That was the night I attended my first Dylan concert, and I picked a good one. As that linked review of the bootleg puts it, it was “an incredible, jaw-drop performance”. I listened to the concert again before writing this, and it would still make me buy another ticket to attend the following night’s concert just as I did over twenty years ago. I think what surprised me most at the time was how many classic older songs were in the setlist—some idiosyncratic performances by Dylan as usual, but all great songs performed in extended versions by either a very solid rock band or in a stunning acoustic set by Dylan.
Of course the following night’s show didn’t seem as good for whatever reason (fewer classics, although it did include the two songs which inspired the first posts in this series), but a year later I was back in the same theater to see Dylan again—this time I thought opening act Patti Smith, who I’d never seen before and most of whose songs I wasn’t that familiar with, blew him away. Another year later and it was Dylan’s turn to blow away Van Morrison as they shared a bill at a large sports arena. It was fun to hear some of Morrison’s upbeat songs but the constant switching between those and the slower spiritual songs was jarring and the band’s performance much too slick.
My first Dylan concert was one of the best I’ve ever attended but the concert I’m happiest to have attended actually wasn’t very good—George Harrison in 1974. He was hoarse, a chunk of the concert was Indian music, other band members led a couple songs, and some of Harrison’s song selections weren’t that great. But I arranged our group of attendees (my cousin, her stepsister, and a guy I went to high school with) and it was a bit of history. There were also some big stadium shows during those years which I have very little memory of but I’m fairly sure I saw the Stones, a Beach Boys/Chicago cobill, Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, and Elton John. Did I see the Allman Brothers or just listen to a lot of live recordings? It’s a bit of a blur.
The strangest setting for a concert was a farm building somewhere in Illinois. Or maybe it was an old hockey rink. All I’m really sure of is that it was a large rectangular building with no seating, lots of drinking during the show, and pissing in a trough on the outside of the building. That was for the group Boston after their peak.
There was blues on a Chicago pier, the Holmes Brothers at the Lowell folk festival, Harry Chapin at a university in Illinois, the Waterboys past their most exciting period but still good enough to make me wish even more that I’d seen them years earlier, and many free outdoor concerts everywhere I’ve lived.
In Boston, I enjoyed the fantastic singer-songwriter scene for many years, getting the chance to meet a lot of the local and touring performers. The legendary Utah Phillips, excellent guitarist Richard Thompson, many Greg Brown concerts, Luka Bloom liked my t-shirt, Chris Smither (a great songwriter, great guitarist, and great guy) recognized me from attending many concerts, Bill Morrissey played These Cold Fingers, Steve Forbert Goin’ Down to Laurel.
Patty Griffin, who I’d see as an opening act at a tiny place in Cambridge and then tell everyone who’d listen that she was going to be a big star if she wanted to be. Years later when she put out her first major release I had her sign a tape she had been selling at those early performances and she couldn’t believe I had it. Jonatha Brooke of The Story and a former dancer (oh, how I loved dancers), who signed “Stranger no more” by the lyrics of Full-Fledged Strangers. Lori Carson at a record store performance where I requested Snow Come Down which had just been released that morning. Joan Baez, who sang a fitting song about older women and younger men which caused my companion and I to look at each other at the same moment (we also attended a magical evening with the Paul Winter Consort at Symphony Hall).
Compared to my decades in Boston, the weeks I’ve spent in New Orleans aren’t much but many of my current favorite musicians are based there. I owned a couple of Walter Wolfman Washington’s lps back in the 80s in Boston, but I was introduced to most of the rest of these New Orleans musicians by a friend in Yellowstone. I saw Jon Cleary, who writes funny Facebook posts while touring, play solo piano at the same Frenchmen Street bar where I saw Washington’s band but would love to see him with his band, Anders Osborne who I haven’t seen in New Orleans but did see play in Montana, Johnny Sansone who I’ve yet to see in person, the Revivalists (loved their first three releases, but not the latest which seems more like a solo than a band album) who I saw at the Po-Boy Festival.
I’ve just finished rewatching Treme with the music commentaries playing and it was great to see and hear them all—I’d love to be able to live in New Orleans for a couple months to have the chance to see them all in the various local clubs where they play regularly when they’re not touring the world.
I don’t go out to hear as much music in Duluth as I used to when I first lived here, but Charlie Parr remains a favorite who I’m looking forward to see play by the Lake next month. A Jackson Browne concert here surprised me by how good it was. A couple weeks ago, I saw Sarah Krueger on the bus and felt a little star-struck which seemed odd considering all the much more famous people I’ve actually met; maybe I’ve just finally reached the dirty old man stage of my life.
There were many folks I wish I’d seen—Billie Holiday, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Jerry Garcia, John Lennon, Janis Joplin, Bob Marley, Jim Croce, Willy DeVille, War, and I suppose Bach wouldn’t have bad.