The Best Leg of the Never-Ending Tour in Years? – Philadelphia, Tower Theater, Nov 11-12, 2017.

The following details are mandated by the Guild of Ignorant, Regional, and Irrelevant Music Reviewers:

  • Bob Dylan did not speak to the audience.
  • On these occasions, he did not wear a hat.
  • His band did wear hats.
  • Except for Tony Garnier and Donnie Herron, who did not wear hats.
  • Nobel Prize!
  • Songs from the 60s, unrecognizable.
  • Sinatra songs sound like Sinatra isn’t even singing them!
  • Turns out, Frank Sinatra is dead.

Note 1: I hereby wave my guildmember’s right to regurgitate my one-of-a-kind revisionist take on the gospel songs of Trouble No More.

Note 2: This review focuses primarily on the Nov. 12 show, but relies on impressions drawn from both Nov. 11 and 12.

Note 3: Low-end turns of phrase punning on Bob Dylan lyrics do adhere to guild standards.

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These shows represented my 13th and 14th Dylan concerts. While this failed to impress some of the more seasoned Dylan fans drinking at the Waterford Inn prior to the show, bear in mind I didn’t start seeing Bob Dylan until 2006. The “upsinging” years. Soon after came the “instrument of torture” era.  While surely not as difficult as the alcoholic slogs of 1991, the loud and monotonous shows were better suited to some ZZ Top cover band than the greatest living songwriter.

Between 2006 and 2013 there’d usually be one or two songs of merit. For a while I hung my hat on Gonna Change My Way of Thinking because a lyric or two had changed. Yelling “No!” after the line “You think I’m over the hill” in Spirit on the Water was always a personal point of pride for me. Sometimes there’d be a poignant Workingman Blues #2 or Nettie Moore. Often the second song would be the lone surprise in the set, and so some casual salutation of If You See Her Say Hello would serve as the lone justification for my trip to stupid Syracuse, New York or stupid Rochester, Michigan. No offense to these towns; they are stupid only insofar as they are stupid places to vacation for any reason unrelated to Bob Dylan enthusiasm.

Seeing consecutive Dylan concerts in those early years would have been hard to fathom. The thrill came from being around other true believers, and from being in proximity to the man himself. Truth was, I was often bored during the shows.  No matter how spirited a reading of Shake Shake Mama was delivered, I had no qualms about acquiring much needed libations in the longest of beer lines.

But, happily, things have changed. I first noticed that something was happening at Toronto’s Sony Centre in 2014. He closed that set with Stay with Me. It was the first of the Tin Pan Alley standards I’d heard live. He was vulnerable, his voice was cracked but not broken, and as all the standards now do, it suited the best remaining aspect of Bob’s voice: his lower register. While each subsequent tour has benefitted from the tonal breakup of these standards, each one serves a specific thematic purpose: Stay with Me is a paean to fans whose enthusiasm had been stretched thin over the previous decade of sub-mediocrity.

Guess it’s true, I’m not good at a one-night stand
But I still need love ’cause I’m just a man
These nights never seem to go to plan
I don’t want you to leave, will you hold my hand?

Stay with Me.

The show begins with a little medley described on most bootlegs as Guitar Riffs? Somehow it sounds like several Bob Dylan songs but is actually none of them. Or maybe it is. There are over 600 of the damned things. Ultimately it’s goal is to get asses in seats. It also calls to mind the heyday of the NET when Larry Campbell and company would engage in a five-six song acoustic set.

The man walks to his piano and Things Have Changed is barked out in a fashion not much better than any of 2010’s bark-outs, but one bark out is good. One bark out is kind of cool. Then the casuals and lifelongs alike are satisfied by an It Ain’t Me Babe that features more melodic notes than were divulged in entire calendar years previous. His ‘voice of the 60’s counterculture’ contractual obligations are met with a Highway 61 that’s treated like Freebird, or in terms of NET Freebird’s, Silvio. The big, loud song of the night.  

At the Nov. 12 show, this led to dancing from not just the obsessives in the front rows, but nearly the entire theatre: millennials, the middle-aged, and seniors were swaying, head-banging, or doing hip-replacement-friendly versions of The Twist.

