Let me start off by saying that both the best rock concert (Alpine Valley, mid 80s) I’ve ever seen and the worst (Portland Civic Auditorium, early 90s) were both put on by Bob Dylan. I told my wife I’d settle for “pretty good” this time around, when Dylan headlined a show featuring John (nee Cougar, nee Cougar Mellencamp) Mellencamp on the lawn at McMenamin’s Edgefield in Troutdale.
And it was pretty good. Pretty, pretty, pretty good. And also very entertaining in some unexpected ways.
First off, the crowd. Mostly a middle-aged, middle class white crowd, of course, with a smattering of aging hippies and dead heads. We arrived early to pick up our tickets at will call. No line at the box office 20 minutes before the gates opened, and, at first glance no line at the gates. At second glance, there was a line. A really massive line snaking all the way back and around the parking lot, so we got a good look at the ticket holders. I was having some flashbacks to shows I saw in the 80s and 90s, and wondering where the freaks were.
I started saying “Doses. Doses.” under my breath to see if anybody would look. Nope. No pungent herbal smoke wafting through the air, either. Hmmm…. what kind of show was this going to be?
The venue was mostly full by the time we got in, and we secured a spot by a tree toward the back. It’s not an ideal venue, just a lawn on a hillside with so-so sight lines. Still, it was pleasant enough, and they’ve got their logistical act together. Food and beverage service lines move quickly, and they have plenty of honey buckets (which, it turns out, is where people smoke out during concerts these days — who knew?).
The opening act kind of pissed me off. The Dough Rollers, a couple of young white kids trying to sound like old black guys playing country blues covers. The best I can say is that they were well-dressed. They seemed uncomfortable playing with a P.A. and in front of a crowd. I remarked to my wife that the singer’s got maybe a year left in his career before his voice is totally destroyed from doing the gravelly voice shtick. Of course, Portland loves white blues, and gave them a warm reception. I was trying to figure out how the hell they got on the bill. This morning I figured it out: lead singer Malcolm Ford is Harrison Ford’s son. Whatever. Malcolm, I love the old country blues, and I appreciate you want to share your love with the people. But you got kind of an Elvis thing going on, all stealing the black man’s music and shit. I hope you got something else up your sleeve for when your voice gives out.
Then came Mr. Mellencamp, the guy who did a pretty good (if that’s the kind of thing you like) white-trashy mimic of Michael Jackson in the 80s, and is now all “back to the roots” and junk. (I’ll give him grudging props for being a pretty good straight ahead rocker (if that’s the kind of thing you like). This is when the crowd got fun.
People (gasp!) stood up when he started playing. We were in the kind of DMZ, where the top of the hill leveled out. We stayed sitting during John’s set, but the folks ahead of us were standing. The folks behind us were yelling and started throwing ice cubes. The tye-died lesbian couple ahead of us took a direct hit, and turned around to have words, explaining that they were only standing because the people in front of them were standing. I figured, given the age of the crowd, they’d all sit down after two songs, and that was mostly true, but there were some hold outs.
“Hey you! With the wine shirt! Sit down!” (To a young guy wearing a “powered by fine wine” t-shirt”.)
A different standing (kind of burly) guy turned around and shouted “You sit down!” His wife clapped her hand over his mouth.
“We are sitting down!” came the response.
John Mellencamp’s band was up there building a barn or something, and Wacky Mommy was standing in front of a tree to get a better look at him with the binoculars. “He’s aging well!” she said with a distinct trace of glee in her voice. My wife has a crush on John Mellencamp… who knew?
The standing and haranguing from behind continued. “Sit down!”
Wine shirt guy turned around and shouted “You stand up!” This is when the comic turned kind of tragic. Turns out the fenced off seating area we were sitting in front of wasn’t a VIP seating area, but a handicapped area (bad venue design).
“Some of us can’t stand up! We’re handicapped!”
I was worried the burly guy or wine guy were going to get into a wrestling match with wheel chair guy, but eventually most everybody sat down (to applause from the handicapped section). I decided to hit the head before intermission, which was when I discovered that “head” and porta-”pot” are the new concert smoking lounge, at least for the illicit stuff (not so much open passing of the pipe these days, though we did smell a few hits). Somebody left a burning joint in the effing urinal in the porta pot I picked. (“Couldn’t they have left it on a ledge or something?” asked Nancy when I told her.)
As I cried over the joint and pissed it into the holding tank, Mellencamp’s band was launching into “The walls came tumbling down,” and I was getting a better picture of “what kind of crowd”. Drunk, for the most part. I had to use my best hockey skating skills to avoid getting stumbled into by any number of blotto middle aged people on my way back to our blanket. When I got there, the tie-dyes in front of us were rocking hard, spilling beer, and making like they were going to throw it on the people ahead of them.
They didn’t make it three songs into Dylan’s set, which was a nice mix of old and new, before packing up their sodden blanket and heading for the gates.
Dylan played a lot of organ(!) and even some guitar solos early in the set. His current band features Charlie Sexton on lead guitar (another Wacky Mommy crush), who eventually got to stretch out with some tasty solos as the set progressed.
More and more people were picking up their blankets and leaving midway through. “It’s a long way back to Beaverton,” said Nancy. “Yeah,” I said, chuckling smugly. “Hey, wait a minute,” I said, “It is a long way back to Beaverton… for us!”
Dylan’s singing in a deep gravel these days, but he’s still hitting the notes, and his band was on the money. I’m no rock critic, but let’s just say the “Just Like a Woman” brought tears to my woman’s eyes, and ending the two-song encore with “Like a Rolling Stone” could have been trite, but it worked. I smiled a bunch and stood up for his whole set (in front of the tree, careful not to block the view of the handicapped section). We drove back to Beaverton happy and sober.