After the Ravinia show I was not really sure what to expect because for me anyway the show really didn’t work. Bob didn’t appear in a very good mood or present and the show truly lacked any energy. The Shadows/Fallen Angels/etc. songs are tough because their tempos are all very similar. At Ravinia “What'll I Do” was one I found myself thoroughly enjoying and at Forest Hills “Why Try To Change Me Now” bolted my brains to the wall. I also would like to say I love the last two records so I am most definitely not in the camp of those who are either not thrilled or for whatever reasons totally against these records. First off the production on both is second to none and Dylan’s singing is truly out of this world and the band has never sounded better. Live though I’m not sure they are coming across as well or maybe it’s simply because two instead of six would serve the show better. It’s incredible with regards to Bob’s own songs how different they were at Forest Hills versus Ravinia. To be fair “Things Have Changed” and “She Belongs To Me” at Ravinia were quite good, but after that everything seemed to come to a screeching halt until “Long And Wasted Years.” At Forest Hills though the show just kept getting more and more super charged. I also need to mention, before I forget, how interesting it is that Bob seems to still be tinkering with the songs even this late in the tour and how a number of the songs sound closer to their original album arrangements than they perhaps ever have. “Things Have Changed” and “Love Sick” to name just two.
Let’s focus now on Forest Hills and how it was so completely and absolutely a real treat for all of the senses. “Pay In Blood” has always held a very special place in my Jewish-Sicilian heart and I was very fortunate to be in Detroit for its live debut. A show that has yet to surface in any actual listenable quality. I love when Bob delivers a song like he is Father Mapple (Orson Welles) in Moby Dick. “Duquesne Whistle” a song that can be hit or miss live really wracked my brains this time around and left me not only wanting more, but also wondering about that old oak tree and wishing that I could also climb it. It was a real mother of our Lord version. What to say about the harp on “Tangled Up In Blue” other than it spoke directly to my soul and, I swear, changed some of my DNA molecules for all time. It was a revelation, a changing of the guard’s kind of moment that left me completely satisfied and spent all at the same lonesome tolling time like only Bob can and so often does when he’s firing on all cylinders.
“High-Water” beginning the second act was one of the best “High Water’s” that I’ve heard in a very long time. It’s another song I hold very close to my multi chambered, duplicitous heart and this version really delivered the danger and sense of foreboding that I feel the original album version so well captures and then sets free. It burned down the barn after making sure all of the animals were safe and accounted for. Noah would have been proud of this version as would have Charley Patton (The Masked Marvel). As previously stated “Why Try To Change Me Now” was so perfectly delivered and with lyrics like “You know I'll love you / Till the moon's upside down / Don't you remember / I was always your clown / Why try to change me now” how could one not be completely enraptured by this profound telling of a true classic. “Early Roman Kings” was the very best version of this song I have ever heard, experienced or witnessed live. First it was beyond thrilling (as was the case with this entire concert) to get to not only hear the band loud and in your face (the acoustics were spot on and whoever is doing the live mix truly knows their stuff), but sometimes it feels like Bob has the band on too tight a leash and at Forest Hills this was most definitely not the case. They rocked on “Early Roman Kings” and built such a truly solid and menacing foundation for Bob’s bloody and torrid vocals. He tore this song to shreds as the band shredded and the whole Forest Hills Stadium knew that Bob Dylan and his band were here and none of us (including Senor Bob) would ever be quite the same again. We were in that Sicilian court and when he spat out the lyrics “I can strip you of life / Strip you of breath / Ship you down / To the house of death” he wasn’t in the least little bit messing around so you best pay attention or you might just go down in the flood.
A Bob Dylan concert is performance-noir at its very best. Its pulp fiction without any Tarantino superfluities because Dylan needn’t resort to over the top antics to deliver his art and his life force. His memoirs are laid out for anyone to see and hear if only they would put down their smart (dumb) phones and stop discussing with the person next to them what they had for dinner the night before. America has never been very good with nuance at least not since the fifties breathed their last breath and directors like Elia Kazan and Nicholas Ray were shown the door. Forest Hills was not only a reminder of what was, but was a harbinger of what’s to come. It brought people closer together and showed us just what it means to do one’s chosen work without worrying that your Tweet is 140 characters or that your best friend is not in fact your worst enemy. It raised the dead while also raising important questions without beating us over the head with worthless foam from the mouth and made the circle whole again if only for one night in The City That Never Sleeps. Thank you Bob Dylan for showing us what is real and what is not and for revealing to us just how full of it too many of us are. “Truer words have never been spoken or broken” and you quite obviously get that as you continue to make the rounds and leave us wanting more.