page by Bill Pagel
Review by Peter O'Donnell
It is a hot summers day in the nations capital city. Canberra. The venue is the
arena at The Australian Institute of Sport. I arrive at 6.00pm in the carpark
after a 2 hour 15 minute journey from Junee, my hometown. Music started to
erupt from the venue, sound check was beginning, Things Have Changed, Sugar Baby,
Drifters Escape and Forever Young.
The Waifs were a capable support act and commenced at 7.30pm sharp. They played
5 or 6 songs and were finished by 8.00pm. The venue gradually fills but doesn't
reach its capacity of 5,200. I'd estimate a crowd of about 4000 people at Dylans
second ever concert in Canberra, the other being on 29 March 1992.
The band and Dylan arrive on stage at 8.30pm sharp with the usual music playing
for the intro. There is no introduction at this concert. Strange. The lights
go on and Bob is at the piano, at this stage most interest was to check out the
new guitarist, Billy Burnette, we had learned earlier in the day that the former
Fleetwood Mac man had taken Charlie Sextons place in the band.
Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum, a nice opener with Bob sounding just as he did in 2002.
I'll Be Your Baby Tonight sounded good with its country twang, Bob sings the
"Well, that mockingbirds gonna sail away" verse 3 times.
Highway 61 Revisited a rocking version. The band start to loosen up.
I'll Remember You was a highlight with Bobs vocals and phrasing spot on. Loved it.
Things Have Changed followed. By this time the heat in the venue was taking its
toll on the band. Billy was really red in the face and sweating profusely.
Brown Sugar kicked ass, the crowd loving it, some nice guitar work from the new
man, Billy. The backing vocals of Larry and Billy were a little on the weak side
in comparison to what Charlie offered in that area. Bob walks around in front of
the drums checking out George and Billy in particular. Bob done this on 4 or 5
occasions as the night progressed.
Saving Grace the real surprise packet of the show. This version sounding true to
the version from the much underrated Saved album.
Don't Think Twice, Bob leaves the piano and takes up the acoustic guitar, Larry
on mandolin (I think). After the first verse Bob flings the guitar off his
shoulder, obviously pissed and moves back to the piano. This was a beautiful
version of a super song.
Sugar Baby was next with Bob on keyboards. Nice clear vocals again here.
Drifters Escape was good version. Very hard rock style that we heard last year.
During this song Bob playing electric guitar sits down on the drum platform for
a minute or so. It looked as though he was tired, but who really knows.
One Too Many Mornings saw the same problems with Bobs acoustic guitar, he
quickly headed for the keyboards, I got the feeling the guitar techs job was on
the line at this stage. Through my binoculars I could see Bob was unimpressed.
Lovely quite version of one of my favourite Bob tunes.
Honest With Me was the usual version. George's drums were really copping a
pounding during the electric rockers.
It Ain't Me Babe was another absolute highlight with the vocal spot on, Bob was
in full flight by this stage. Bob was on the acoustic guitar for this entire
Masters Of War followed. I think we all knew it would be there. The crowd goes
wild when it starts. Bob is singing this from the heart, my god it must have
been like this in '63. The song ended and a standing ovation from many of the
Forever Young was next. The backing vocals once again sounding a little lame to
me. This was countered by Bobs singing, brilliant. Bob doing some serious
smiling here and enjoying this number a lot.
Summer Days saw the ushers allow people to come to the stage. So like a shot I
landed front and dead centre on the rail at front of the stage. The sound up
front was strange, Larry's guitar was most prevalent and the drums also strong
but you could hardly hear Bobs vocal from up there. A much shorter version
than usual, I'd estimate 6 minutes. Bob and the band assembled, bowed and left
Blowin' In The Wind followed a few minutes later after a short break. Upon
returning Bob came to the front of the stage directly in front of me, I swear
I was less than 6 feet from him. Contrary to other reports he did not "Hi 5"
people on the rail in front of the stage. He only pretended to slap peoples
hands pulling away when getting to close, he was at leat 3 to 4 foot from
anyone's hand. All the band seemed to enjoy this song.
