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Band from Dylanland: Big Pink in Quake City

“Big Pink in Quake City: Respite for the Restless”

SAN FRANCISCO — Darling Dolly Dane, a rachitic teenie waif from the wilds of Petaluma (“Egg Basket of the West”), was rattling off her semi-pro panhandler’s hype at the intersection of Post and Steiner, while up the block at Winterland, the reclusive band from Big Pink was making ready to strike up some sweet country funk, and rock mojo-domo Bill Graham, after his own emotionally hemophiliac fashion, was sidling up to the mound to strike o-u-t OUT.

“Don’t be a tacky cunt, hon,” Darling Dolly coaxed a sailor in the stream of ticket-holders pressing toward the entrance. “Do me some good with your spare change.”

Dear, darling Darlin Doll she wasn’t alone — the tribal rock hounds and stone guerrilla hippies of the Bay Area had turned out in force for the occasion. Flapping along the sidewalks, preening and shrilling, they soared into the cavernous recesses of the old ice-skating rink-turned-rock ballroom like flocks of bright, demented birds.

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The mood of expectancy ran high; “This will be a stoning thing,” a mustachioed kid from Berkeley promised his chick in sepulchral tones.

Promises, promises. From the outset, The Event that had been broadsided for weeks in advance as sure to hang heavy, heavy over our collective long-haired heads turned out to be — with a brief respite to be noted — merely onerous.

The spooky vibes began in the lobby. Poker-faced security guards — a lot of them, all looking like Tac Squad reservists — swarmed through the foyer and along the hall’s aisles, barking at people to move along, seemingly at whim. After being shooed away a couple of times, I managed to buy a coke at the refreshment stand and started working my way through the crush toward the stage, where the house sound system reared up out of the darkness like a massive and sinister radar installation. The Ace of Cups, a local all-femme group who occasionally generate an ambience of pure physical fun because they’re such fetching chicks to look at, played listlessly. The acoustical reference in the room was muddier than Vic and Sade on an Atwater-Kent table model.

I ran into one of the Family Dog people, an acquaintance from Texas, and we watched silently as the Sons of Champlin, another local group, set up onstage. They would play an overlong and uncharacteristically lackwit set. After the first couple of numbers, the crowd stirred restlessly; the smell of burning weed was stronger than a ten-minute egg.

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A kid in a smudgy, buttonless tunic, his face pocked with scabies pimples, wandered through the crowd, obviously stoned. He kept running his fingers through the flame of a lighted candle and mumbling what must have started out as a chant. A half-hour later, when I caught sight of him a second time, his hands were black and literally smoking.

My friend groaned; “Jesus, that dude must’ve been shooting up the Chronicle Sporting Green for days. He’s gonna wake up in the morning — some morning — and feel everything but good.”

After the Sons had bowed off to polite but disinterested applause, there was a lengthy delay of a type that telegraphed to the audience: Something Has Gone Stone Wrong. Then Bill Graham popped up at the mike, earnest, thin-skinned, a-stammer, attempting to apologize for the apology he was about to tender —

“Fuck you!” someone yelled distinctly from the balcony.

Graham winced as if he’d been slapped, but, gathering his aplomb about him with the equanimity of a wino wrapping up for the night in a bundle of Moral Rearmament pamphlets, he bore grimly on to relate that Robbie Robertson, the band’s lead guitarist, had been ill with the flu for two days, and was having a little trouble getting together, but if the audience would only be patient, the whole band’d be there, Graham guaranteed it —

“A 15 minute delay at the latest,” he promised, and scuttled off the stage into the shadows.

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Promises, promises. We waited — 30 minutes, an hour, ultimately an hour and a half. A few in the crowd waited merely for the chance to red-ass Graham when he worked up the nerve to reappear; others were determined to dig the young musical gunfighters from Woodstock at any cost, even if they had to invade Robertson’s hotel room and give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Finally, straggling onstage one by one, the members of the band assembled, Robertson assisted to his place by a man named Ralph Gleason later identified as the guitarists’s personal hypnotist. At last they were on.

The respite mentioned earlier lasted 35 minutes. The band from Dylan Country played only seven songs, only two of these new, but it’s not inconceivable to me that during that brief session, a few hearts and heads and lives might have been turned around for the better. The band’s sound and stance were flawless. From the strength of their personal decency and dedication, the musicians summoned up an oceanic passion, a commitment to the true experience of their materials that short-circuited the hair on the back of one’s neck. For a little better than a half-hour, the band didn’t redeem the morbid vibes that had been going down all evening, but simply transcended them.