There’s no rhyme or reason as to why the Sunday crowd was so much more energized. Certainly Saturday’s gang was considerably deeper into their 24oz cups. Perhaps, and this is just a theory I’ve been working on, perhaps alcohol is a depressant that more often than not inhibits one’s ability to experience joy. I digress.

Bob Dylan, it turns out, likes to see people dancing and having a good time. And while no, he will not remark, “Hey, great dancing fellows!” just as he will not remark upon the local baseball nine or any ongoing gubernatorial elections, what he will do is give it his all to try and maintain that energy.

Why Try to Change Me Now sees a confident (even pompous, were it any other musical personage) strut to the mic. He commands the stage like an arthritic James Brown for a moment or two, selling the song with his droll mannerisms before a note is sung. His leg is cocked in a motionless version of the duck walk that justified several years’-worth of concerts for me. He holds the mic at an angle like Elvis. And then he sings the song with every ounce of emotion in his 76-year-old lungs. Though the song was not written by Dylan but Joseph McCarthy (1885 to 1943), the words must be written on Bob’s soul. Or more likely it’s simply easier to put some emotion into a song you haven’t sung several thousand times.

Summer Days is the first of the dramatically-improved songs on this leg of the NET. So often the soggiest of the loves/thefts, it now has a bouncy tempo invigorated by Donny Herron’s down-home fiddling. This quicker tempo also showcases another of Dylan’s still-extant vocal gifts: his excellent phrasing. All while he plunks away at the grand piano to his own internal rhythm.

This sets up a pattern for the next few songs. Melancholy Mood sees more strutting and emoting. Honest with Me is the best of the new arrangements, and sees sardonic deliveries of lines like

You say my eyes are pretty and my smile is nice
Well, I’ll sell it to ya at a reduced price

As ExpectingRain.com user Smoke pointed out, the song borrows the guitar riff from The Beach Boys’ Dance Dance Dance.

Once Upon a Time sees more central-stage crooning. It’s a sin to just lump it in with the previous torch songs however. Each of these vocal deliveries would have been a goddamn event just a couple years ago. And again, each one is delivered totally fresh because the palate has been cleansed by the jumpin’ and jivin’ on songs like Summer Days and Honest with Me.

If the slightly speedier Tryin’ to Get to Heaven works least among the new arrangements, it’s not without poignancy to hear Bob Dylan, still grinding away at the NET, either for himself, or for us, singing, “I been all around the world, boys.”

After the first night I determined the following two songs would constitute my bathroom/libations break. The human kidneys pay heed to no man or musical bard. Pay in Blood would have constituted the highlight of many post-2012 concerts I attended, simply because I like the song. Now it just harkens back to the more destitute days in the swamp, and it can be missed.

Even if I didn’t require the bathroom or the beer line I’d probably just go admire the $40 t-shirts at the merch stand during Tangled Up in Blue. I always skip it on bootlegs. It seems almost perverse that Bob dusts it off every night. Rarely is it performed with any enthusiasm. I believe it’s the most-played song on the NET by a country pie or two; the song obviously means something to Dylan, so I can’t understand why he doesn’t give it a rest and bring it back with a little more meaning for everyone involved. Oh well, why try to change him now?

September of My Years holds particular resonance not just for another excellent delivery, but also for lyrics like

As a man who has always had the wandering ways
I keep looking back to yesterdays
‘Til a long-forgotten love appears
And I find that I’m sighing softly as I near
September, the warm September of my years

Early Roman Kings and the tour debut of Scarlet Town will ever remain swamp creatures to me. But if I strain to hear them devoid of the context of all those forgettable 2013 renditions, I can see how they add layers to the set as a whole.

The audience is then treated, or in some cases, subjected to, eight minutes of Desolation Row. I understand how important this is to people seeing Bob Dylan for the first time ever, or for the first time in decades. And yet it’s a lot of lyrics to get through, and Dylan struggles to do it prolonged justice night after night. Too often the song sinks into a sing-songy pattern, and what flourishes are meant to brighten the chorus aren’t quite sufficient.

