The Joint @ the Hard Rock Casino
Las Vegas, Nev.
August 24, 2001

Whenever I’m in a Las Vegas casino, the sheer spectacle and noise of it all sometimes overcomes me. Even though you are confronted with slot machines the second you enter the city—they are in the airport, grocery and convenience stores—nothing prepares you for the onslaught you encounter upon entering a casino. The noise and flashing lights are everywhere. I feel like I’m in a pinball machine—similar type of music—and I’m being bounced around from one machine to another.

But the idea of Bob Dylan playing in Las Vegas is enticement enough for me to go anywhere. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the prophet of doom in Sin City, like Jonah in Nineveh, spewing that "people are crazy, times are strange… I used to care but things have changed."

His show on August 24 at the Hard Rock Casino began amiably enough. Versions of "To Ramona" and "Absolutely Sweet Marie" were pleasant surprises. "Tell Me That It Isn’t True" from Nashville Skyline was a recent introduction into the Never Ending Tour. With Larry Campbell on pedal steel and Dylan on harp only long enough to blow out the cobwebs, "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" was rousing.

Much of the concert had a country feel, with Dylan—clad in a familiar gray Western-style suit—looking like a high stakes roller from Texas or, more appropriately, a Mississippi riverboat gambler. But instead of rolling the dice, he spent the show crooning into the microphone or plucking his guitar strings, his right arm locked around its bass and the neck pointed toward the first few rows, as if he were firing a machine gun into the audience.

Loaded with enough ammo and a card up his sleeve, Dylan and his band then kicked it up a notch. Beginning with "Everything Is Broken" from Oh Mercy, guitarists Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton let loose a rock and roll cacophony that had Dylan leading the charge, while the rhythm section of Tony Garnier and David Kemper brought up the rear like a tank column. Snarling into the microphone, Dylan reinforced the sonic fire and brimstone with the first song of the encore, "Love Sick." "Like a Rolling Stone," a song that often suffers from overplay, was hard driving and still full of venom. Dylan’s vocals are an integral part of his music; and, after a seemingly decade-long stretch where he struggled with the increasing loss of his voice, he now seems almost infatuated with its guttural, subterranean texture. When he shouts out a growl that dissolves into the moan "How does it feel?" he manages to somehow convey the deep, dark past while also pointing to the impending future.

Dylan ended the night’s show pointing us to the sun with "Highway 61 Revisited." Wandering out into the casino, I hardly noticed the sensory barrage. He hadn’t played anything from his new and exquisite album Love and Theft, but no matter. When Bob Dylan is on, he’s a great performer—and he was in fine form this night. I felt fortunate to have been there, even lucky. Maybe it was time to hit the slots.—Jayson Whitehead