Then, in a wink, the players were gone, and the howl for an encore went up. “Come back to the raft a’gin, Huck honey!” a male voice boomed from the floor. A volley of boos greeted Graham as he worked his way back to the mike. He stood visibly shaken in the rain of catcalls and curses until the yelling and stomping gradually subsided.

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“Well,” he drawled pouty, “there must be a lot of tourists here tonight, because San Francisco people just don’t act that way —”

The crowd groaned in unison, a long-drawn-out wail of derision and contempt that must have chilled Graham’s deep soul, for he stepped back from the mike, his mouth working silently. “TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN, GRAHAM!” somebody cried from the press of bodies at the edge of the bandstand.

In small eddies and surges, the audience began to disperse. “The band got it together,” I heard a college girl saying philosophically, “but Bill Graham kind of bombed, didn’t he.” Outside Darling Dolly Dane collared my friend and me at the corner. “Don’t be a tacky cunt,” she began, but he put a quarter in her palm and gently closed her palm and gently closed her bony little fingers around it in a ball. “Take a load off, Fanny,” he told her gravely, and we strolled on, somewhat armed against the night’s chill.  ■


An Impresario Gets the Star Treatment

Wulf Wolodia Grajonca (1931–1991) was a 10-year-old Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who landed in the Bronx and chose his new American name, Bill Graham, from a phone book. He grew up to be one of rock ’n’ roll’s premiere impresarios. As a show opening today at the New-York Historical Society copiously illustrates — through posters, photographs, ephemera, album covers, and audio recordings — Graham was an insightful (and at times combative) tastemaker who presented the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Tina Turner, and other megawatt acts at venues large and small.

The Fillmore Auditorium, in San Francisco, and the Fillmore East, at 105 Second Avenue near 6th Street (now an Apple Bank branch) were his most celebrated locales. Big Brother and the Holding Company, featuring Janis Joplin, inaugurated the New York outlet on March 8, 1968.

A couple of weeks later, another monster act, the Doors, made their Fillmore East debut.

New York was a concert mecca, and the Doors ad appeared on a spread from the March 14, 1968, Voice that featured a smorgasbord of rock tastes, ranging from The Lovin’ Spoonful to Vanilla Fudge — with Hendrix, Tiny Tim, and the Chambers Brothers in between.

In the March 28th edition of the paper, Howard Smith noted in his Scenes column, “Bill Graham has been putting on some beautiful, well-run concerts at his Fillmore East,” describing how the promoter gave audience die-hards more than their money’s worth.

Though the Fillmore East, which seated roughly 2,700, lasted only three years (1968–1971), falling victim to the larger-capacity venues of the arena-rock age, the show at the N-YHS is chockablock with trippy posters from Graham’s ventures around the world. The ads that appeared in the Voice over the Fillmore East years were more bold than psychedelic, often featuring a heavy border and a bisected flower-burst graphic.

Occasionally, though, the venue would spring for halftone photos when announcing such acts as Ravi Shankar (playing his sitar), or the first New York appearance of “the reigning number one space group in the known world!!”

Graham could sometimes throw sharp elbows. He avoided working with the Rolling Stones on their free concert near San Francisco in late 1969, knowing that the lack of planning was a disaster waiting to happen. Indeed, the concluding show of the Stones’ wildly successful U.S. tour ended in murder and mayhem. A few weeks later, Graham told Rolling Stone magazine, “It will give me great pleasure to tell the public that Mick Jagger is not God, Jr. And it’s worth it to me. I am not trying to blast at someone that is 10,000 miles away, but you know what is a great tragedy to me? That cunt is a great entertainer.” (As numerous posters from later stadium tours by the Stones attest, Graham and Jagger eventually mended fences.)

In his politics, Graham was on the side of the angels. Among many charitable events, in 1984 he helped organize the Live Aid concert to raise money for famine relief in Africa. A year later, Graham bought a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle protesting President Ronald Reagan’s decision to visit a cemetery in Bitburg, Germany, that contained graves of Nazi SS troopers.

Although printed in all caps, the ad calmly acknowledged that Reagan had valid foreign policy reasons for the visit, but forcefully pointed out, “THE NAZI SS WERE ALL VOLUNTEERS, WHO VOLUNTEERED TO MURDER AT WILL, AND WERE DIRECTLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ANNIHILATION OF SIX MILLION MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN, PRIMARILY JEWS.”

Two days after Reagan’s visit to Bitburg, Graham’s office was firebombed. Priceless posters and other memorabilia of rock history were lost forever. The N-YHS exhibition includes Graham’s newspaper ad, burned around its edges. Another featured relic is the office telephone, blackened, with some of its buttons melted by the heat.

