With the sun glaring down on them, My Morning Jacket played a relatively laidback set as fans settled in. Holding back so as not to upstage Dylan, they did kick it into higher gear for the last couple songs "Smokin from Shootin" and "Run Thru." There were small pockets of MMJ enthusiasm here and there, but predominantly it was a lot of beer-buying and talking among older fans who probably wouldn't have known My Morning Jacket from My Chemical Romance. Still, the vibe was one of, "Hey, these guys aren't bad!"
Wilco jammed out a fairly standard Wilco set, with "Company in my Back" and "California Stars" both highlights and the world-class guitar work of Nels Cline as satisfying as always. As has been happening throughout the tour, the band worked in a couple regional surprises. Leslie Feist was brought on stage for two duets with Jeff Tweedy, including a beautiful version of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne." As they've done on several Americanarama stops, they closed with a raucous cover of Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl."
This leg of Bob Dylan's never ending tour has already seen the abrupt replacement, or more likely, the abrupt firing of lead guitarist Duke Robillard. After a show in which Bob was seen to be visibly steamed about Duke musically stepping all over him, Robillard tweeted that all of his Dylan albums were for sale, and Charlie Sexton was back playing lead guitar the next night. On Tuesday, Charlie was nowhere to be seen and Toronto-born guitarist Colin Linden was on lead guitar. Whether this was a one-night deal or Linden is joining the band isn't yet known.
Bob Dylan tends to pick his opening acts wisely. And while Wilco and MMJ are popular, potent bands with decent followings, they aren't going to provide the visceral punch of Dylan's finely-honed set. The opener of "Things Have Changed" always ignites audience enthusiasm. A major improvement on this tour has been to move "Love Sick" and "High Water" into the two and three spots. The best song of the night, however, was the gorgeous "Soon After Midnight" off his last album Tempest.
From then on things grew a bit stale. There's always a lot of enthusiasm for "Tangled Up in Blue" from the first-timers, but those with Dylan T-shirts dating back to the '80s usually make a beer/bathroom run since this song has been done to death and Dylan doesn't have much left to offer it.
The band gave everything it had on "Summer Days," and Bob had some interpretative fun, but the up-tempo efforts bored the pants off everyone. Similarly "Duquese Whistle" was a real dead spot, just like "The Levee's Gonna Break" "Rollin' and Tumbling" or any other late-set blues rocker of past years.
Jim James and Jeff Tweedy were brought on stage by Dylan for a cover of "Twelve Gates to the City" and the closer of "Blowin' in the Wind." This doesn't happen often. It's an honour bestowed on those Bob genuinely admires. Jack White, Norah Jones, and Mark Knopfler are a few notable examples. It's impossible to know what the two men were thinking, but there was an impression that they stood on stage with a deep respect for Dylan, but were a little uncomfortable with his discordant shouting. As one Detroit critic recently said, it seemed like Dylan was on a different planet than the band making such beautiful music.
Still, there's a lot less fat on his set these last few months, and who else can run out "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," "All Along the Watchtower," "Blowin' In the Wind," "She Belongs to Me," "Blind Willie McTell" and "Simple Twist of Fate." Even if you'd maybe rather hear Jeff Tweedy sing them, Dylan wrote those fuckers, and there he is just 20 (or 200) feet away from you.
It could be that because Dylan continues to plug on, he gets less respect than he deserves. Go listen to the best 50 songs Bob Dylan wrote. Then curate the top 50 songs of McCartney, Paul Simon and whoever the hell else combined. It won't be close. Dylan is our Proust, Pynchon, and Kerouac rolled into one. He's the best we've got. Let him shout if he wants to. If he loses his voice altogether, let him do a magic show or some juggling.