Article by Ronald L. Brown

Based on recent reviews, this latest leg of Bob Dylan's 2009 tour features a reinvigorated band, perhaps in no small salute to the recently "re-added" Charlie Sexton. As a long-time Dylan fan, I was looking forward to the Friday, November 6 performance at Detroit's Fox Theatre with both excitement and trepidation; it’s always exciting to see one of the great cultural icons of the last 75 years in American history. And, of course, Dylan fans are cautious because most of us have seen one of "those nights" when our favorite icon appeared as if he'd rather have been watching Law and Order reruns.

I'm glad to report, however, that Friday's show was one for the ages. From the opening tune, "Leopard-Skin, Pill-Box Hat," it was obvious that the most invigorated member of the band was Dylan himself. Having seen him a half-dozen times, I noticed that Bob had more energy, enthusiasm, give-and-take with the crowd and his band than I've personally witnessed in all previous shows combined.

Bobbing and weaving behind the keyboards, pointing to the crowd as he sang— even clearly smiling on several occasions— Dylan was animated almost beyond recognition. He made me wonder if he had simply been feeling every bit of his 68 years on the road the last couple of  times I'd seen him.

The energy centered around an evening-long dual/dance/romance between Dylan and Sexton. When Dylan spent most of the night either behind his keyboard or right out front with harmonica and microphone, Sexton was front and center just about the whole night. The young Texas guitar slinger was right there with Bob every step of the way, either weaving his magic between vocal lines to create a seamless document, or taking solos with force and confidence not witnessed since the days when Sexton and Larry Campbell ruled Bob's band.

One of the most of beautiful moments came during the evening's fourth number, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," the only tune in which Dylan picked up a guitar. In this instance, it was a beautiful, "old school" sunburst Guild model, and he and Sexton stood side by side conniving, cajoling, and trading licks with one another in a moment that illustrated Dylan's underrated prowess as an axe man—and sent shivers from my head to my toes.

For the next number, Sexton switched to a cream-colored Gretsch hollow-body guitar and steamed through "Summer Days." I'm not a guitar geek, but between the Gretsch model and several vintage Stratocasters and Telecasters, Charlie had one of the most impressive collections of instruments I've seen in any concert.

"Summer Days" was one of several numbers from Love and Theft. The set list included a triple play of "Sugar Baby," "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum," and "Po' Boy." Other highlights were a slightly reworked "Cold Irons Bound"— previous live versions would punch you right in the mouth, but Friday night's "Irons" was more dangerously seductive. Dylan reclaimed center stage three-quarters of the way through, turning preacher for "Workingman Blues #2," a perhaps fitting and pointed attempt for Bob to recognize the plight of Detroit area citizens.

By the time Dylan, Sexton, and the rest of the band closed the two-hour set with "All Along the Watchtower," they had the crowd, which had been a bit too laid back for most of the show, on its feet, shaking the rafters, and witnessing to the gospel according to Bob.

God bless you, Bob. Lord knows how long you’ll be able to keep going.  This night concluded as one of the best shows I've seen from Dylan, or any artist.

Ronald L. Brown is a Saginaw native and Bay City resident, and is an adjunct instructor of English at Delta College. He often enjoys combining his two passions of writing and music.

© Ronald L. Brown, 2009