of the song it sounded to me like he sang, “He’s on a Christian shore, he didn’t want to live any more.” As opposed to the original, “He’s on another shore…” The effect was mesmerizing for me, and a beautiful rendition of the song. I wrote in my notebook, “Wow. Wow. Wow.”
(For more on Lenny Bruce, see: Intersections: Dylan, Lenny Bruce and a Quiet Funeral for the Beats .)
And then we had Bob back at center stage for “Early Roman Kings.” I know he loves to sing the line, “I ain’t dead yet. My bell still rings.” In Duluth (2013) he had a little white hanky in that left hand as he put his hand out. Last night he did that hand gesture without the hanky.
“Girl from the North Country” followed, with a huge response from the audience of Minnesotans who especially appreciate this Minnesota tribute of sorts. His piano playing was again tender. Tony played his stand-up bass with a bow, and the song ended with a big applause.
I know that “Not Dark Yet,” which followed, moved quite a few of us. It was a time of meaningful reflection.
The concert’s pacing was perfect as he leapt into the plundering uptempo “Thunder on the Mountain,” a whomping boogie blues riff with guitar breakouts between verses and dancing down in front of the stage with solos for all. With a head signal to Tony, the band did a tight wind out.
“Soon After Midnight” and a totally rockified “Gotta Serve Somebody” closed out the 17 song set. Lights out and a lengthy foot-stomping, hollering, whistling for more followed. After a suitably long pause in the noisy dark they returned for the two song encore that has been in their standard during other concerts lately. “Ballad of a Thin Man,” again with guitar breaks and a harmonica solo, and “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes A Train to Cry.”
Oh yeah, it was a good concert.
Thank you Rich and Sue for bringing me there. And thank you Zane and Miriam for getting me home safe and sound afterwards. The only thing that could have made it a better night would have been seeing Northern Lights as we drove North back to Duluth. Maybe next time.
Originally published at https://pioneerproductions.blogspot.com.