Telephone from Bill Graham Presents offices, damaged in office firebombing, San Francisco, May 7, 1985 | Plastic, wiring | Collection of David and Alex Graham

These objects resonate in our current political moment, when President Trump characterizes Nazi sympathizers as having some “very fine people” in their ranks. Exhibition-goers can listen to songs on available headsets; the Ramones “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” accompanies the firebombing display:

You’ve got to pick up the pieces
come on, sort your trash
You better pull yourself back together
maybe you’ve got too much cash
Better call, call the law
when are you going to turn yourself in?
Yeah — you’re a politician
don’t become one of Hitler’s children 

Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution
New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
Through August 23

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Bob Dylan’s Opening Night

CHICAGO – Brother Spider and his Side Buster. That’s what the hand-lettered sign on the fork-lift truck says. It’s 2 o’clock Thursday afternoon when Brother Spider, the man at the wheel, drives the Side Buster through the backstage gate of the Chicago Stadium with half a ton of red carpeting on his fork.

Brother Spider is part of the regular Chicago Stadium work crew. Most the winter they wax the floor for the Bulls or ice it for the Blackhawks. This afternoon they’re laying down red carpet for Bob Dylan.

And the Side Buster?

“The brother call it The Side Buster because one day someone don’t open up the gate fast enough for him and he bust a hole through it,” one of the stadium security guards explains to me.

I’m hanging around with the security guards in the backstage perimeter of the Stadium hoping they’ll think I belong so I can be around when Dylan arrives for his final rehearsal.

Workmen shoulder cases of fine wine into the dressing rooms on the left. The Side Buster passes through the gate with a fork-lift full of blue velvet.

And over the to right stands a strange cubicle looking fresh and delicate amidst grimy Bull and Blackhawk apparatus. The red carpet and the blue velvet were faded rental items, but this snow-white cubicle looks freshly built and freshly painted. TUNING ROOM says a sign on the side of the boxlike little room. The door is slightly open and inside I can glimpse tables set with white tablecloths.

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I’m edging over to see what else is in the TUNING ROOM when the normal stadium din is pierced by the articulate roar of Bill Graham, Dylan’s guardian angel for his tour.

“I SAID I WANT ALL PRESS TO GET THE FUCK OUT OF THIS BUILDING UNTIL 6 P.M.,” says Graham, pursuing two camera men and a reporter he’s flushed out from the stage area.

“THAT MEANS STAY THE FUCK OUT TILL 6 P.M. IN ENGLISH,” Graham explains, pointing with outstretched arms the way out Gate 3 1/2.

Unwilling to jeopardize my lone hard-won press ticket (I had to stab at least one other Voice contributor in the back to make sure I got it), I retreat from the TUNING ROOM door and slip out Gate 3 1/2 myself.

That’s when I met Adam.

Adam Knyght is his performing name and once he sang with Bob Dylan. Well, not exactly.

Adam is a back-up musician. Last August down in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Adam played back-up harmonica and sang back-up vocals for Barry Goldberg who himself does back-up work for Bob Dylan. Dylan was down in Muscle Shoals helping produce Barry Goldberg’s first solo album, and that’s where Adam met him, he says.

Adam became close to Dylan that summer, he says. Dylan tried out some new songs for him, Adam says, got high with him in his van. They had some heavy raps together last summer, says Adam.

This afternoon Adam is waiting outside the Chicago Stadium Gates in 12 degree cold, hoping to get inside to see his old friend Bob. He’s driven 1000 miles from his tem­porary home in Montreal to be here for the start of the tour, and it’s not hard to see he’s dreaming that Bob will invite him along.

When he sees me scurrying out of Gate 3 1/2, Adam asks me if Dylan is inside.

“No, the rehearsal won’t start for an hour or so, but Dylan’s asked Graham to keep all outsiders out,” I reply.

“That’s okay,” says Adam, “Once he sees me, Bob’ll remember me from Muscle Shoals. He’ll probably let me in,” says Adam. Adam is 20 years old.

Adam suggests we drive around in his van listening to Dylan tapes until rehearsal time. Adam’s van is equipped with a powerful cassette machine and a powerful lid of dope.

Adam turns on “Blonde on Blonde” and “Visions of Johanna” comes on. The van turns on Halstead Street and the dope comes on.

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Adam turns out to have some interesting, if not entirely believable, first second and third hand tales to tell about his old friend Bob.

