Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, October 10, 2007
Dylan thrills with classics, but few cheer new material
Not with an opening number like "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35." If you want to light up a college crowd, sing about how "everybody must get stoned." Follow with a husky-voiced "It Ain't Me, Babe." And then a pair of those impenetrable reworkings of his own songs, "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" and "Positively 4th Street."
Tuesday night at Rochester Institute of Technology's still-smells-like-new Gordon Field House, offering a surprisingly crisp sound for a gymnasium, started off like a night of the classics.
But nothing's that easy with Dylan. After "Highway 61 Revisited" came a half-dozen from Dylan's latest, Modern Times. As swingingly musical as those tunes are, there were a lot of folks whose patience was tested by this "Desolation Row" — he did tuck that one in there — of new material. Some were patient, some fled.
For those who weathered the uncertainty, late rewards included a classic, organ-fueled "Masters of War." No one has written such a bitter condemnation of taking up arms. The legend's set list may have been short on legendary material, but Dylan can never be accused of simply going through the motions.
Opener Amos Lee has all the tools to be a major star. But when Costello and Dylan are up next, that's kinda hard to remember.
Costello energetically bounded onstage, riffing as energetically as Pete Townshend to "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes." It was a familiar-looking Costello, in his black suit, scruffy beard and black X-ray designer specs. The battered acoustic guitar fit him well, as this was also solo Costello, just the troubadour and his songs, as opposed to different incarnations over the years.
Animated and wryly amusing, Costello pulled out plenty of old faves like "Veronica," his voice soaring to the final notes, as well as "Alison," "Radio, Radio" and Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding."
But a newer piece early on energized this crowd, the title track from his collaboration with Allen Toussaint, The River in Reverse. "Wake me up! Wake me up with a slap or a kiss!" Costello demanded, getting the crowd into a call-and-response to this lament over government inaction after Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans.
Then, in a wonderful tribute to John Lennon, Costello folded Lennon's "I Don't Want to Be a Soldier" into "The River in Reverse," aiming the song straight at the heart of George Bush's invasion of Iraq with the angry challenge that he didn't want to fight "in the name of gasoline."
Lennon, who would have been 67 on Tuesday, would surely have stood and cheered like the rest of us.