Nov 17 2014
The first of two shows at Toronto's Sony Centre For The Performing Arts represented a bit of a homecoming for Bob Dylan. In June of 1990, Bob played a three night run of gigs at the then-named O'Keefe Centre that are still spoken of in awe by Dylan scholars.
Twenty-four years later, Bob and his five piece band (including long-time bassist Tony Garnier and returning guitar hero Charlie Sexton) strode confidently onto the stage with a clear mission in mind: to deliver the goods.
Opening with the 2000 Oscar winning "Things Have Changed" , with Dylan positively wrapping each word around the microphone, was an entirely prophetic move. For an artist that has long balanced all eras of his lengthy career, the current trek leans much more heavily upon relatively recent material over the established "classic" period. In fact, of the nineteen song set, only four tunes were pre-1976. This is a good thing.
Of the vintage songs, the second track "She Belongs To Me" had a new breakdown during the harmonica solo not heard previously (see,even the old stuff is done new). Dylan himself alternated between playing a baby grand piano (which sounded much better than the electric piano he has been pounding on for the last ten years) and standing centre stage with one hand on the mic stand."Working Man Blues #2" from Modern Times (2006) was a slow burn before the mostly acoustic "Waiting For You" from the 2002 soundtrack Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood. 2012's "Duquesne Whistle" (Tempest) got things rollicking again leading into a sinister "Pay In Blood" from the same album.
For "Tangled Up In Blue", Dylan did the first part of the song center stage (and changed some lyrics) but went to his piano for the second half to add some additional keyboards.
"Love Sick" from 1997's Time Out Of Mind album featured some exciting soloing from Sexton and ended the fifty minute set with Dylan exclaiming, "we'll be right back!"
After a twenty-five minute intermission, the band returned for an eight song, forty-five minute second set. Aside from "A Simple Twist Of Fate", this batch was all newer tracks. A banjo heavy version of "High Water For Charley Patton" from the 2001 release Love And Theft kicked things off while the crowd was also treated to "Spirit On The Water" from Modern Times(2006), "Forgetful Heart" from Together Through Life (2009) and incredibly, four more songs from 2012's Tempest ("Early Morning Kings", "Scarlet Town", "Soon After Midnight" and "Long And Wasted Years").
A major benefit to the show was the almost crystal clear sound, a welcome relief from Dylan's usual Toronto locations the Air Canada Centre and the Molson Amphitheatre. This venue was near perfect for Dylan and his band to really be heard properly.
The two song encore delivered the knock-out punch. "Blowin' In The Wind" got an enthusiastic welcome from those pining for the early days of protest songs and political calls to action.
But the highlight was the absolutely spellbinding finale of a delicate cover of Frank Sinatra's "Stay With Me" (from his Sinatra '65 album). With Garnier bowing his stand up bass and a pedal steel ringing throughout the hall ,Dylan delicately caressed each word finishing the evening on a truely magical note.
Robert Lawson 2014.