First the third hand story, because it’s the biggest if it’s true. There’s been a rumor going around that Dylan plans to give all his profits from this tour, every cent to Israel.

“Down in Muscle Shoals I remember Dylan tellin’ me how Israel is the only civilized place in the world,” Adam says.

“Civilized, that’s the word he used?”

“Yeah,” says Adam, “he told this story about how he was at this kibbutz and he would stand around outside and listen to them chant the prayers in the evening and wish he could be part of it.”

“He didn’t take part?”

“He said he stood outside and listened.”

Now for The Second Hand Story. It starts with organ boxes and ends with love, but it’s really about Dylan’s wife Sarah.

“Sarah is wonderful,” Adam says rapturously, “She has such an aura. You know she’s the one who pulled him through after the accident. She’s got some incredible aura. She’s so mystical, and she’s into everything. I remember in Muscle Shoals she was talking about getting him one of those boxes for collecting cosmic energy — what do they call them?”

“You don’t mean an orgone box?”

That’s it,” says Adam.

“You know,” says Adam continuing, “that he’s writing all his songs for Sarah now. There was one he tried out for us in Muscle Shoals — it was the best love song he ever wrote — a new one, and when he finished singing he looked around and said ‘I wish she coulda heard it.’ ”

“What’s it called?”

“I can’t remember if it had a name then,” says Adam.

Finally the first hand story. Adam and Dylan were getting high together in the van at Muscle Shoals. “He opened up to me about his religion,” Adam says. “He’s getting into being Jewish and Bobby Zimmerman and all that, but he said his real religion was the sun.”

“The sun?”

“Being like the sun. Getting up every day. But then he said something about how his real religion was getting into himself, that he’d gone you know so far into himself to escape from being a star, he was so scared of being a star, wheels on fire and all that, that he’d gone so far into a hole in himself that he’s finally come out the other side.”

“Like a black hole in space,” I said.

“What’s that?” says Adam.

“A black hole is what happens when a star collapses.”

“A star collapses, huh?” says Adam.

“Some people say it’s a hole into another kind of universe. I don’t think it comes out a star on the other side, but then again maybe it comes out another kind of sun, or son but the sun is still a star and—”

“You been smoking too much, man,” says Adam. “Maybe we ought to head back and see if we catch Bob.”

He turns the cassette machine up. We start singing along at the top of our voices. By the time the van finds its way back through the West Side ghetto to the Chicago Stadium again we are hoarse from singing the rest of “Blonde on Blonde” and the entire “Greatest Hits Volume I” tape, the one that ends with “I Want You,” “Positively 4th Street,” and “Just Like a Woman.”

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Adam and I stumble around the back of the stadium and head for Gate 3 1/2. As we round the corner we can see the gate itself has been rolled down shut, but two huge vehicles have drawn up flanking.

On the near side of the gate a glossy black Fleetwood Limousine sits silent and immobile. On the far side of the gate stands a huge gold and white “Recreational Vehicle.”

A sign on the door of the big mobile home says “The American Camper: America’s Largest Indoor Showroom.”

“Bob’s in there,” says Adam.

I’m skeptical, but the camper does have California plates (306 GLC) and Dylan and the Band have been living in Malibu lately.

“When he comes out I’ll let him know I’m here,” says Adam.

The door of the camper opens. A couple of familiar looking musicians jump down and walk into the stadium through a small door beside the closed gate. No Bob.

But the camper door remains open, and there’s some shadowy movement in the interior recesses.

“He’s scared to come out, he’s petrified of doing this tour,” says Adam.

A figure steps out into the door­way of the camper. It’s Bob Dylan. He seems to be fiddling with his guitar case. He looks out. He seems to notice he’s being watched. He disappears back into the “Indoor Showroom.”

“He hates performing,” says Adam.

Finally Dylan steps out into the wintry sunlight, blinks his eyes, and heads for the gate, carrying his black guitar case. He’s wearing brown corduroys, he got a brown knit scarf hanging around his neck like a tallish, and he looks like shy and sulky little Bobby Zimmerman, trudging off to Hebrew school to rehearse his bar mitzvah speech.

“He don’t look happy,” says Adam.

He don’t look up. He don’t look back. He don’t look at Adam either.

“Bob,” Adam calls out softly from six feet away. Bob doesn’t seem to hear. In fact he seems to shy away from the sound, and hurry faster through the door in the gate. A p.r. man appears from out of nowhere, hurries through behind Dylan, and signals us not follow.

Adam and I take turns pressing our noses against the small glass window in the gate-door, but all we can see inside are security guards and fork-lifts.

