Bob Dylan, Merchantsauto.com Stadium, Manchester NH, August 27, 2006
It’s a rainy Sunday, and Dylan’s minor league ballpark tour has rolled into Manchester, NH, to set up tent at the home of the Double A Fisher Cats. The small outdoor arena, cheap concessions, and the tie-dyed, graying audience, many with teenage children in tow, set the scene. If the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue was Dylan’s idea of a Medicine Show, this is his version of a nostalgia act on the county fair circuit. It’s just that this county exists only on Dylan’s map.
Dylan plays up the corny/carney atmosphere, dressing his band in black suits, black hats and even matching pencil mustaches (on all except lap steel/violin player Donnie Herron, who is cleanshaven and looks like the newcomer as a result), and appropriating a hack Buffalo News lead as his introduction:
“The poet laureate of rock 'n' roll. The voice of the promise of the '60s counterculture. The guy who forced folk into bed with rock, who donned makeup in the '70s and disappeared into a haze of substance abuse, who emerged to find Jesus, who was written off as a has-been by the end of the '80s, and who suddenly shifted gears and released some of the strongest music of his career beginning in the late '90s. Ladies and Gentleman, please welcome Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan!”
The set crashes open with a song that highlights the band’s old-timey chops. “Cat's in the Well,” drawn from one of those albums made when Dylan “was written off as a has-been,” sounds at first like a rewrite of “Froggie Went A Courtin,” or some other bit of sweet if weird Americana. But by the bridge, the sinister hint of the title makes itself clear:
The cat's in the well and grief is showing its face
The world's being slaughtered and it's such a bloody disgrace.”
All’s not quite what it might seem at the county fair, is it? The rain is coming down harder now, and no one has an umbrella because they’ve been confiscated at the gate. “Could poke someone’s eye out,” says the security guard, evidently taking his homeland security duty seriously. The man standing next to me lights a damp and smoky joint. During the opening acts, he had been discussing the lumber business with his date. She refuses the offer of a toke. On the infield grass, the regulars stand fast in their ponchos, many emblazoned with a Dylan logo ($5 at the merch table). Dad has a Grateful Dead cap on -- “from their last show,” I heard him boast earlier -- and shades, even though it’s very much night. Mom is in Birkenstocks. Sis has blue cotton candy stuck in her braces, and Brother asks Dad for money to buy something at the concessions stand. He gets a cold stare in response -- and $5. If the boy has any sense, he’ll buy a poncho.
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