Discover more from Flagging Down the Double E's
Notes from the Road in Carolina (by James Adams)
Rough and Rowdy Ways tour diary: Columbia, Charlotte, Greensboro, Asheville
Flagging Down the Double E’s is an email newsletter exploring Bob Dylan shows of yesteryear. Some installments are free, some for paid subscribers only. Sign up here:
As he did in the fall, James Adams (@bob_notes on Twitter) has graced us with some thoughts from the road as he wraps up a short run following Bob on tour. He caught a Carolinas four-pack this time around: Columbia, Charlotte (a notable show in that, from multiple reports, it seems to be the first time Bob’s faltered in the Rough and Rowdy Ways era), Greensboro, and, just last night, Asheville. He centered each day’s report on one single idea or observation from the show.
Without more ado, I turn it over to Our Man in the Carolinas, checking in from down on the bottom, way down, in a Biscuitville…
(Author’s Note: I typed most of this on my cellphone, at a Biscuitville restaurant, over a cup of coffee and a country ham and honey biscuit. Forgive the typos, and try the grits).
Columbia, SC - 29 March 2022
I had a great view of the stage tonight and a fantastic spot to watch Bob Britt on guitar. I was positioned at the perfect angle to confirm that Britt is an under-celebrated member of this crew. Make no mistake, Bob Dylan’s voice and piano are the most important instruments in this band. But Britt’s guitar — at turns subtle, swampy, and raunchy — is part of the bedrock that makes these songs work. Some of his guitar lines, like the momentary freakouts during “Gotta Serve Somebody,” and “Crossing the Rubicon,” are the most memorable parts of the arrangements, the pieces you remember easily when trying to recreate the sound in your head.
Nowhere is that more clear than during “False Prophet,” where Britt propels and paces everything and everybody with his white Telecaster, shouting blues like a mellow Mike Bloomfield. That’s a testament to Britt’s talents. He can go from reminding you of one of Bob’s best-ever electric guitarists to providing delicate between-line acoustic fills on “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” all in the space of two songs, and with almost not fanfare.
Britt is versatile and subtle and extremely talented. Maybe it’s a pity Bob doesn’t cut him loose. Or maybe he should try to step out a little more and assert himself between lines and verses? What are the dynamics in this band, anyway? It’s clear that Britt has more to offer, but I don’t know how we get there.
Charlotte, NC - 30 March 2022
The chance of encores this tour looks dim, so I felt safe to dash out of tonight’s venue just as “Every Grain of Sand” ended and Bob and his band took their stare-down positions. I made it around the side of the building to see everybody walk out together—the band, then Bob—and around the edges toward the busses. Bob took the steps a little slow, his right hand holding the railing. He had a black towel on his head.
What goes through their minds at this moment? I suspect it’s the same questions going through mine: Was that a good show? What worked and what didn’t? Where are we headed next?
Those questions are particularly relevant tonight, when the vibe on stage was a bit strange. The opening numbers were a shambles. Bob didn’t seem to be interested in singing into the microphone, or singing at all. His piano was too loud and he played it too hard and too much. The BobTalk walked a line between friendly ribbing and dismissiveness. He aimed those comments at the audience and his band. By the end, everyone seemed to be back on the same page. But the whole night had a great nervous energy, a tension that is otherwise lacking from some of these shows, where you largely know what to expect before you walk in the door.
I watched the road crew pack up the trucks for a little while. Most everyone else drifted away, except a pretty lady wearing a dress printed with flowers. One of the lingering local security guys tried to chat her up.
“If you’re waiting for Bob, he’s already gone and left.”
“Bob? No. I’m waiting on Harold, my Uber driver.”
Greensboro, NC - 1 April 2022
Everyone seems to love Bob’s stage design on this tour. The view is moody and mysterious and bordered by large curtains most often lit red, like the Red Room in the Black Lodge. The stage is lit from below, and smoke drifts upward between the cracks in the floor like countless tiny ghosts, to linger briefly and disappear. The uninitiated might wonder if there’s an electrical fire starting down there, just underneath where Bob is standing, and just moments away from sparking and catching fire.
In that way, it’s a bit like this setlist, which is carefully constructed (the Rough and Rowdy Ways songs are not performed in album order, and with tunes from other albums intermixed) and centered on a couple of temperamental and vibe-heavy sings that bring the show to a slow burn at its middle. This is especially true now that “Crossing the Rubicon” replaced “Early Roman Kings,” and the topographical map of the night’s tempo lost one peak.
That’s for the better, I think. Not just because the time for “Early Roman Kings” to leave the setlist was long overdue. (“Melancholy Mood,” will be next, right?). Having “Rubicon” back-to-back with “My Own Version of You” is a hinge that separates the first and second halves of this show. Yes, the pace is measured, but Bob delivers both of those songs so carefully, so precisely, that you can’t help but fall into their worlds, and feel the fire building, building, building.
That spell works tonight. The audience is spellbound. So am I.
Asheville, NC - 2 April 2022
When I sit down for a Dylan show I try to take in the crowd, get the mood and temperature and a sense of what’s in the air. It can be hard to take a reading, because Dylan crowds cover such a wide spectrum. I go to a fair number of shows, and not just Bob concerts. But nowhere else do I see such a range of fans, such an assortment. For example, tonight in Asheville it’s easy to find:
Older folks who maybe first saw Bob in the 1970s. There aren’t as many around who could have seen him in the 1960s, but they’re sprinkled here and there. There are young couples in their 20s on a date night. Yikes. I hope they know what they’re getting in to. They might not recognize the arrangements, but Bob plays “To Be Alone With You” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” for those young lovers. You see a smattering of intellectual types, maybe professors, often wearing glasses and nice jackets. I’m always amazed by the party animal rockers slamming beers and waiting to sing along to “everybody must get stoned.” They’re usually the most baffled on the walk out, hangovers already settling in. Much of the crowd looks like me: overweight dudes in need of a shave, thankful for a night out and a break from the kids. Oh, the kids! You always see a couple of real kids—maybe 6 or 8 or 10 years old—with thoughtful parents who want to share this experience. The diehard Bobcats huddle in the corners and whisper before the show. “Ah, yes, last night was better than Savannah, but not as good as San Antonio.” I like to eavesdrop on them and make mental notes to check the tapes. You’ll notice a contingent from the local college, maybe because their teacher (the guy in the glasses and nice jacket!) taught them that Dylan is both talented and cool, and they’re here to confirm that fact. The weirdest of the lot are the punishers who treat a Bob show like a night on the town, something to dress up fancy for, arrive late, and depart early. In Charlotte—I swear I’m not making this up—an immaculately dressed couple took their seats during “Melancholy Mood.” That’s number 14 in a 17 song set. I know they weren’t squatters because an usher led them by flashlight to their spot. “Who was the opening band?” the fella asked me, just as “Mother of Muses” began.
There’s more to the crowd, of course, and every audience is different. The amazing thing is that all of these people, so different and diverse, chose to spend part of tonight in Asheville, North Carolina, with Bob Dylan. There’s a specialness to that, and being part of it.
And make no mistake, these are my people. They may not exactly be family, but I can’t imagine a more rough and rowdy, interesting, thoughtful, and sundry crew to gather together for a couple hours of fellowship.
Thanks James! The only recording thus far is of Charlotte (aka “the troubled show”), but I’ll post others in the Discord when I spot ‘em.