The Dylan Show Comes To New Britain

It took an hour just to get out of the city yesterday, but we had the good sense to leave early in the afternoon and made it to New Britain Stadium in New Britain, Connecticut with time to spare before The Bob Dylan Show with John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson began with a brief set by eclectic NewYork acoustic quartet The Wiyos. They more than lived up to their advance notice while we made full use of our catering privileges, their version of Little Walter's classic Chicago blues staple "My Babe" standing out during dinner.

Willie followed, and as Harry Sandler (John's former longtime manager who's back on board managing this tour) noted, "he's been around 70 years and he'll be around another 140." And why not? Willie's show doesn't change, but it's always tops. He sounds as good as ever, plays as good as ever, satisfies as good as ever-and that goes for his band, too. After the set his ace harmonica player Mickey Raphael was excited about his new tour pastime: bike riding with Andy York and Mike Wanchic!

John's show pretty much followed the format of the July 2 tour kick-off in Sauget, Illinois. Similarly attired in jeans, longsleeve blue shirt and vest, he came out with a hearty "Are you ready?" before whipping the band into "Pink Houses," marked here by York's steel resonator guitar, Troye Kinnett's accordion and John Gunnell's standup bass. Just like old times, Harry could be seen off to the side of the stage surveying the crowd.

A gripping version of "Paper in Fire" followed, featuring strong guitar play from Andy and Mike (on electric 12-string) and feeding into "Deep Blue Heart," with Miriam Sturm starring on violin. Standing in shallow centerfield maybe 100 feet from the stage set-up in the outfield, the sound was great.

John tossed his chewing gum across the stage as he broke into "Check It Out"--and turned especially serious afterwards. In his first spoken words of any substance, he declared: "I wrote this song for my generation," then delivered the first verse of "Don't Need This Body." Prior to the second he added, "See if you can relate to this"--the crowd's attention thereby focused on the ominous lyric "Well I can't see much like I used to/And I can't run like the wind." The band, meanwhile, struck an indelible pose centering on Troye, Dane and Mike, who were grouped together at a single mic on the right singing backup and setting the rhythm with handclaps.

Suddenly talkative, John offered the crowd the option of hearing a new song or an old one. "Sure you want a new one?" he asked, clearly not hearing the majority in shallow center who joined me in yelling "old." But there were no protests from any of us when he sang the new "Take Some Time to Dream," which he recorded last week in Savannah for his upcoming album "No Better Than This." Now solo and accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, John sounded a lot like, well, the old Dylan on the stunning tune (sample lyric: "Try to keep your mind open and accept your mistakes"), then proceeded into "Small Town," during which Miriam and Troye came out and segued into an instrumental violin/accordion interlude when John left the stage-to return with the rest of the band for "Rain on the Scarecrow."

Departing from the first night's set list, John next substituted "Troubled Land" for "The Real Life," then went back to the original program with "If I Die Sudden," spanking Miriam affectionately as she stepped up for a solo opposite Andy, then rewarding her with a little cheek-to-cheek dance after. John prepped the crowd for blast-off by twice asking "Are you ready?" before diving into "Crumblin' Down," then capped the outstanding set with a slam-dunk.

"This band started out to be a garage band and then graduated to playing bars," he said, adding, "but thanks to you people 40 years later we're still playing--so thank you very much." The closer, he noted, was written when he was 22 years old.

"It was a little juvenile when you look back on it, but a lot of you probably sang along-and I still feel the same way!" It was "Authority Song," of course, and the crowd response indicated that those present most certainly still felt the same way, too.

That it was indeed a great show was confirmed by Miriam back by the band's bus.

"If it was a basketball game, we kept the ball!" she said breathlessly, ecstatic over every aspect of the performance. A small group of Andy's 30-some guests then came over to her, one of whom, a shy little girl who was an aspiring violinist, was introduced to her hero, Miriam.

Dylan had begun, but it was anyone's guess what he was singing. I'm told on good authority that he started with "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" and know for a fact that he followed with "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again."

The band was good, his voice croaked. When we left early to beat the traffic-it took a good half-hour to go six miles due to road construction-there was some debate over what song he was doing. I said "Maggie's Farm." Harry said "Highway 61 Revisited."

Harry won.
---jim bessman