Adam and I stand outside the gate. Adam is at a loss. He’s trying to explain to himself why his old friend Bob didn’t take him in. Then Adam decides why.

“I know why,” he tells me. “It’s because of you. He hates the press. That’s why he turned away. He’s conditioned to look away when people say his name.”

But Adam is still optimistic. He takes out his ticket for the concert tonight.

“Look,” he says. “I got a box seat. Section B. That must be close enough. I hope it’s close enough. ’Cause if I can make eye contact with him during the concert, he’ll see me, he’ll give me a signal. All I gotta do is get his eye.”

Adam gives me a lift back to the Holiday Inn LSD, which is where we meet The Kid. The whole Dylan entourage except for Dylan himself is staying at the Holiday Inn LSD. (LSD stands for Lake Shore Drive, but several signs inside advertising the “Pinnacle Room” Rotating Rooftop Restaurant and the “Shake Rattle and Roll Revue of the ’50s and ’60s, featuring Las Vegas–style Tabletop dancing by Pierre and his Be-Be girls,” call the place “Holiday Inn LSD,” and the Maine restaurant is called “Mrs. Leary’s Barn,” so there’s reason aplenty to call it the “Holiday Inn LSD.”)

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Adam is playing “Greatest Hits Volume I” on his cassette machine in the elevator (we have decided to play more tapes and smoke more funny cigarettes to get ready for the show) when The Kid walks in.

The Kid says he’s come all the way from Boston for the concert. He asks to listen to the tapes with us and promises he’ll bring some coke to my room.

The Kid is so young and clean-cut Boston Irish looking we’re not sure if he means the stuff you snort or the stuff you drink, but 10 minutes later he shows up with the real thing.

The Kid tells us he’s 18 years old and just about the only Dylan freak he knows among kids his age. He sent away for tickets to the Boston concert, but didn’t get his letter postmarked in time.

“I was goin’ crazy thinkin’ I’d never get to see him, then my old lady somehow gets me a ticket to the opening concert and puts it in my stocking for Christmas, and it was like a dream come true.”

“So how come your girlfriend didn’t come along with you?” I ask the kid.

“What do you mean, my girlfriend?” the kid asks.

“You said your old lady put the ticket in your stocking and—”

“Yeah,” he said, “my old lady, my mother.”

“Your mother? I thought you were using that dumb California term for girlfriend, old lady.”

“No,” he says, “my girlfriend isn’t into Dylan. It’s my mother who is.”

We’re getting ready for the show. “Highway 61 Revisited” is careening through the cassette machine, and we’ve decided to leave for the stadium at the end of “Desolation Row.”

We’re all feeling great childlike rushes of anticipation. We all agree “Highway 61” is the best Dylan album of all. We all agree we want Dylan to do “Like a Rolling Stone” for his final encore. We all disagree over which is Dylans best love song (the Kid says it’s “Just Like a Woman,” I say it’s “I’ll Keep It with Mine,” Adam says it’s the mysterious song no name he heard Dylan sing down in Muscle Shoals). But we all agree we are the three greatest Dylan freaks of all time.

Halfway into “Highway 61” the Kid begins to freak with anticipation.

“It’s not gonna last. It’s not gonna last. I snorted this coke too soon. I’m getting this great rush now — Jesus — but it’s not gonna last till we get there. We gotta leave early enough. Dial the time number. We gotta make sure. We don’t wanta get caught in traffic.”

The Kid explains how lonely it’s been for him, the only Dylan freak his age among friends who are all into Quaaludes and Deep Purple, how he discovered old Dylan albums, how he tried to tell everybody but could not get across.

“Yeah,” says Adam to the Kid, “you became a Dylan freak when it looked like you’d never see him in the flesh. Like he was dead for you, and now suddenly you get to see him.”

“It was like a dream come true when I saw that ticket Christmas morning. I still can’t believe it’s gonna happen.”

“Yeah,” I say to the Kid. “For us it’s like going to see the Second Coming but for you it’s like you never saw the First.”

“Hey why don’t we get going. It’s almost 6. We gotta beat the traffic.”

“Yeah,” I say. “It can’t hurt to be early.”

“We gotta stay through the end of ‘Desolation Row.’ All the way to the end,” says Adam. “Dylan did.”


There’s no big brass bed on stage, but there is a double decker bunk, the kind that sleeps two, separately. There’s a comfy-looking over-stuffed sofa up there too, and an old-fashioned roll top desk, and a nice little wine-cooler type refrigerator.

