By ELI JACE >
“Nice to be back in Phoenix,” Bob Dylan told the crowd at the Arizona Federal Theater.
It was March 3, opening night of the second leg of the Rough and Rowdy Ways World Wide Tour 2021-2024. The first leg went through the Midwest and east coast last fall. Everyone on this night was held in rapt attention as Dylan and His Band rollicked through a stirring setlist.
The band were spaced out in a straight line before the velvet curtain. As they played light smoke hung in the air–the fog of time. Accompanying Dylan on piano were Bob Britt on guitar, Tony Garnier on bass, and Donnie Herron tackling different stringed instruments. Drummer Charley Drayton and guitarist Doug Lancio, new to the touring lineup, joined last November, replacing Matt Chamberlain and Charlie Sexton.
Dylan, full-throated and syllabically focused, stayed hunched behind the piano, obscured by slats of wood.
The words spooled from his sharpened tongue. Stories sustained by the verbiage of the great lyricist with slow-spiraling ghosts in a swoon as the band played on. True to the tour’s title, every song off 2020’s Rough and Rowdy Ways made it onto the setlist, except the 17-minute closer “Murder Most Foul.” “My Own Version Of You,” slipped coolly through the theater, Herron’s slide guitar rising to the upper levels. Dylan’s low ramble torched the room as he addressed the protagonist on “Black Rider.” Cue up the song when running down your enemies on an ill lit highway.
Drayton bashed his drum set, giving the songs a chaotic swing whenever the tempo picked up. The band got to jumping on the blues stomp, “Goodbye Jimmy Reed.” “Crossing the Rubicon” found the stage for the first time. “Key West (Philosopher’s Pilot)” was the night’s most affecting performance. It’s a slow late-night diner song. Between the notes you can feel the humidity wafting over from the Atlantic. “If you lost your mind,” Dylan sings, “you’ll find it there,” at that place on the horizon line, that “land of light.” Key West, Florida, the furthest south a man can get in the US.
Dylan was exuberant and cheerful, laughing between songs.
He stepped away from piano once or twice and stood there grinning at us. Toward the end of the night he shouted out hometown heroes Alice Cooper and Stevie Nicks before roping in the late Republican senator Barry Goldwater. They were staying at the famous Arizona Biltmore Hotel, he said, a place known for its celebrity clientele. Marilyn Monroe used to love swimming in the Catalina Pool. “There’s even a plaque up where she used to swim,” Dylan laughed, but they dare not go near it.
Outside the new album, the deepest cut was “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine,” from 1966’s Blonde On Blonde. “Gotta Serve Somebody” off Slow Train Coming was the most raucous with a cracking electric guitar.
At 80 years old, Dylan walks the earth having passed his own history. To witness his genius in the year 2022 is a blessing. The Never Ending Tour is set to run through 2024, but currently is scheduled only through mid-April, hitting the southeastern States.