Last night marked the first time I have ever seen Bob Dylan live! After more than 40 years of buying Bob Dylan records, books, CDs, and playing his songs myself...I finally went to catch a live show. And how was it?
When I was in university I used to go with a couple of friends to stand in the parking lot behind the downtown YMCA to listen to the band on Friday nights. They had some great bands, Whiskey Howl, Flapping, Luke & the Apostles, even John Lee Hooker one night! But there was a cover charge, and I was the only one of the three of us who was working (part-time at a large Canadian dept. store) so we would pick up a bottle of muscatel, and stand by the ventilation unit, drinking from a paper bag, and dancing to the sounds of music that came from the room downstairs!No...really!
The sound was echoey, deep, raw, primitive. I haven't heard sound like that for years. Modern sound systems have improved audio to the point where Steely Dan or the Eagles can play live and sound exactly like they do on record! Well, last night I heard that sound again. The raw, primitive, rockin' sound of a hot band...Tony Garnier on bass, George Recile on drums, guitarists Stu Kimball (rhythm), Denny Freeman (lead) and Donnie Herron (pedal steel, lap steel, banjo, fiddle) and the man himself on keyboards and harp. They sounded fine. Loud, but warm. Maybe a little harsh on the first tune, but they managed to sort that out by the end of "Cat's In the Well" except for Dylan's vocals. Bob's voice has gone through a lot of changes over the years. First a young Minnesotan's take on Woody Guthrie, then a warm country croon, it has grown into an elder bluesman's growl. Is it shot? I don't think so. He plays new games with his phrasing, and once in a while slips back into the Woody-sound for a line or two. Or a syllable here and a syllable there. The lyrics are broken up like free verse. The band chugs along like there's no tomorrow, and people expecting to hear the classics delivered just the way they appeared on the original albums are in for a disappoinment. But you should know that going in. Take a listen to 1979's Live at Budokan, he's been reworking the classics for years!
On the news at 11 last night the reviewer complained that he didn't do any old songs. Even a quick look at the set list proves that this joker just isn't familiar with Bob's material.
Cat's in the Well (from 1990's Under a Blood Red Sky); It Ain't Me Babe (Another Side of Bob Dylan '64); Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again (Blonde on Blonde '66); Girl From the North Country (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan '63 & Nashville Skyline '69); High Water (for Charlie Patton) (Love and Theft 2001); Just Like a Woman (Blonde on Blonde '66); Rollin' and Tumblin' (Modern Times 2006); Tryin' to Get to Heaven (Time Out of Mind '97); Highway 61 Revisited (from Highway 61 Revisited '65); Moonlight (again from Love and Theft '01); It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) (Bringing It All Back Home '65); When the Deal Goes Down and Thunder on the Mountain and Keep Talkin' (all from Modern Times '06); and as an encore Highway 61's Like a Rolling Stone and from John Wesley Harding (1967) All Along the Watchtower.
Some clown wrote into Dylan's website that he couldn't even recognize Blowin' in the Wind!Well...that's because HE DIDN'T PLAY IT! The only arrangement I didn't get right off was High Water. The rest were dandy rockin' versions of great songs. The band was perfectly loose and strategically tight. At times they reminded me of The Band, except for the distinct lack of rootsy harmonies. I had the best view in the place, off to the side of the stage, but directly in Dylan's line of sight as he was setup at an angle behind the keyboard. Lighting was a problem since he kept his wide-brimmed hat on for the whole show.
After an hour and fifty minutes of this, he was gone. From my vantage point I could see him exit the arena. And still people applauded til they turned on the houselights. Assessments from people I overheard ranged from 'fabulous' to'who told him he could sing' but for me...it was exactly what I expected. Now I can exclaim, "Bob Dylan...been there...got the T-shirt!" and wear it with pride!