Los Angeles — If you looked hard enough you could trace the grin on Bob Dylan, watching, then politely, clop, clop, applauding a jelly-belly dancer Bill Graham had hired to entertain. He had also clapped for the strolling trio — two violinists and an accordion — that had serenaded during dinner, schmaltzing up to each table with love songs like "Fascination," "What Now, My Love" and "Somewhere My Love" on this Valentine's Day.
The scene was the crew dinner, put together by Bill Graham for the 18 employees of his FM Productions. They had been in front of and behind Dylan and the Band — setting up and taking down the stage, sound and lighting through 39 shows in 21 cities since January 3rd in Chicago. Now, at 7:45 PM, the 39th show over only minutes before, they were gathered, along with Bob Dylan and the Band, at the Forum Club, a banquet facility within the Fabulous Forum, home of L.A.'s basketball Lakers and hockey Kings. They were here, in this spread of rooms usually held for big businessmen/season ticket holders, for a quick round of roast beef and congratulations.
Graham kept the back-patting short. One quick speech thanking the crew and "the six great musicians" for doing their jobs so well. And, to each musician, a handshake and a memento: a wooden plaque, in the shape of a guitar, embossed with the signatures of Graham and the FM Productions crew.
The stringed strollers and the belly roller gave dinner a leisurely glow. But, in fact, the room was cleared within another hour. Just before nine, everyone — except for other special guests like the wives of the performers — were off to the backstage area. There was one more to go.
Before the first concert in Chicago, Bob Hilburn, the music columnist for the L.A. Times, kept elbowing and tugging at me. "Don't you feel the expectancy?" he asked repeatedly, awe-eyeing the crowd. "Don't you feel the excitement?" The most obvious excitement came from inside Hilburn, and that was fine. But the audiences, if any generalization could be made, were simply calm, ready for anything.
But in Los Angeles, it had to be different. If there were a hard-ticket show on the tour, this would be the one. Roger McGuinn, the Byrd who showed Dylan how his folk lyrics could be rocked, was unable to get a ticket at the last minute. The previous evening, Jerry Garcia, who'd seen the concert two days before in Oakland, was at the Forum box office. Someone, he said, had claimed his will-call ticket, and he was standing there, copyrighted "What, me bummed?" smile on his recently shaven face. He was hoping to get word in to Bill Graham. He never did.
At the final show, the Fabulous Forum, which is in Inglewood near the airport, was dotted with stars; Carole King, Ringo Starr, Neil Young, David Crosby, Helen Reddy, Eric Burdon, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Richard ("Cheech") Marin, Dory Previn, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty and, off to the side, Joan Baez. Other celebs, at the first two shows, included Rick Nelson, Neil Diamond, Dan Hicks, Jackie DeShannon, and two of Dylan's Village friends, now with him on Asylum Records: David Blue and Bob Neuwirth.
Joan Baez, once close to Dylan, prefers not to talk about him. "It always makes me feel miserable afterwards," she told me in San Francisco. She saw the second of the two Oakland concerts and kept relatively still, swaying gently with her arms folded through the lights-up hoedown finale, "Like a Rolling Stone." Tonight, she said, she'd dropped the expectations she'd carried into the Oakland Coliseum and seemed ready to roll with it. "You know, I like rock & roll."
The last show began at 9:30, with bassist/vocalist Rick Danko running onto the stage, sporting his JC Penney Glen-plaid jacket and jeans outfit, while Dylan, who usually ignored the welcoming ovation by becoming immediately immersed in tuning up and getting on with the show, let the guitar wait for a few seconds while he greeted the crowd, raising both arms and doing a little 360-degree twirl. It was clear that the artists smelled victory.
Two and a half hours later, at five after midnight, Dylan had done "Rolling Stone" and just about completed the show, structured just like most of the previous 39. It was evident that the music had tightened; that the Band's Danko and Richard Manuel had lost their singing voices; that Dylan continued to get looser with his re-reads of his classics, putting new italics into old songs — "Ya say yer lookin' for someone" . . . "It still ain't me, babe" . . . "You don't know what it is, do you, Mister Jo-hones" . . . and "You should be made to wear tele-phones."
Dylan offered more and fancier bows, front, rear, all around him. And even a new sign to replace the V and the fist. He formed circles with thumb and index finger — the old OK signal — and hoisted up both arms, Richard Nixon-style. He was doing it now, having played the encore, "Maggie's Farm," with the house lights still up from "Rolling Stone," and this should have been his departing gesture. But no, Dylan had one final surprise: He spoke to the audience for more than his usual one or two sentences (i.e., "Don't go away; we'll be right back!" and "Good to be back in New York; you're a great audience," or "Good to be in Seattle, home of Jimi Hendrix!").
"We're gonna play one more," he announced, shouting out each part of each sentence. "But before we do, I'd like to introduce the man responsible for this tour! He's been behind the scene! Bill Graham!" A surprised Graham was hustled up to get his. Dylan shouted into the mike: "Barry Imhoff, too!" Imhoff, Graham's aide and tour coordinator, stepped out and wrapped an arm around Graham.
Dylan: "These guys put the show together! We couldn't have done it without them!" And he began the intro for "Blowin' in the Wind," rearranged into a bouncy, swaying little number, with Danko and Robbie Robertson sharing a mike, early Beatles-style, on the harmonies.
At 12:12 AM, it was over. A fan with a bouquet of a dozen red roses positioned herself in the front row, ready to proffer. "Thank you!" Dylan shouted to the stomping madness. "On behalf of the Band, I want to say thank you, good night!" Danko patted him on the back, and they split.
The roses were left untaken.
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