There’s a crystal ball resting on top of the organ, candles flicker tastefully around it; Tiffany lamps illuminate it with a stained glass glow; and except for three tons of electronic amplification equipment the stage inside the Chicago Stadium looks like an intimate little living room. Or bedroom.

It’s like two ex-lovers planning to spend a night together for the first time in seven years, this reunion of Dylan and his American audience tonight. Do they act their ages for each other or do they revive aging acts?

Dylan comes on acting about three ages at once. He chooses to begin with a song he wrote 10 years ago when he was 22. It’s called “Hero Blues” and it’s about a woman who’s “the screaming end,” a lover who keeps demanding him to go out and perform more and more heroic feats for her, keeps pushing him closer and closer to the grave to provide her with entertainment.

It’s a song from Dylan’s acoustical folk day, but backed by the Band, he does it like a hard rock number from his pre-Accident electric period when he was 25. And behind it all is the sensibility and confidence of a 32-year-old post-Accident father of five warning his audience that no amount of screaming on their part is going to drive him to his screaming end again.

As for the audience, well, not even yours truly Mr. Jones here is paying attention to any of that shit about warnings at the time. The song’s obscure, we can barely make out the words, but we’re all sighing with relief and exhilaration: It’s really Dylan — he may have become an entirely different being in the past seven years but he can still remember the old times fondly enough to do a good imitation of himself back then. We begin to relax.

Then he does an electric “Lay Lady Lay” and the sighs of relief turn into sighs of pleasure.

He continues to play with his ages. He’s not singing “Lay Lady Lay” in the laid-back countrified way he did as a 29-year-old back in 1970. He’s doing it as a hard-rocking “Highway 61” type song, the kind he did when he was 24. It’s a lovely synthesis that lets him have his country pie and eat it too.

But having made his swift and effortless conquest of the audience Dylan suddenly seems to get cold feet. (A good part of the audience was also beginning to get cold feet about that time, but for a different reason: The main floor had been laid down over the hockey rink and if seems they don’t bother to melt the ice first.) Back to Dylan’s cold feet. As soon as he finished “Lay Lady Lay” he withdrew from the spotlight, retired to the rear of the stage near a hat rack, and played inconspicuous back-up guitar for several numbers by the Band.

After a while it began to look like Dylan had decided to do the rest of the concert as if he were just one of the boys in the Band. Having been promised so much by the first two numbers, the audience began to act a little restless, peering into the shadows to see if Dylan had disappeared. He was wearing black, and was hard to see back there. Scattered calls of “Where’s Bob?” could be heard.

Then something very nice hap­pened. The Band chose this moment to sing “Stage Fright.”

It’s a song about the fear “deep in the heart of a lonely kid/who suf­fered so much for what he did”; about how ever since the kid won “fortune and fame/Since that day he ain’t been the same.”

When they reach the refrain The Band seems to lean in and sing in the direction of the hat tree, where Dylan appeared to be hiding out:

Now see the man with the stage­ fright
Just standin up there to give it all his might
Now he got caught in the spotlight
(©Copyright Canaan Music)

The whole thing might have been ­staged for all I know, but I thought it was wonderful and whatever it was, it worked. Dylan steps back out front and center and starts singing again. And the song is “It Ain’t Me Babe.”

If it ain’t him, who is it? It ain’t shy little Bobby Zimmerman who’ stepped out of the mobile home this afternoon. It ain’t even the frightened tough guy Bob Dylan who wrote “It Ain’t Me Babe” when he was 23. It ain’t the “Win­terlude” dude of his most recent “Self Portrait” either. No it’s all of these rolled up into one 32-year-old guy who finally seems to know enough about who he is to play with who he was. After all, he was so much younger then, he’s older than that now. )

At this point the music starts to get very good and the whole evening begins to take off. Having warned us not to demand too much of him, Dylan proceeds to give us more than enough.

He does a short crackling version of “All Along the Watchtower” that’s meaner and rougher than the harmonic whine version on the “John Wesley Harding” album, but retains enough restraint to distinguish it from the thunder­storm abandon of the electric “Watchtower” Jimi Hendrix did before he died.

Then Dylan strides over to the electric piano and does a breathtaking version of “Ballad of a Thin Man,” the most wrathful melodramatic version I’ve ever heard. He seems to be reveling in the sheer malevolence of the song, piling snarl upon sneer into every­ curl of a line, looking like the Phantom of the Opera standing hunched over the piano pawing at the keys, overdoing it just enough to let you know he’s fooling around a little too, so that despite the anti-audience, anti-reporter, anti-per­former viciousness (“You hand in your ticket/And you go watch the geek…”) it’s impossible not to love him for the sound of it alone.