Thunder on the Mountain is the most fun of the new arrangements. Among the most played of his post-millennial compositions, Bob has changed his way of thinking about Alicia Keys and his army of “tough sons of bitches,” having borrowed the guitar riff from from the Beach Boys’ Shut Down, Part 2.

Love Sick is delivered in a serviceable fashion that, again, would have been a strong point of any 2012 show. Now it is reduced by all the previous high water marks. It calls to mind a piece of novelistic advice I read somewhere: that a writer can judge the strength of her novel based on the quality of what she’s willing to cut from it.

The band leaves the stage for an encore break that fools nobody. Or maybe it fools a few. Or maybe those few people are just ready to leave for whatever reasons. Maybe they’d expected 4.25 x 6’ images of the hanging, postmarked ‘66. At this juncture it is my time to shine. I wait for someone in the first couple rows to leave and I appropriate their seat. The gamble is that by this time of night security is disinterested in tackling and tasing anybody.

In any case, it’s worth the electroreceptive risk to get close as possible to Dylan even for these couple songs. There he stands, light come shining through that inimitable Jew fro. I see him drink from a cup of coffee, thinking and breathing, human and hunched. It’s Based Bob Dylan. And here’s where the early seat evacuator is missing out, because it is that ’66 Dylan. He may sound and look different. The human body does completely regenerate itself every seven years. But it’s the same man.

The audience becomes one big collective Bob Dylan appreciation society for Blowin’ in the Wind and Ballad of a Thin Man. It is my custom to point directly at Bob Dylan while yelling words to the effect of “Thank you Bob,” “Alright Bob,” or “We love you, Bob.” While this may prove unsettling to the long-suffering Bob Dylan, it gives me some meagre sense of connection. Older attendees nearby close their eyes, perhaps considering where they’d been when they first heard those singular lines of philosophical inquiry…How many roads…

At the conclusion of Thin Man, Dylan and his band take centre stage for a bow. And on the 12th the fans are given a little gesture from Bob, kind of like, “Applause? Why no, but if you must, I insist that you applaud only your own selves.” And while so slight a gesture won’t register for the ‘didn’t talk to the audience’ Music Critic at HatFancier.com or wherever, it’s a substantive gesture. It means the audience helped give Bob the energy needed to deliver a standout performance in a lifetime of performances, that we, by funding leg after leg of the NET through patience as much as our pocketbooks, have allowed Bob Dylan to be where he belongs: still on the road, heading for another joint.

Mike Sauve has written for The National Post, McSweeney’s, Variety, and many other publications. Novels include The Wraith of Skrellman, The Apocalypse of Lloyd and the forthcoming I Ain’t Got No Home In This World Anymore. He’s currently working on a book about the Bob Dylan film Masked and Anonymous.

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The John Titor Legend: An Update from Pamela

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After reading my book Who Authored the John Titor Legend? Pamela Moore reached out to me.

Pamela is described in the book as follows:

No poster interacted with John Titor as frequently or as intimately as Pamela Moore. In addition to being one of the most frequent posters in both the Time Travel Institute and Post to Post threads, she also interacted with John over instant messenger (although never over the phone) and claims to have shared a deep bond with John.

Beyond this, Pamela also claimed that John Titor provided her with a “secret song” that could be used to verify anyone who’d come forward claiming to be John Titor. Most significantly, she claims that John Titor mailed her a piece of the IBM 5100 logo, and that while it came with no return address, there was an Orlando postmark.

The first thing Pamela set me straight on was that that she didn’t converse with John over Instant Messenger, but rather in UFO-themed chat rooms.  She also said that Titor mailed her a part of the “IBM 5110 label” not the “IBM 5100 logo.” Here’s a helpful discussion of the differences between the 5100 and 5110 models. She also sent me this picture of the label.

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From there things grew considerably more interesting. First she clarified that the secret song John Titor provided her with is not actually a B-52s song, which is widely believed, given that the inscribed copy of John Titor: A Time Traveler’s Tale sent to her by the John Titor Foundation did include a B-52s song, which she tells me, was the song Trism.

