Two Nights in Newark (by Lee Ranaldo)
2023-11-20/1, NJ Performing Arts Center, Newark, NJ
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Lee Ranaldo needs no introduction. He’s most famous, of course, as a member of… The Million Dollar Bashers, the I’m Not There soundtrack house band where he covered Dylan tunes alongside Television’s Tom Verlaine, Wilco’s Nels Cline, and Bob Dylan And His Band’s Tony Garnier.
Oh, and when he had a break from his Bashers duties, Lee also had some side project for 30 years called Sonic Youth.
Ranaldo’s a passionate Dylan fan (his essay is a highlight of the new Dylan Center book). He was at both of the recent shows in Newark, NJ earlier this week and reports in on the happenings! Over to Lee…
I caught both of Bob Dylan’s shows at the Newark New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Nov 20 & 21, 2023. Nice venue w good sound, a bit bigger than, say, The Beacon, a little less intimate than that mainstay venue for Bob in New York. Bob’s stage set has long had a certain no-nonsense elegance about it, and the current look – back curtains open to road cases and the back of the theatre, unchanging static lights, created a nice, non-distracting space. I had a lucky seat, solo, 8th row center on Monday night, right in front of Patti, Lenny, and Tony Shanahan. Always nice to see friends. I was wondering if Patti is in touch w Bob these days. I saw her open for him back when they were touring together in 1995, a double bill made in heaven. On Tuesday night I was up in the second balcony w my family and friends – it was our 24-year-old son's first Dylan show. Downstairs up close is always a treat, but the mix actually felt better upstairs in the balcony, a bit more balanced and blended. Sometimes, up close, the PA and the stage sound can work against each other.
The energy in the crowd was really high. We all love him so much! I almost forgot how much fun the pre- and post-show meetups at his gigs are – all the Bobcats loose on the streets. I had some really cool hangs with friends old and new on both nights, inside and outside, all of us there through the inspiration we get from this man. The crowd was also very respectful, listening, very few distractions or cat-calling.
Two shows in Newark with identical set lists that could not have felt more distinct! Almost every song left a completely different impression from one night to the next – he truly approaches them fresh each night. We didn't get “Jersey Girl” or any other site-specific songs as he's been doing lately, too bad. He did give shout outs to Jersey natives ‘the Boss’, Joe Pesci, Queen Latifah and ‘Ol’ Blue Eyes’ on Monday, and on Tuesday wished Bruce a speedy recovery from his ailments of late. I really appreciate how much of his current music he’s playing, and the variations he continues to find within this limited group of songs from night to night. Sonic Youth, in our time, was always interested in playing our most recent music, rather than sticking to crowd-pleasers or “hits” (ha – we had none!). In Bob's case, it keeps him from becoming an oldies act, and that’s incredibly important. Get stuck in that rut and you soon become the Stones (although “Rolling Stone Blues,” the last track on their new one, with just Mick singing and blowing harp and Keith playing electric, is not half bad!). The only way to stay alive onstage is to look forward, and he knows it and shows it to us – no spoon-feeding, no pandering. After all, he's an artist, and we already know he don't look back. Which is what keeps us all guessing… and listening.