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Intermission time. The lights are up and I’m standing in the aisle talking to a magazine reporter. She says there’s something wrong with the audience, but she can’t figure out what. She says they don’t seem to be responding very passionately to Dylan, at least they aren’t making much noise.

I argue that what’s happening is that the audience is so passionate about Dylan they don’t want to let it show and scare him off the stage for another seven years. The audience is being tender and protective, not unresponsive. He’s warning them to keep certain distance and they’re responding with a kind of impassioned restraint. No need for yelling and wailing and wallowing when something like “Ballad of a Thin Man” stuns you into entranced silence.

She’s not convinced. She thinks the audience has outgrown Dylan or Dylan has outgrown the audien­ce.

Dylan must have visited the TUNING ROOM during intermis­sion: Or maybe an orgone box. He’s taken off his black sweater and put on a snow-white jacket. He looks a little like the ghostly Dylan who appeared in white at the Isle of Wight Festival back in 1969.

But he looks incandescent, rather than pale tonight. He appears to radiate that Reichian “light about the body.”

He starts heading backward in time, doing “The Times They Are a Changing,” then an astonishing “Song to Woody” from his very first album (” ’Bout a funny ol’ world that’s a comin’ along/It looks like it’s dyin’ but it’s hardly been born”) and “It’s All Right Ma” ‘(“He not busy bein’ born is busy dyin’ ”) from “Bringin’ It All Back Home.”

If you remember “It’s All Right Ma” from that 1965 album you’ll recall how Dylan barely had con­trol over the torturous path of the overwrought lyrics. I used to hate the song, think it was the worst he wrote. But tonight he has so much control over it, he does it with such rolling, declamatory authority that even the most awkward and pretentious lyrics seem suddenly graceful.

A reporter for the Manchester Guardian has been sitting next to me and we have been sharing dope and scotch throughout the concert. After “It’s All Right Ma” the Guard­ian man slaps his pen down on his note pad and says, “Uh, he is so fucking superb, I can’t write another bloody thing.”

Everything is falling into place now. It all seems so well timed. First the black-garbed, half-seduc­tive half-paranoid opening, acting out his ages and playing with them. Then the white-garbed trip back to his “Ma” and his ghostly Pa (Woody). And finally the new love songs.

He sang three of them, and the last one, I was sure, was the mysterious Song With No Name Adam told me Dylan had sung for Sarah last summer; the song has a name now. It’s called “Something There Is About You” and it’s the best love song Dylan’s written, I think, since “I’ll Keep It With Mine.”

Most of the other new stuff is a little too restrained and mature for my taste now. Maybe five years from now when I’m 32 I’ll like “Forever Young.” Ask me then. I like “Something There Is About You” right now. I don’t know much about maturity but I know what I like.


It almost ended perfectly. For his second encore Dylan put his black sweater back on, came back, and did what everyone had been waiting for him to do all evening. He did “Like a Rolling Stone.”

He didn’t do it as well as he’d done “Ballad of a Thin Man,” but he did it and that’s what counted.

When he finished all that restraint was abandoned. The place went wild.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard a louder noise,” said the man from the Manchester Guardian.

A totally satisfying climax to the evening. Nothing could top it. Dylan and the Band walked off stage. They should have been al­lowed to call it a night and leave in peace.

But then something spoiled it. That impassioned ovation for “Like a Rolling Stone” began to turn into a demand for another encore. Instead of being allowed to die a natural death it swelled into more foot stomping, more match burning, more compulsive clap­ping — a lot more.

Finally some spotlights came on again. Dylan and the Band walked back on stage. Slowly, this time.

We had put them in a position where they couldn’t refuse — they couldn’t afford to appear ungenerous on the first night of the tour. And yet we were supposed to have grown old enough to know when we’d had enough and when they’d had enough. We didn’t.

They did. They acted slightly sul­len, I thought, as they prepared for their final number. Dylan had trouble strapping his electric guitar back on. And the farewell song they played turned out to be an ill-tempered, discordant, mean-­spirited version of a fairly obscure song from “Blonde on Blonde.”

It’s called “Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine.”

“I can’t do what I done before,” Dylan sings, but he knows that he will.

“It can’t be this way everywhere,” he pleads, but he knows that it is.