She has to leave
She has to go
The fastest way
Is by trism
Steps off the curb
Stella Corona hopes for the best
To be home by sunset
Gotta be home by sunset

She asked me to give her a ride
She said she had to go
Dropped her off by the trism
Through the atmosphere by prism

Go trism
Go trism
Go trism
Go trism
Go trism

Gotta keep, gotta keep movin’ on
Gotta keep movin’
Gotta keep movin’
Gotta keep movin’
Gotta, gotta keep on

It was a human race to get away
And then back again
Like the sun bends light through a prism
She bends herself through the trism

In the smokey streets of the night
She pulls the lever and then bright light

Trism
Trism
Trism
Trism
Trism

 

She points out how this song, “speaks of a man time traveling in the night and gives this girl a ride, pulls the lever and sees bright light. This may correspond with the dream I shared with him [that] I had.”

She discussed this dream of hers in some length.

“Everyone thinks I started out asking John too many detailed questions when he came in 2000. But the truth was I had a detailed dream of a time traveler in 1998. I didn’t know exactly when I had the dream when I started talking to John in the beginning but I remembered that dream. The questions I was asking him and his answers are what I saw in the dream so I kept asking detailed questions. By then I was intrigued by him. In my dream I was in a car time traveling with a man where what he described […] exactly matched my dream. Later before he left he said he had to stop in April of 1998. I went and grabbed my note book and at the top was the date April 1998. My mouth dropped then I told John about my dream.”

What intrigued me most was something Pamela had to say about the faxes sent to Art Bell in 1998 that bare a strong resemblance to the John Titor story.

The First Fax to Art Bell – Read on Coast to Coast AM on July 29, 1998

“Dear Art,

I had to fax when I heard other time travelers calling in from any time past the year 2500 AD. Please let me explain.

Time travel was invented in 2034. Off-shoots of certain successful fusion reactor research allowed scientists at CERN to produce the world’s first contained singularity engine. The basic design involves rotating singularities inside a magnetic field. By altering the speed and direction of rotation, you can travel both forward and backward in time.

Time itself can be understood in terms of connected lines. When you go back in time, you travel on your original timeline. When you turn your singularity engine off, a new timeline is created, due to the fact that you and your time machine are now there. In other words, a new universe is created.

To get back to your original line, you must travel a split second father back, and immediately throw the engine into forward without turning it off.

Some interesting outcomes of this are:

One, you meet yourself. I have done it often, even taken a younger version of myself along for a few rides before returning myself to the new timeline and going back to mine.

Two, you can alter history in the new universe that you have just created. Most of the time, the changes are subtle. Sometimes, I’ll notice car models that don’t exist, or books that come out late.

The oldest one was a skyscraper that wasn’t built in a near favorite store of mine in New York.

Interestingly, when you travel in time, you must compensate for the orbit of the earth. Since the time machine doesn’t move, you have to adjust the engines so you remain on the planet when you turn it off. Unfortunately, it was also discovered that anyone going forward in time, from my 2036, hit a brick wall in the year 2564.

Everyone who has ever been there has reported that nothing exists. When the machine is turned off, you find yourself surrounded by blackness and silence.

Now, most time travelers are trying to find out where the line went bad by going into the past, creating a new universe, and proceeding forward to see if the same thing results in 2564. It appears the line went bad around the year 2000. I’m here now, in this time, to test a few theories of mine before going forward.

Now, for the future you might want to know about.

One, Y2K is a disaster. Many people die on the highways when they freeze to death trying to get to warmer weather.

Two, the government tries to keep power by instituting Marshall Law, but all of it collapses when their efforts to bring the power back up fail.

Three, a power facility in Denver is able to restart itself, but is mobbed by hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed. This convinces most that maybe we shouldn’t bring the old system back up.

Four, a few years later, communal government system is developed, after the constitution takes a few twists.

China retakes Taiwan, Israel wins the largest battle for their life, and Russia is covered in nuclear snow from their collapsed reactors.

Art, the reason I’m here now is because I believe a nuclear weapon set off by Iraq in the Middle East war with Israel might have something to do with the damaged timeline. I will test that theory and get back to you.

