"Hollis Brown" and House Lights in Philly
1974-01-06-07, The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA
Two shows in one day! For the first of many times this tour, they’d pack in an afternoon and an evening show. That’s playing roughly four and half hours of music in a single day. Okay, they all get short mid-show breaks—Bob during The Band’s set, The Band when Bob goes solo acoustic—but still they’re all doing the better part of four hours up there. No wonder they felt burnt out by the end. No wonder they were reportedly using let’s-say-performance-enhancing substances to keep the energy up.
The stage setup has simplified. Chicago’s bunk bed is gone. Writer Stephen Pickering, who wrote a book about this tour, reported that the stage looked roomier without the extra stuff. Still present though: “the stool by Dylan's microphones, the hat-rack, the barrel holding a lit candle…the brown couch. Further back is a white cloth-covered table, with wine (Almaden, California Burgundy) glasses and a large pitcher.”
“Like a Rolling Stone,” the greatest of the greatest-hits, the most crowd-pleasing of the crowd-pleasers, gets a new lighting effect. In his Band bio Across the Great Divide, Barney Hoskyns writes:
It was at Philadelphia’s Spectrum arena on 6 January that Bill Graham decided to show Dylan just what he meant to his fans. On ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, he asked lighting director Bruce Byall to inch the house lights up a notch with each successive chorus. By the song’s blazing climax, the lights were full on and Dylan could see just what 20,000 of his fans looked like en masse. ‘He came off the stage mesmerized,’ said Graham.
Graham’s innovation stuck. I’ve seen shows in the 21st century where the house lights still went on for “Like a Rolling Stone” choruses.
Finally, a lot of setlist shakeups this early in the tour, even though by the end the setlists would become relatively (though not entirely) static. After one final outing in the Philly afternoon show, “Tough Mama” is gone for good. He wouldn’t play it again for 23 years. The electric deep-cut opener “Hero Blues” is now gone too. He wouldn’t play that one again ever.
In its place, though, he tried a new kickoff song: A wild full-band “Ballad of Hollis Brown.” It would become a setlist staple, and one of the defining songs of this tour, albeit not as the opener. He clearly liked the idea of opening with a wildly-reinvented electric version of an old folk-era deep cut, but decided it wasn’t working. By the evening show he’d moved “Hollis Brown” to slot 8 and was trying out another tour debut as an opener, this time a hit: “Rainy Day Women.” He’d soon drop that too, not solving the first-song problem until he hit on a novel idea in Toronto.
Here’s that “Hollis Brown” opener:
The most dramatic setlist changed come in the acoustic set though. Across the three Philadelphia shows, he has seven songs debut. Three of them would not get played again this tour. Those are “To Ramona,” a powerful “Mama You Been on My Mind,” and “Mr Tambourine Man” (not played again in its acoustic guise, at least). The other four, “It's All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “Just Like a Woman,” “Girl From The North Country,” and “Wedding Song”—making its debut in the final Philly show—would stick around for a few more outings.
Here’s that great “Mama You Been On My Mind” acoustic one-off:
And the first-ever “Wedding Song” at the final Philly show:
There’s so little decent video of these shows it can be hard to picture them. In a Rolling Stone cover story, poet Michael McClure set the scene of one of the Philly shows visually:
To open the first set houselights came down into darkness very fast. Colored spotlights flashed to the stage and banks of colored lights shone. The Band and Bob Dylan almost ran onstage and began playing without a pause while the audience was still cheering their enthusiasm.
I could not take my eyes off the lights, hypnotized by the spots of amber, lavender, blue, red that kept playing on Dylan. The banks of lights up above the bandstand stage to the right and left kept bleeding and blinking off and on in time with the drama and melody of the songs. Bright lights kept popping in the blackness — intensely bright and silvery white in their flash. Flashbulbs! It seemed crazy that anyone sitting three blocks from the bandstand in darkness would be setting off flashbulbs. It seemed demented.
One final note about, or at least loosely connected to, this show. In my research, I came across this funny article by a writer who had a four-hour dinner with The Band’s Richard Manuel (described as “a mass of perpetual motion who's not hard to concentrate on”) and Levon Helm (who she insists on calling “Levi”) two nights before the show. And someone named Ken who other people kept whispering to her was really Bob Dylan in disguise. It wasn’t, but it makes for an amusing yarn. Bob was spotted going ice skating elsewhere in the city.