All Along The Watchtower ended the show after brief band introductions which
I could barely hear. The band smiling throughout this song. George really
punishing the drums here and Billy finally looking like he was part of the
band. Again they assembled bowed and they left the stage at 10.25pm and the
lights came on. The show was over.
Overall I'd rate the show a 7 out of 10. Bobs singing and the band improving as
the show went on. Billy looked lost most of the night but played some nice
licks, he's gonna fit in just fine. Recelli was fantastic and Larry was Larry
and Tony was Tony.
Sorry I can't give more info on instrumentation etc but I didn't make notes and
don't want to be inaccurate. I can say that Bob played harp much more than I
remember in the past maybe on as many as 10 songs.
This is one mans opinion I apologise if there are any inaccuracies.
Review by Stephen Hyde
I send this in as an occasionally lapsed Dylan fan rather than fanatic. I
aint going to give you an encyclopedic song-by-song account as I am too
uneducated in Dylanology to offer a bar-by-bar review. Not even
song-by-song, as I was enjoying myself too much to catalogue the pleasure.
All I can offer is a blurred and incomplete impression, written 24 hours
later, with my head still ringing with the power of the performance. The
show was worth reporting on for a couple of reasons, even by a Dylanweb
novice like me. First, as we say here in the once-green, now brown and
black bush capital, it was bloody good. Second, this is the first show he
has done (that I know of) with his new guitarist, Bill Burnette, and the
first show after some months off. Thirdly, there was a review in our local
daily bugle, The Canberra Times, by a sometimes decent and usually
musically knowledgeable journalist, Robert Messenger, that I reckon worth
commenting on. (Front page banner headline, Feb 7, 2003: "HEAT NOW ON
U.N.: HOWARD" (our inane, Texan-boot lickin' populist PM).) Mr.
Messengeršs byline appears on page 2; a Dylan show is big around here.
Išll try to set the scene first. Parts of Canberra were badly burnt less
than 3 weeks ago, wešve had heat and drought for months (... Summer Days).
It has been a pretty interesting time for normally sedate, middle class
Canberra: we all faced the elements at their rawest, heard howling winds
and wondered if any minute the bubble would burst. Our Hard Rain was first
a dry and hungry desert wind, that blew inches of the desert topsoil onto
our late model Japanese cars all summer, then lightning, that struck over
our mountains, setting the high country ablaze . After eating through
hundreds of kilometres of wild country, the fires exploded over the south
of this town two weekends ago, and devoured hundreds of houses of brick
and mud. Canberra is also the political capital of Australia, so we are
simultaneously surrounded by wartalk. Grovelling comments by politicians
are in the air. They weep for lost suburbia one minute, then return to the
war-room to plot our path to GW Bush's high table -via troops and ships to
the Gulf - the next.
So we were ready for some straight talking, some substance and some good
music. The first indication that something was happening here was the
announcement in big, bold red letters on the wonderful billboard high on
the concrete walls of bleachers, out in the (setting) sun. "Upcoming
Attractions at the AIS Arena: Feb 4:Cannons v Victoria" (basketbull
stuff), "Feb 6:Bob Dylan", "Feb 8: A Long Way to the Top" (retro Aussie
rock and pop - boring for (so)me, thrilling for others), "Feb 10: Sir
Cliff Richard". I strolled under the billboard, grateful it was Feb. 6.
Enter Bobby D, on a sultry balmy evening, after a rollicking, EXCELLENT
set by The Waifs, young wandering Australian minstrel sisters and friends,
who sent us off towards Sugartown, then hopped off with style, as we
rolled towards the unknown - a Dylan show was about to begin. Preceded by
bombastic orchestral blasts, two minutes of a half corny, half
militaristic overture (I wish I could tell you what it was, but have no
idea), then opening bars of T'dum and T'dee. Then, from places unknown,
that unmistakeable rasping whine - Bob was in da house. It soon became
evident that he was only metres away, invisible but there. Only a massive
bank of speakers separated us, like a perfect blackout, a digital remaster
of the scene.... Bloody hopeless seat allocation. Still, those few minutes
of worry: should we move? will Bob move? ... allowed an excellent view
across to the rest of the band, suited up and dandy, rolling along,
locking in, nervously eyeing the invisible Bob and strutting their stuff.
