Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan
BROCKTON, MA - Just because Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan played this city just south of Boston doesn't mean that the two icons of American music have lost their luster or their devoted fans. Far from it for several reasons.
First, the appearance at the minor league baseball park was part of a tour of similar parks around the country, which started in Cooperstown, N.Y. on Friday.
Second and more importantly, both Nelson and Dylan, as the headliner, easily and often demonstrated that they are none the worst for wear, and probably in Dylan's case even better.
Dylan has been riding a wave of renewed vigor in recent years, particularly since his Grammy award winning "Love & Theft" album of 2001, and that only continued in Brockton.
He started with "Rainy Day Women #12 and #35." The Dylan chestnut was an indication of what was to come throughout the 90-minute set. Dylan was ensconced in a black jacket and hat at the keyboards - he played no guitar the entire evening.
And while his vocals are not the prettiest out here - they haven't been for a long time - his sometimes gruff, bluesy, gravelly vocals fit right in with the music. And that is something he did with passion throughout the night.
As usual, Dylan does not just paint by the numbers, but reinvents his songs, such as the encore of "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Like a Rolling Stone" and "All Along the Watchtower."
Dylan benefits greatly from a stellar band. Long-time mainstay Larry Campbell is a potent force on guitar and also hit the pedal steel numerous times to give the songs a sometimes, rootsy and country flavor. The new kid on the block is second guitarist Stu Kimball of Boston, who played next to Dylan. Dylan gave him nods here and there, probably to indicate where he should play, but that also could just as easily been nods of approval for the quality of his playing. Considering his newbie status, Kimball fit in just great.
Long-time bassist Tony Garnier and drummer George Receli also did their part to keep the music moving.
Not exactly a big talker, Dylan at least thanked the crowd of about 9,000 at the conclusion and introduced the band, but he seemed to have a glow about him stepping out from the keyboards to the front of the stage moving about several times towards the end with an inward smile.
Nelson is not the shy presence that Dylan is. Willie trotted out a vintage Nelson set, although not quite. Instead of starting with his time-honored opener "Whiskey River," Nelson offered "Living in the Promiseland," offering hope for America. He then launched into "Whiskey River."
With Nelson, not a whole lot is new under the sun. He tends to stick to his classics like "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," "If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time," "Mammas Don't let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys," the Ray Charles identified "Georgia on My Mind," "On the Road Again" and a slew more.
Nelson is one great guitarist, but the crowd would never have known that from Sunday's show. Nelson has been on the mend since hand surgery in June, leaving most of the lead chores to a new kid (and we do mean kid) on the block, Lukas Nelson, his son, 15. Hiding behind his white hat, the younger Nelson knows a thing or two about guitar playing also.
In fact, it was a family affair with sister Bobbie Nelson, hiding behind the piano as usual, and another son, Micah, on percussion.
Nelson's changes of songs are far less subtle than Dylan. He rushes words or holds them, but his full-bodied voice gets to the heart of the songs just fine.
Nelson may be 71, but that doesn't mean he's turned into an oldies show. He breathes life into song of yesteryear.
Austin-based western swing band Hot Club of Cowtown opened with a very familiar half-hour long set with healthy nods to Bob Wills. Whit Smith remains the potent force of the group with some great guitar and singing. Elana Fremerman plays a lively fiddle and continues to grow as a vocalist. Upright bassist Jake Erwin is no slouch either.
A 30-minute set is better than nothing, and at least HCOC got to show their wares before thousands more than their typical crowd.
The only thing minor league about the evening of music was the park because the music from Dylan, Nelson and Hot Club of Cowtown was ready for prime time.