Friday, April 15, 2011

My Bob Dylan Concert Review

Let's start with the bad first; the whole venue at this place called Marina Promenade was really fucked up. The VIP area closest to the stage that cost 200 bucks to get in was ridiculously big. Which meant the rest of the people outside had to cramp together as it got more and more crowded. To make things worse, the big-ass tent in the middle was a huge obstruction, so to get the best view I had to stand right next to the tent. There were just too many barricades and sponsor tents around.

Now the good; Dylan's 1 1/2 hour set was surprisingly solid. I knew what to expect beforehand. First of all, he reworks the arrangements of most of his songs, some to a point where they are barely recognizable (i.e. It Ain't Me Babe was very different from what it used to be). And second, to truly appreciate a concert like this, one must throw out any preconception of the man playing an acoustic guitar and harmonica like he did in the early '60s. He's way past that folk era. Now he's become like a legendary white bluesman. Seriously I bet a lot of people there were thinking 'what the fuck' at the start. When it comes to any Dylan concert, you either like him or you don't. He's in no way a nostalgic act, never has been.

I'm not gonna talk about all the songs, but I'll just say this; I dig all the new arrangements; it definitely keeps things exciting. Especially a tune like Tangled Up In Blue. For this he actually broke up the lines in the verses, so he sang them slower than the original (though it was apparent he shortened the song considerably). I absolutely loved the new A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall; especially the last verse, where the band's sound just kept ascending into some euphoric state. He still manages to make the song as relevant today. It's hard to describe it; it's one of those 'you had to be there' moments. Same goes for Highway 61 Revisited and Ballad Of A Thin Man; just incredible versions.

The setlist was a good mix of old and recent songs. The newer stuff were quite easy to recognize, as he didn't change their structures much. They sounded fresh and familiar at the same time. Love Sick, followed by Thunder On The Mountain was goddamn amazing. I swear I've never seen musicianship this tight before. I mean the band was just fucking on the ball during every song; they had a very instinctual way of playing. The fine Charlie Sexton on lead guitar reminded me of Mike Bloomfield. Weirdly enough, they seemed to complement Dylan's singing. It's interesting to hear the way he approaches his vocals now. His voice was raspy at times, but he wasn't mumbling all that much. What he's doing is basically 'talk-singing'. I can understand how people might get frustrated if didn't stretch his words all the way through on songs like Simple Twist Of Fate and the closing Forever Young. But still, he sounded very 'into' the performances, like he really meant every word he said/sang.

So overall, outstanding show. Sound mix was pretty good, though not loud enough. My only gripes were that it was too short, and some over-enthusiastic fuckers behind me ruined Like A Rolling Stone by singing too loudly. It was also the most no-frills gig I've ever seen. True enough, Dylan rarely faced the crowd, spending most of his time behind the keyboards. Not much harp work either, but when he did play the harp, it was spine-chilling. And the only time he spoke was when he introduced the band. And no video feed of the whole performance on the big screens. Luckily I knew where to stand, so most of the time I had a clear view of Dylan and his organ. And it's weird that after every song ended, the stage lights immediately went black. It's like he didn't want people seeing his face too much.

The man's pushing 70 next month, but the way I see it, he's one of those musicians that literally lives and dies on the stage, just like Chuck Berry. Hopefully this isn't the last time I'll get to catch Dylan live.

Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking
It Ain't Me, Babe
Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
Tangled Up In Blue
Honest With Me
Simple Twist Of Fate
Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
Highway 61 Revisited
Love Sick
Thunder On The Mountain
Ballad Of A Thin Man

Like A Rolling Stone
Forever Young

Bob Dylan is the father of my country
- Bruce Springsteen