Get between the ears of Daniel Lanois during Antithesis, a genre-eliding evening curated by the artist-producer. Consisting of four complete sets, Antithesis is reminiscent of rock impresario Bill Graham’s legendary and adventurous all-night Fillmore bills. Lanois will perform his new Flesh and Machine, a transposition of the recording studio to the stage involving hard and soft electronics accompanied sometimes by live drumming. The Antlers will represent Lanois’s mellow side with drifting, melancholic numbers from their recent Familiar. Wrapped in robes and headscarves, Tuareg tribesmen Tinariwen bring the bluesy nomadic sounds of their West African desert homeland. And Alabama artist Lonnie Holley has translated his practice of “improvisational creativity” from found plastic art to the audio realm on 2013’s Just Before Music, an album of droning metaphysical meditations.

Mon., Nov. 10, 8 p.m., 2014


Return to Arable Land

Distant countries like Italy and Sweden blipped back onto the hipster world map at the turn of the 21st century, after the long reign of Brazil (with tropicalia), France (la decadanse), and Norway (black metal). Italy housed barely legal reissue labels replicating LPs for free-jazz and psych-fetish completists, while the two-CD overview of Sweden’s completely unheard, unfathomable Pärson Sound revealed a psychedelic Pangaea of Coltrane, Sabbath, and Terry Riley-styled sludge mass. But as Benny, Björn, or newbie dinosaurs the Hives could tell you, the Swedes (whether shaggy-bearded or clean-cut) fashionably compress and commodify genres like bubbling pop, intoxicating minimalism, and obscure nuggets of rock into black gold with the best of them (meaning the Japanese).

So it followed that the indie press pushed the latest in studiously crafted Swede styling in the form of 24-year-old Gustav Ejstes. A one-man band who doubles as recording entity Dungen, he fantasizes about being the best power trio ever, even though Dungen play as a quartet live and have eight other credited players on Ta Det Lugnt, their third record. Crunching the numbers, Dungen tune up firmly believing that it’s still late ’67, where rock grinds Disraeli gears on an axis that’s as bold as love—a time when rock was still at the fore of pop, of harmonized nonsense choruses like “Tah-det luuuuuhn!” (“Take it eeeeasy!”). Tundra-thick tongues can’t block the rock, though, even if you can’t sing along: “Panda” and “Bortglömd” will make you strike air guitar windmills or pound out pursed-lip imaginary drum rolls like that’s part of a NordicTrack cross training routine.

And the group—er, rather, Gustav—has the moves and looks to eerily replicate that bygone time, garnering all the vintage gear necessary, right down to the old dust warming on the tube amps. Part prodigy, part anomaly, the golden-locked lad rocks like an Encino man-child, thawed out without having heard the last 35 years of music, the result being an album pungent with pointless nostalgia. “Bortglömd” literally means forgotten, and the translation of a piano interlude reads like an ancient foretelling: “Sometimes forgotten art will be honored yet.”

Credited with words, vocals, guitar, bass, drums, viola, flute, production, and mixing (he even engineers like Tommy Dowd!), the overdubbed Ejstes wheels and careens like the live bands he heard at his favorite concerts when he was negative-10 years old. East meets Fillmore West on the furious psych jams and more flute-heavy lava lampers, all vibing out somewhere in a little village green out on the Shangri-Lapland. Or in whatever weird, imaginary country could house both Bill Graham venues and Live at Leeds as mausoleums, where the petrifying now never impinges on the perfect, illusory past.

Down in Padua, Italy hides Jennifer Gentle, equally obsessed with an era known only on import. If you somehow missed the Pink Floyd reference, their love of A-Syd-era whimsy is made blatant scant seconds into their third album (and Sub Pop debut), Valende. Actually a basement creation from duo Marco and Alessio, Jen Gen recreate the blotter-blottoed Salvation Army stumble that permeates Barrett’s lobe-crumbling solo work. Embellished by balloon, kazoo, harmonium, and glockenspiel, voices are tweaked up to piercing pixie levels. “Universal Daughter” and “I Do Dream You” imagine a pop landscape where psilocybin caps sprout as Emily plays—sorta like Soft Machine’s Canterbury country, though the skronking, middling centerpiece, “Hessoapoa,” is a parable firmly set in Arable Land.

Away from the forced Mad Hatter haberdashery, Gentle’s pastoral moments enchant and encircle. “The Garden” encases “Hessoapoa,” and is in turn bookended by its best bits: “Golden Drawings” and “Circles of Sorrow.” The former sparkles like morning dew on such earthly delights, and the latter’s spectral whispers feature a twinkling chime that mimics the clockwork gears from Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters of Mercy.” These crystalline mechanisms act as an antique pocket watch time machine, transporting listeners back to an unmapped realm. Outside of time, birds chirp in marmalade skies, and pronounceable words are superfluous.