There were moments during Bob Dylan’s first three shows of his summer tour that left you wondering what the hell you were doing eating a hot dog and a slush puppy for dinner by the end zone of a football field in Hershey Pennsylvania, waiting for a sixty-six year old man to shuffle on stage and play “Cat’s In The Well” for the third time in as many days. But then there were moments like an achingly beautiful “Shelter From The Storm” (from the first night) and a smoking “Summer Days” (from the last) that made the whole thing worth it.
The tour began with a two-night stand at The Borgata Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. Night one was his first show in nearly eight weeks and his voice seemed rested and relatively clear as a result. The Borgata’s 3,700 seat Event Center appears more suited for The AVN Awards or a high rollers wedding than a rock concert, but the sound system was flawless. Dylan played guitar for the first four songs of the night, which was a refreshing break from the keyboards, which he’s played almost exclusively onstage for the last five years — his keyboard playing has taken on a queasy, circus-like flavor lately. High points included “Til I Fell In Love With You” and “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.” Wearing a black suit and a gigantic Amish style white hat, he looked like a 1930s comic book villain.
There was word that the Olsen Twins were in the house for the two nights at the Borgata. I didn’t see them, but hopefully they appreciated the killer “Simple Twist of Fate” midway through the set. He should really play more from Blood On The Tracks — the two best songs of the run were drawn from it. Many of the new tracks from Modern Times have been dropped, which is a shame: “Nettie Moore” and “Thunder On The Mountain” were consistently strong. He clearly enjoys playing them more than his nine billionth run through of “It Ain’t Me Babe.”
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Night three — this time three hours down the road in Hershey — was a mash up of the first two nights with “My Back Pages” and “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” added in. He seemed tired for much of the set (or maybe that was me), but by the end he seemed to find a big second wind and really tore into “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Like A Rolling Stone.”
Dylan’s been on the road for nineteen solid years now. Even on a good night, he can mumble and seem checked out at points, turning the line “He not busy being born is busy dying” into heotizborbizeing. But while other legends of his era are content to be playing their twenty biggest hits over and over and over in stadiums across the world, he’s happy playing the Pines Theater in Florence, Massachusetts, where he’ll probably open with “Cat’s In The Well” and close with “All Along The Watchtower.” But then again, he might not, and that’s where the fun starts.