Anyone who has ever seen Bob Dylan perform in concert over the last 20-odd years knows the rock icon only works in two speeds live: on or off. So it was with great trepidation that we took our seats for his first show there since a 1999 double bill with Paul Simon.
But on this gorgeous, crisp June evening underneath the big orange moon illuminating the water behind the stage, Dylan and his band were most certainly “on” at this juncture, playing what one blogger on the popular “Dylan Pool” Web site hailed as “the greatest set list ever!” Kicking off with “Cat’s in the Well,” his standard tour opener as of late, Bob was in excellent voice, reaching a timbre that floated somewhere between his old school nasal delivery and the gruff Tom Waits-ian growl he has acclimated his vocal chords to in recent years.
And his longtime touring band were nothing short of outstanding, proving to this that this well-dressed ensemble of musicians Dylan has been on the road through most of the decade with is his strongest and best since the mid-’70s.
Sure, they broke out some of the standard warhorses they’ve been playing since this particular tour began: a great, traditional spin on “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” a scorching version of “Highway 61 Revisited,” a simply sublime country waltz revision of “Blowin’ in the Wind” and a defiant rip through “All Along The Watchtower”, which closed out the two-hour-long show.
However, newer additions to the catalog, like “Thunder on the Mountain,” “Summer Days,” “Things Have Changed” and the beautiful “Moonlight” were just as highlight-worthy as the classics.
But what really made this Jones Beach show truly shine were the surprise inclusions on the set list, most notably the phenomenal full-band rearrangement of “Visions of Johanna” and a lucid reading of “Shelter From the Storm,” both of which were enhanced by Dylan’s spot-on harmonica accompaniment. He also threw in a rare spin on the “Time Out of Mind” nugget “Till I Fell in Love With You” as a heavy blues rocker.
In all, an “on” moment that, for longtime fans, was probably akin to hitting the concert lottery.