Please pray that we discover the reason why there is no apparent future after 2564.”

The Second Fax to Art Bell

“Dear Mr. Bell,

I am glad you’re back. I faxed this information to you the day before you left the air. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t lost in the shuffle so I am sending a gift. If you’ve already seen this please accept my apologies. If you choose to make this public please do not publish the fax number. I had to fax when I heard the other time traveler calling in from the recent time past in fact the year 2500 Ad.

Let me explain, Mr. Bell. I sent a fax with this opening on July 29 1998. As I said then I am a time traveler. I have been on this world line since April of this year and I plan to leave soon. Typically time travelers do not purposely affect the world lines they visit. However, this mission is unusually long and I’ve grown attached to some of the people I have met here.

Anyway, for my own reasons I have decided to help this world line by sharing information about the future with a few people in the hope that it will help their future. I am contacting you for the same reason. Unfortunately there is no historical reference to your program in my worldline.

I believe you can change your future by creating one now.

Some of the information presented on your program may be invaluable to up-line researchers. I suggest you isolate the programs that concentrate on military technology and new physics theories. Transcribe these programs and put them someplace safe away from the box. I recommend someplace in the midwest.

I also urge you to reconsider your paranoia to the Russians.

They are not preparing for war with the average US citizen. They are preparing for war with the US government. They will eventually save this country and the lives of million of Americans.

I realize my claims are a bit difficult to accept so I will send the following once I know you have received this fax. A few pages from the operations manual of my time machine. And a few colored photographs of my vehicle.

If you wish to contact me I will be happy to share with you the nature of time, the physics of time travel and some of the events of your future.

Please send a return package to…”

While these faxes provide a slightly different narrative than the John Titor posts, there are many similar aspects. Joseph Matheny, who has taken credit for the story, says they were a proto-attempt at telling the story. Others believe it could be an alternate John sent back from an alternate 2036.

Pamela believes as follows:

“One thing about the faxes that was so bizarre is not one single person remembered them in 2001 and yet they were obviously only a few years old from 1998. No one made the connection when John was here. Not even the diehard time traveler Art Bell fans. You’d think at least one of those people would have remembered about them. They were not even found until John left. Like they magically just appeared in the timeline.”

She also discussed her ongoing relationship with the person claiming to be John Titor’s mother, Kay, facilitated entirely by Larry Haber:

“The latest package I received had several things in it. A letter from Kay. A letter from John. An album with a record inside and a CD with some songs on it but I’m keeping what was on it secret because I am not really sure why he sent those to me.  I more than likely will find out later. I received it in September of 2016.

“Kay’s letter was just a nice personal letter. Thanking me and apologizing she couldn’t be more communicative with me but fear kept her back. And that John wanted this package sent to me before he left. That’s about all I feel I can reveal in her letter.

“John’s letter was a two page letter in a separate sealed envelope. It was written on nice stationary in pencil. With only the name Pam written on the outside. The first paragraph is as follows:

Dear Pam,

Over what has been fifteen years I’ve considered you to be a dear friend who deserves the best explanation I can give. You should know that your efforts played an important role in allowing me a chance to get home.”

“He then went on to explain how I was communicating with more than one John. That other Johns may arrive and they need the posts to stay up as long as possible.”

Pamela says this correspondence with John was written in a style similar to the Letter 177 Tempus Edax Rerum video that was posted to YouTube by Larry Haber.

 

“It sounded like the same person who wrote the letter also did the audio Larry Haber put up. The one that starts out ‘I am the man you know as John Titor….’ I want to share it with others but I just don’t know if he would have approved of it. But if you heard that audio of a John Titor this letter sounds very similar and I think the same person who did the audio wrote the letter.”

Pamela remains open-minded as to whether or not this was the original John she spoke to, an alternate John, or someone else entirely.

“I have to say he does seem a little different than the John I spoke to. But I honestly don’t know what that means. I am older. He may be a different age also. The John that I talked to before just seemed so much closer to me. For example this John just ended his letter with ‘thanks!’ The other John ended his final letter with ‘I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You will always be a true friend.’ (That’s just an example I can’t remember the exact words.) It’s just different.”

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