Review of concert from 1999-07-26: NYC, Tramps Club, at Bob Dylan concert
SonicNet, 1999-06-27
- Eric Arnum


[ Tues., July 27, 1999 6:35 PM EDT ]

Dylan Duets With Costello At Rare Club Show

Their impromptu 'I Shall Be Released' caps two-and-a-half-hour gig.

Eric Arnum:

NEW YORK — Bob Dylan capped a rare club gig Monday night by inviting Elvis Costello onstage for an impromptu duet of "I Shall Be Released" (RealAudio excerpt).

The fans and celebrities who packed into Tramps on the day before Dylan was scheduled to co-headline a Madison Square Garden show with fellow singer/songwriter Paul Simon saw Dylan and Costello trip through the first couple of verses of Dylan's classic at the end of a nearly two-and-a-half-hour show.

"This is the smallest venue I've ever seen him in ... I was six people away." — Anthony Rizzo, concert-goer

Looking at each other as if not sure who was supposed to start singing, Dylan and Costello, who were also both playing guitar, missed the first beat of the first verse before Dylan finally decided to sing. They harmonized along with Dylan's band on the chorus, and seemed unsure what to do about the second verse, too, until Dylan took over. Costello sang the third verse.

Fans left the show, which Dylan began on acoustic guitar and ended on electric, in awe.

"This is the smallest venue I've ever seen him in, and definitely one of the best shows," said Anthony Rizzo, 37, of Queens, a veteran of 15 Dylan shows. "I was six people away."

The club, which holds 1,000 people if you use a shoehorn, quickly sold out when tickets went on sale five days earlier.

Dylan, the acclaimed folk rocker whose mid-'60s albums are credited with helping elevate rock to a serious art form, walked onto the small stage in funky western wear — white shirt, black bow tie and black jacket — at 9:20 p.m. Onstage with him was an all-acoustic four-piece band, including guitarists Charlie Sexton and Larry Campbell.

Dylan picked up his acoustic guitar, and the band launched into a fingerpickin' version of "Oh Babe It Ain't No Lie," an old blues tune by Elizabeth Cotten.

"It was a tribute to Jerry," shouted out Terry Zips, 27, of Queens, referring to late Grateful Dead singer/guitarist Jerry Garcia, whose Jerry Garcia Band covered the song. As if to prove the fan right, Dylan later covered the frequent Grateful Dead concert opener "Alabama Getaway" during his encores.

Dylan's second song was his 1964 folk classic "The Times They Are A-Changin' " (RealAudio excerpt), which he rendered in a subway-conductor's mumble. Still, it was possible to make out all the words through the club's public-address system.

Dylan used the same mumbling, staccato delivery style for the most familiar songs on the set, including the mid-'60s anthems "Like a Rolling Stone" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Ballad of a Thin Man," both of which he played after he and the rest of the band switched to electric instruments. But his voice suddenly became crisp and clear on less familiar songs such as "Boots of Spanish Leather" and "John Brown," during which the fans went silent so they could hear every word.

After the latter two songs, Dylan played "Visions of Johanna," then made the switch to electric instruments for "Seeing the Real You at Last," a song from Empire Burlesque (1985) that launched the second half of the set. That was followed by "Ballad of a Thin Man," for which guitarist Larry Campbell sat down at a pedal-steel guitar, giving the song a sweet, bluesy tone. Halfway through, Dylan let out a big grin, perhaps realizing how good his band sounded in a small room.

Frank Drury, 38, said he'd seen Dylan in an arena in Nashville and a stadium in Dallas. "With him, it seems the biggest is the worst," Drury said. "Here, I thought he was more into the audience. When they gave him energy, he gave it back."

"I've seen a couple of hundred of these, and I thought this was one of the best," concluded Geoffrey Meyer, 43, of Manhattan. "I thought the whole band was tight as hell."

Meyer said his favorite of the night was "Every Grain of Sand," for which Campbell again put the pedal to the metal, and which was delivered at a slow, almost dreamy pace. Next came "Tombstone Blues," which the band gave a traditional honky-tonk beat, then another slow delivery for "Not Dark Yet," a track off Dylan's acclaimed 1997 album Time Out of Mind.

Before anyone could figure out how to sit down without getting stepped on, the band launched into a blistering rendition of "Highway 61 Revisited." People were jumping, dancing and throwing fists in the air, and even Dylan was bopping for what turned out to be the set closer. A rose sailed onstage, and the thrower got a smile and a nod.

After a brief break, the band returned for a set of seven encores, starting with another Time Out of Mind song, "Love Sick." Then came the mumbling of "Like a Rolling Stone," followed by a quite coherent acoustic version of "It Ain't Me, Babe." For "Babe," Dylan played a harmonica, which he had also used on "The Times They Are A-Changin'."

Drummer David Kemper began pumping up the audience for a cover of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away." But Dylan took his arrangement of this rock 'n' roll standard more from the Grateful Dead than from Holly, with shouted lyrics and pounding guitars.

It was late, but Dylan and company kept going, with "Blowin' in the Wind," "Alabama Getaway" and "I Shall Be Released."

Bringing up Costello for "Released," Dylan said the punk-generation singer/songwriter, whose songs include "Alison" and "Watching the Detectives," needed no introduction. They shared a microphone while Costello strummed the acoustic guitar Dylan had used earlier.