One could suppose that Bob Dylan’s aptly titled Never Ending Tour, which began in 1988, would one day land in Cranbrook.
Considering Dylan and a host of different musicians have performed about 2,500 shows since then, at many ‘different’ locations, dictate the odds to be good that music fans in the East Kootenay would one day get a chance to see a musical and artistic icon who will, in centuries ahead, be considered one of the most iconic performers in human history.
But really, who the hell actually believed they would see Dylan play in Cranbrook?
That in part explains the somewhat stunned and pleased looks on the faces of people filing out of the Cranbrook Rec-Plex (Western Financial Place – or ‘The Bank’) last night (August 12), following a performance by Dylan and his smokin’ band consisting of Charlie Sexton on lead guitar, Stu Kimball on rhythm/lead guitar, Tony Garnier on bass/upright bass, George Receli on drums and Donnie Herron on lap and pedal steel/mandolin and violin.
Dressed like a circus barker in a Mississippi gent’s hat, white slacks with a blue stripe and a yachtsman’s afternoon coat, Dylan was his usual almost stand-offish self. The only words he spoke to the audience were to introduce his band and later mumble what I think may have been ‘thank you goodnight,’ or perhaps he said “wank me, what a fright” and then again, it’s possible he said, “Maya Angelou ain’t white.” No matter, one of the artistic giants of the past couple of hundred years walked on stage in Cranbrook and laid down a two-hour show with enough of his known hits and lesser known gems to sate most of the multi-aged crowd of about 3,800 Sunday night.
The numbers covered in his 17-song show included the opener Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat, Girl From the North Country, Things Have Changed, Tangled Up In Blue, Rollin’ and Tumblin’, Sugar Baby, Honest With Me, Trying to Get to Heaven, Summer Days, a haunting version of Desolation Row followed by a Robbie Robertson and The Band-influenced working of Highway 61 Revisited, which really brought the crowd to its feet. The arena erupted when Dylan then forged forward with a Simple Twist of Fate and followed that up with an enormous metalesque version of Thunder on the Mountain.
That set the stage for a powerful closing as he jangled out four of his finer and more universally known numbers: Ballad of a Thin Man, Like A Rolling Stone, a raucous version of a All Along the Watchtower to end and the lone encore, Blowin’ in the Wind.
It was fascinating to hear Dylan play Highway 61, a song he released in 1965, as just a few months earlier this year, at Key City Theatre, the legendary Johnny Winter laid down a gnarled, gritty version of it. It’s obscure, I know, but who knew one would hear the two best versions of that song, played by the original artists, in Cranbrook in less than one year? The times are indeed a-changin’.
Proving that he continues to roll with the times, Dylan’s band pushed the envelope on occasion, giving his sound a modern heavy thump, such as the double kick bass drum work by George Receli, a skin-thumper who has played with more musical legends than reasonable space would allow me to present.
Equally cool was the chance to see Tony Garnier do his thing. Dylan’s longest running tour pal, the former Asleep At The Wheel, The Lounge Lizards and Saturday Night Live band member helped keep the entire unit clicking.
Playing with and for Dylan can be no easy feat. Watching Sexton, Garnier and Receli working double-time to stay on pace with their boss was an exercise in musical appreciation, as they must all be fast on their feet and with their chops.
Playing mostly the piano, and only one song on guitar (Simple Twist of Fate), Dylan is still a marvel of mankind in that he has become such a musical God and yet it is almost comical that he’s such a crappy musician!
I laughed out loud when a good number of fans screamed for joy when the first couple harmonica notes scratched their way across the molecular morass of a warm summer night in a hockey rink. There it was – proof that it actually was the great Bob Dylan standing on the stage before them, assaulting them with his harmonica.
I am still wondering, as I write this, how he could still be such a lousy harp player after about 50 years of honking on them. No matter. Forget about the shrieking aural farts and tinny fingers on chalkboard, it’s always been about Dylan the writer and Dylan the troubadour; the dark loner riding into town to warn about the coming apocalypse, or at least some changing times. He does things on his terms, like it or not.
Dylan’s veering from folk and acoustic music to electric was a key defining moment in the evolution of rock n roll, and as a result he’s always needed a kick ass band to get the job done, and it’s awesome to think that he leaned heavily on a bunch of Canadians and a rowdy skin whacker from Arkansas (The Band) to take those first courageous steps.
Dylan is the modern Mark Twain. Both spawns of the Mississippi Valley, Dylan is the northern sharp-cornered artist who has generally always taken himself seriously, while Twain was the southern curmudgeon with balls of steel and prodigious, humorous wit.
Both artists were and are Rolling Stones. Twain traveled non-stop and his works dripped with his experiences and Dylan tours non-stop, even at the age of 71. Both presented voices to generations that have resonated with each one since, even if the most recent generations are mostly oblivious as to how or why.
The reality of the moment hit me full-force when Dylan began performing Like A Rolling Stone. Goosebumps rampaged up my arms and tears threatened to fill my wide eyes.
It was another ‘bucket list’ concert scratched off. I had a chance to see Dylan about a year into his Never Ending Tour (in Calgary) but work commitments forced me to give my tickets away. Last night was all about tying up a loose end, as much as it was having fun with good friends in a lovely little arena in paradise.
It was all about being able to see a giant – an icon – who has captivated so many generations with his character and talents. I never had a chance to see The Beatles, or any of them perform as solo artists. I’ve never seen the Rolling Stones play live. But I’ve seen Dylan – in Cranbrook of all places. He’s a musical legend on par with those two acts. Like him or not, that’s all you need to know. We 3,800 or so got to sally close to unwanted, begrudged greatness last night.
It was also as much of a thrill to see Charlie Sexton, who blew my socks off back in 1992 when he joined with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s surviving band members Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon to form Arc Angels, a romping blues powerhouse.
In closing, I have to extend my gratitude and kudos to the good folks running the Rec-Plex for the City of Cranbrook (Chris New and company). Talk about a New coupe!
When ZZ Top played Cranbrook last year (two shows), I thought they couldn’t reach higher in terms of drawing a big-name act to town. Dylan may not have been the big rock show draw ZZ Top was back in the day, but none of the lads in ZZ Top would be as rock n roll/blues cool if it were not for Bob Dylan’s arrival on the music scene in 1962.
So onward and upward – here’s to more ‘bucket list’ legends coming to town in the near future.
Top image by Rembrandt Picasso Cobb. No cameras were allowed into the show, even for media. Mr. Dylan actually appeared slightly heavier than this extremely accurate and technically amazing rendition drawn in about three seconds this morning before the coffee kicked in.
Ian Cobb/e-KNOWTags: All Along the WatchtowerArc AngelsBallad of a Thin ManBlowin’ in the WindBob DylanCharlie SextonCranbrook Rec-PlexDesolation RowDonnie HerronEast KootenayGeorge ReceliGirl From the North CountryHighway 61 RevisitedHonest With MeJohnny WinterLeopard-Skin Pill-Box HatLike A Rolling StoneNever Ending TourRollin’ and Tumblin’Simple Twist of FateStu KimballSugar BabySummer DaysTangled Up In BlueThe BankThings Have ChangedThunder on the MountainTony GarnierTrying to Get to HeavenWestern Financial Place
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