Dylan Leaves 'em Hangin' Then Pulls The Crowd In
By Carlo Wolff
Schenectady Gazette - Monday, July 14, 1986
SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Count on Bob Dylan to leave you in the lurch, and then bring you home.
In his Saratoga Performing Arts Center debut, Dylan -- backed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers -- drew 19,290 fans last night, figuratively keeping the rain at bay in a show of nearly three hours.
It was a spotty, unorthodox, often jerky performance; the first set, with Dylan and the band and those ecstatic backup singers Madlyn Quebec, Carol Dennis, Queen Esther Marrow and Louise Bethune, was largely negligible, despite a luminous "Shot of Love" and a pretty "I'll Remember You."
But the show began to catch fire -- and the sound to straighten out -- when the suave Petty and his stylish Heartbreakers snagged the crowd with the new "Think About Me" and a version of "The Waiting" that just avoided melodrama.
Then, in what may have been his best segment of the night, Dylan came back solo, mesmerizing various generations with a magical, torrential "Mr. Tambourine Man," a sweet "To Ramona" and, finally, "One too Many Mornings," delivered oracular and querulous.
Much of the material was relatively recent, and Dylan shone on such explicitly religious tunes as the power-reggae "I and I" and, particularly, a version of "In the Garden" that almost levitated the crowd.
But he also delivered a heartfelt homage to Ricky Nelson in that idol's "Lonesome Town," worked nostalgia with "We Had It All" and a strange, successful revamp of "House of the Rising Sun."
He was in fine, magisterial rant of a voice throughout, reserving his emotions especially for a raucous, passionate "Like a Rolling Stone," which he and Petty sang for their lives.
They also did a peculiar, oddly moving "Blowin' in the Wind," which started out country but ended up sanctified.
It was a deeply oddball show, pairing one of the strangest, idiosyncratic and influenced rock singers of all with a band known for its bourbon-smooth, passionate tunes.
Some of the best moments -- when band and audience were one -- came in "Ballad of a Thin Man" and "Rainy Day Women 12 and 35," when Dylan ordered everyone to get stoned as if it were 20 years ago.
And Petty proved he can project, big and proud, offering a beautiful, heartrending "Refugee" and a weird vamp on his funky, recent tune, "Spike."
At first, it seemed as if it were a show by Petty and his band, with guest appearances by Dylan. But as it progressed, Dylan took ever more command, and at the very end, he took the whole audience home, with "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."
New Dylan Album Has Wiry Strength, Humor
By Carlo Wolff
Schenectady Gazette -- Monday, July 14, 1986
Bob Dylan's sounding relaxed, natural -- and characteristically prickly -- on his new LP, "Knocked Out Loaded," a versatile, eight-song collection that is largely self-produced, The album is due in stores this week.
On the basis of an advance cassette, "Knocked Out Loaded" (a phrase that surfaces in one of the tunes) boasts a wiry strength and an eclectic cast of musicians, including various Heartbreakers, Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood (on the rowdy "Driftin' too Far From Shore"), Dylan's longtime keyboard sidekick Al Kooper, and wonderful female backup singers.
It also sports Dylan's longest (and perhaps more ambitious) tune in years, the mythical-western tune he wrote with playwright Sam Shepard called "Brownsville Girl."
Despite its length -- over 11 minutes -- this "border" fantasy, an oddly Spanish, sprawling work, is funny, provocative and ambiguous. Not only that, it's also stirring; it's been a long time since Dylan mixed anecdote and homily, character and fantasy, so well, in his first collaboration with Shepard since the epic home movie of 1978, "Renaldo and Clara."
The music, as has been the case since 1979's "Slow Train Coming," is a unique mix of barroom and gospel. Call it Tex-Mex soul, sanctified rockabilly, pop stood on its head; whatever the label, it transcends categories. The styles span the Cinerama Western of "Brownsville Girl," Dylan's sweet lover's-reggae revamp of the traditional "Precious Memories," the straight rock of "Maybe Someday," an incandescent Kris Kristofferson tune called "They Killed Him," and the bittersweet pop of "Under Your Spell," a commercial -- and unorthodox -- collaboration with Hollywood tunesmith Carole Bayer Sager.
Dylan's in fine voice, from the rant of "Got My Mind Made Up" to the caress of "Memories" and the bluesy snarl of "You Wanna Ramble." And despite the length of "Brownsville Girl," the album doesn't sag.
While "Knocked Out Loaded" lacks the silken assurance of "Infidels," it's far more extroverted. And t's both less trendy and more accessible than last year's spotty, if exciting, "Empire Burlesque."
As always, Dylan fuses memory and imagination, narrative and anecdote, the sacred and the profane, in tunes that sound simple, yet offer multiple angles and meanings.
Is he speaking as God or man in the feisty "Driftin'?" Is he really as ornery as he sounds on the hard-rocking "Got My Mind Made Up"?
The fact that such catchy tunes still manage to raise thorny questions and encourage the listener to ask them, prove Dylan's as effective as ever at confusion -- and occasional, hard-won enlightenment.