Tangled Up in Bob

Bob Dylan - Joni Mitchell - Dave Alvin

United Center - Chicago

October 25, 1998

First Appeared in The Music Box, December 1998, Volume 5, #12

Written by John Metzger


Bob Dylan tours relentlessly. Joni Mitchell rarely makes public appearances. Who would have guessed that this year these two legendary folk musicians would team-up for a tour that would bring them to Chicago's United Center on October 25?

Throughout her 70-minute set, Mitchell touched briefly upon her folk beginnings, but settled more comfortably into the jazz stylings she's been perfecting for the past two decades. Opening with Big Yellow Taxi, Mitchell gave the song a funkier beat and playfully sang one of the versus with a Dylan-esque accent a nod to Dylan's 1973 rendition of the song. On Face Lift, from her recent release Taming the Tiger, bassist Larry Klein and drummer Brian Blade developed a jazzy flourish through which Mitchell's vocals danced and soared.

The highlight of her set was an emotional Amelia, which originally appeared on her 1976 album Hejira. Her exquisite and passionate vocals painted the song with a deeply personal introspection as she compared the dreams of the famous aviator with her own. Greg Liesz's pedal steel playing gently drifted underneath the current of her heartfelt lyrics.

Dylan, on the other hand, took the United Center by storm, blasting through powerhouse rockers from his massive songbook. Gotta Serve Somebody, Silvio, Highway 61 Revisited, and Rainy Day Women #12 and 35 all raged with unabashed emotion fueled by drummer David Kemper's bombastic cadences and Dylan's own edgy guitar solos. The interplay between Dylan, guitarist Larry Campbell, and pedal steel guitarist Bucky Baxter flowed with electrical impulses that displayed their silent communication with one another.

Even on the slower paced numbers, a furious intensity lurked just behind the calm and threatened to explode at the slightest touch. Just Like a Woman opened with a lengthy impromptu harmonica solo from Dylan, as he propped his booted heel on the corner of the platform for the drum kit. Fittingly, a fierce guitar duel brought the song to a turbulent finish.

One of the most hilarious aspects of Dylan's performance was his playfulness. The band plastered the introduction to The Weight on the front of I'll Remember You, and they used the introduction to the Grateful Dead's Friend of the Devil to begin It Ain't Me Babe a phenomenal version on its own featuring several tempo changes and a lush, bluegrass-oriented sound.

In addition, while the band coaxed the rhythmic pulses of a groove, Dylan would jerk his body just enough to get a reaction from the audience. He leaned forward, performed a duck-walk, danced, and twitched stopping just when the audience began to react. Occasionally, a smile would cross his straight-laced face if only for a fleeting moment. But one thing was clear after all these years, he was still having fun!

Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men opened the show with an enjoyable set of country, rock, and blues drawn from the music of Chuck Berry and Bruce Springsteen. However, it would have been better had the concert either started thirty minutes earlier or had this band been eliminated so that Mitchell would not have had to cut short her exquisite set.

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Copyright 1998 The Music Box