The music was building and the sound quality was excellent. The new boy,
Mr Bill Burnette according to the airwaves, strutted with the rest of
them, looking like a sideman for Elvis - neat, trim, perhaps a little
blown out on the trail sometime in the past, but well scrubbed. If he was
nervous, he hid it well. By the end of T'dum and T'e first song.... .
After some vocal complaints from our blindsided fellows we walked the
upper perimeter of the stadium, to the other side. It was quite a pleasure
to casually observe the entire stage from high above - there he was,
looking happy, moving freely, banging out I'll Be Your Baby Tonight (was
it?) on the keyboard. Good muzak, I thought, as we strolled around to a
better vantage point, side-on to the stage. We reinstalled facing Dylan at
the keyboard, maybe 15 metres away, with his band strung out in an arc
towards us. The show was getting better and better. The band were
wrestling with Dylan's mad shifts and detours, he was trying them out and
they were following. By the time Highway 61 came around (or was it
earlier?) , he was inside the music, with long harmonica licks that were
vintage Dylan. That set the pace for the show: Dylan was working at it all
night, on keyboard for a while, then acoustic then electric guitars.
Bending the rhythms, the keys, the phrases, walking the line between
supreme expression and clumsy, teetering cacophany. It was a performance,
I had seen Dylan not so long before, at a (masterful) open-air show, two
summers earlier in Sydney (the night before he received his Academy
Award), where he focused on his then most-recent release, Time Out of
Mind. The band then included Charlie Sexton, and the tone was stringy,
clean and acoustic. Dylan was happy, I recall. Since then, Love and Theft
appeared and the live sound was different. Dylan was STILL happy. But the
sound: it was electric, fat, full of hissing valves and amplification. No
"Judas" comments were uttered, though Mr. Messenger of the Canberra Times
apparently spoke for some in his review, wingeing about "more rock than
folk"...more later. The tone was set fairly early in the show: Love and
Theft songs were (not surprisingly) immediately recognisable, though every
one was heavier, louder, more solid and rhythmic than its recorded
version. Things Have Changed was pumped out with sheer brilliance. Brown
Sugar was note-prefect Stones, but very dull. (Why play it? We know you
can make an electric noise Mr. Dylan. Better than many.) Saving Grace is
an unknown song to me, yet I felt I knew it by the end - he took that one
very seriously and sang with, well, grace. All Along the Watchtower was
vintage Hendrix: Dylan does Hendrix does Dylan. It roared along,
ecstatically, then died to finish the one and only encore. Nearly all else
was twisted , some were warped beyond recognition. (Did he really play
Išll Remember You?) Forever Young was beautiful: keening, loving and
exuding strength. The show somehow combined a lazy summer vibe with loud
rock n roll, nonchalance (as only an old showman can deliver) with
activism, Love and Theft cocktail-rock with spat-out verses of Masters of
War. Peaceniks, the dispossessed majority in Australia, applauded for
minutes after Masters of War and Blowin in the Wind. How many wars since
Dylan penned them? We have an expression here for someone wasting their
time... Pissin in the Wind.
The band were only let off the leash for a few minutes, I think on Don't
Think Twice Its Alright. Bob was wandering from acoustic guitar, abandoned
minutes in, to keyboard, abandoned a few offbeat, but catalytic, bars
later, with a sweep of the hand to the band as he strolled around the
scene, like a curiously ageless gentleman who just happened to stumble
across a VERY loud band on his promenade, dressed in his finest, hippest
white boots and grey suit. Those few minutes of Dylan-free jamming
suggested a brilliant team - Burnette included. For the rest, Dylan was
leading the show musically. On many accasions, both on keyboard and
electric guitar, his musical interventions to an otherwise well-oiled
machine were dazzling, outshining even the rockers in dark(er) suits. He
dropped a couple of wrenches into the spinning wheels, due in part to
technical stuffups, in part to Dylanesque whimsy.
