Pat Guadagno and Tired Horses conquer complexities of Dylan’s ‘Blonde on Blonde’

PAT GUADAGNO

PAT GUADAGNO

At the BobFest concert at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank on Thursday, devoted primarily to Bob Dylan’s classic 1966 double album Blonde on Blonde, Pat Guadagno spoke about being holed up in his basement, listening to the album with his headphones on, and “eating, sleeping, dreaming these words for months.” That kind of commitment is necessary to tackle an album like this one, full of some of Dylan’s most complex and mysterious poetry.

“Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” “Absolutely Sweet Marie” and “I Want You” offer, among other things, a nonstop barrage of images and ideas. In “Visions of Joanna” alone, “jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule,” “Infinity goes up on trial,” “Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it” and so on.

Blonde on Blonde, which turned 50 earlier this month, is also an album of many moods, from the rowdy celebration of “Rainy Day Women #12 and #35” to the melancholy ruminations of “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” But if Guadagno and the musicians in his Tired Horses band felt any pressure or uneasiness in trying to scale this mountain of an album on Thursday, they didn’t show it. The vibe was easy-going and joyful, not tense or serious. They handled all the songs’ heady twists and turns as if they had negotiated them a million times before.

Wisely, Guadagno — who has been presenting annual BobFest concerts for the last 18 years — spread the vocal load out fairly evenly. He sang lead on “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” and a gentle, semi-unplugged version of “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later),” for instance, but keyboardist Jeff Kazee (of Southside Johnny’s Asbury Jukes) growled out the bluesy “Temporary Like Achilles,” and bassist Paul Rizzo handled “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine.” Harmonica player Rob Paparozzi adopted a comically perturbed tone to sing “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat,” and he and electric guitarist Oddo traded verses, and instrumental solos, on “Obviously 5 Believers.” Paparozzi, Guadagno, Oddo and backing vocalist Mary McCrink all sang verses of “Rainy Day Women #12 and #35.

McCrink added some impressive vocal embellishments to “Pledging My Time,” and Steven Delopoulos of Burlap to Cashmere, who played acoustic guitar throughout the show, sang an intensely emotional version of “Fourth Time Around.” Marc Muller, who played guitar, pedal steel and mandolin, sang one of the set’s seven non-Blonde on Blonde songs, “Tough Mama.” Often, different singers would take different verses of a particular song; only drummer Joe Bellia, violinist Yuri Turchyn and pianist Arne Wendt didn’t take a lead vocal at some point in the evening.

The song order was not the same as it is on the album, and one non-Blonde on Blonde song — a sultry piano-and-vocals version of “Make You Feel My Love,” sung by McCrink — served as an interlude between “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” which featured a new, chugging arrangement, and “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later).”

Other non-Blonde on Blonde songs included a celebratory show-closing “Like a Rolling Stone” and a fiery take on “Hurricane” (both featuring added percussionist Richard Blackwell), a Byrdsy “My Back Pages,” the earnest “Every Grain of Sand” (another great showcase for Delopoulos’ warm, soulful voice) ” and “Tough Mama,” on which Muller, who leads the Grateful Dead tribute band Dead On Live, took a Jerry Garcia-esque guitar solo (Garcia used to cover “Tough Mama” with his Jerry Garcia Band).

Musicians from the Basie’s youth rock band Rockit! opened the set with a spirited set of their own (which included two Dylan songs, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “It Ain’t Me, Babe”), and some of them returned to the stage to help out on “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35” and “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Next year’s BobFest should be interesting. John Wesley Harding was released in 1967. But most of The Basement Tapes was recorded the same year (though the album wasn’t released until 1975).  Guadagno may be spending a lot of time with his headphones on, again.

Here is the show’s setlist. Blonde on Blonde songs are in bold.

ROCKIT!
“Caravan”
“Ophelia”
“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”
“Turn! Turn! Turn!”
“It Ain’t Me, Babe”
“Dear Mr. Fantasy”

PAT GUADAGNO & TIRED HORSES
“Rainy Day Women #12 and 35” (with Rockit! horn section)
“Absolutely Sweet Marie”

“Visions of Johanna” (with Arlan Feiles)
“4th Time Around”
“Obviously 5 Believers”
“Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine”
“Pledging My Time”
“I Want You”
“Just Like a Woman”
“Temporary Like Achilles”
“Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”
“Make You Feel My Love”
“One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)”
“Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”
“Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”
“Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love)”
“Tough Mama”
“Every Grain of Sand”
“My Back Pages”
“Hurricane” (with Richard Blackwell)
“Like a Rolling Stone” (with Richard Blackwell and Rockit! members)

Here is a video of one of the Rockit! songs, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”:

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