Bob Dylan is attempting a career-summarizing tour-de-force in his current run of shows at the Beacon Theatre. Songs that he's played over three nights so far: "To Be Alone With You," "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," "Visions Of Johanna," "Cold Irons Bound," "Moonlight," "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again," "High Water (For Charley Patton)," "Summer Days," "Standing In The Doorway," "Highway 61 Revisited," "Desolation Row," "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," "Tombstone Blues," Love Minus Zero/No Limit," "Lonesome Day Blues," "This Wheel's On Fire," "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum," "John Brown," "Under The Red Sky," "Bye And Bye," "Shooting Star," "Honest With Me," "Masters Of War," "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," "Drifter's Escape," "Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power)," "Down Along The Cove," "Girl Of The North Country," "I'll Remember You," "Tangled Up In Blue," "Tough Mama," "Floater (Too Much To Ask)," "Blind Willie McTell," "Honest With Me," "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," and "Mississippi." Of these, only "High Water," "Highway 61," and "Watchtower" have been repeated.
I caught Monday's show, avec Pack, and was impressed by the power of the current band. New lead guitarist Stu Kimball plays crisp, incisive melodies, often preserving the ghost of old vocal lines that the Meister, in his urge to recompose even his most recent songs, has suppressed. After several comparatively straight-ahead years, the singing has entered another mannered phase. "Visions of Johanna" was essentially sung on two notes, the first and fifth of the scale, like "Rock Me Amadeus." Maybe Dylan is stripping down the melodies so the words come through more clearly, although I have to admit I kind of see where Sasha is coming from in terms of the whole issue of comprehensibility. I listened to the first verse of "Visions" under the impression it was "Desolation Row." But, you know, I really don't care. Judge for yourself by listening to an MP3 at bobdylan.com. Scroll down for great 2001 versions of "Standing in the Doorway" and "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum," a rocking 2002 "High Water," and a gorgeous 1998 "Born in Time."
Merle Haggard's show was high-grade pleasure — effortless give-and-take between him and his band, music as smart, relaxed conversation. Kind of like Jordi Savall. I have a half-baked theory about how there are two kinds of music: 1) Marching in Lockstep, where everything's governed by notation or electronic arrangement (orchestral classical, hip-hop, arena rock); and 2) Shuffling Along, where musicians play freely over given chords (old-school country, jazz, early-music classical). The theory needs some work, but it nicely busts up the usual pop/classical and racial divides.