The crowd was restrained by its self-imposed Canberra good manners and
blanket security. Eventually, a few pushed to the front, crammed in and
lapped up the energy from nearby. The show ended with an offbeat, but
heartfelt Blowin in the Wind, then a blazing All Along the Watchtower.
The music stopped, Dylan came frontstage and spent some time greeting,
drinking it all in, then was gone from view of the main crowd, hanging
amiably below, sidestage, before walking lightly, into the night.
Wherever you be now Mr. Dylan, please accept our gratitude. Do you read
newspaper reviews? If so, you will see that Mr. Messenger reported the
walkout of some people last night, incensed at your electric noise. Even
worse, we failed to recognise It Aint Me Babe! I can only assume that
Messenger, a self-proclaimed historian of pop music, perceived more than
me. I had an excellent view of the entire stadium.... I kinda warm to the
idea of a Mr. Messenger reviving the Scandal of Dylanšs Electricity.
Review by Julian Boehm
Bob Dylan's concert at the AIS arena in Canberra was exhilarating and all
that we have come to expect at a Dylan gig.
No introductions here, Bob and his Band simply walked onto the stage, took
up their positions, the stage lights went on and Bob launched into Tweedle
Dee & Tweedle Dum, as expected playing electric piano. From the outset,
Bob looked totally at ease and was in fine voice, smiling and having fun.
Then into a lovely version of I'll be Your Baby Tonight with Larry on
slide followed by a blistering version of Highway 61, with Bob growling
out the chorus as only he can, followed by a hauntingly sweet I'll
Remember You, a solid Thing's Have Changed and then bringing the house
down with a magnificent rocking Brown Sugar.
Bob was confident in his Band, smiling, wandering around the stage during
his songs and generally having a ball and so were the band members.
Then as we have come to expect from Bob, the unpredictable..........
Saving Grace, sung beautifully, how long since he performed this song. I
have researched back as far as 1988 and cannot find any record of it.
Then suddenly things started to go awry.
Bob donned the acoustic guitar, and started on what promised to be a
lovely Don't think Twice, when he suddenly ripped off the guitar and
headed for the piano and finished the song there combining harmonica and
A few words then with a tech and into Sugar Baby before donning the
Electric Guitar for the first time for what I felt was a totally inaudible
version of Drifters Escape, probably the only low point of the entire
evening for me. At this stage he was obviously frustrated, sitting on the
drummers podium and belting out the chords before approaching the mic and
literally howling out the words.
Then the acoustic returned for One Too Many Mornings, but sadly after a
couple of lines he had to rip it off again, had what appeared to be a few
unhappy words with the techs and returned to the piano to complete the
song, obviously frustrated.
The concert could have could have gone either way here, but Bob held it
all together During Honest With Me before persevering with the acoustic
and donning it again for It Aint Me Babe. Thankfully no more problems, a
quick smile at the techs and a few what appeared to be encouraging words
and the show was back on track, with a poignant and timely Masters of War
with Bob closing the song with a venomous repeat of the first verse,
ramming his message home.
A lovely Forever Young and a solid rocking Summer Days closed out the
First part of the set.
The Band returned for the encore and Bob immediately strode to the edge of
the stage and shook hands and had a few words with a lucky few . Then
back to business for an acoustic Blowin In The Wind with some "Band" like
harmonies provided by Larry and Bill before taking up the Electric for
only the second time to close out the show with All Along The Watchtower.
And doesn't the Master love this song. Towards the end of it, the
customary intro of the Band, a repeat of the first verse and the show was
Obviously satisfied, and I think relieved that equipment problems didn't
scuttle the show, he stood with his band for a while, surveyed his
audience took in their applause, then with a wry grin he saluted them and
My wife and I sat for a while and quietly contemplated what we had just
had the privilege to witness, Bob Dylan in concert......... what more can
We still have five more concerts to see on this tour and can only wonder
how much better they can get.
We should know after tonight when he performs at the Melbourne
International Music and Blues Festival.
page by Bill Pagel
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