March 24, 2010
Review by Moise Potie
Dylan and his band were especially cooking in the second half. Some
highlights for me: "Most Likely YGYW" was given a particularly catchy
arrangement, while "Highway 61" and "Thunder On The Mountain" had extended
instrumental sections that were really cool. "If You Ever Go To Houston" was
pretty close to the CD version, but its simple infectious riff had me smiling
and dancing. One of my favourite Dylan lyrics is "I'm gazing out the window, Of
the St. James Hotel" from "Blind Willie McTell" so hearing it sung from Bob's
real live mouth was a pleasure, too. The other songs were all good as well, but
I guess if I had to choose the best bits for me, it'd be these.
Review by Bob Edwards
I let Kate talk me into going to see Kabuki, something that Iíve tried to avoid up until
now. Iíve never really enjoyed theater except intimate avant garde stuff and Kabuki
sounded like a drag to me: huge theaters, historical dramas, fancy costumes, music,
etc. I was expecting a combination of Cats and Shakespeare, my idea of slow torture.
It was amazing! Broad, vaudevillian acting. Over the top cartoon-like sets and costumes.
A few audience members shouting out encouragement and cheering like at a rock show
or sporting event. Cheesy special effects: giant Buddhist gates rising out of the stage
floor, arrows flying, cherry blossoms fluttering down. And great music: wood blocks and
samisen (a plucked, three-string instrument) punctuating the action. At one point two
guys came on stage, one singing lyrics read from a page (kind of reminded me of our
hero) while the other guy absolutely wailed on the samisen. Iím talking samisen Delta
blues style. Reminded me of David Lindley or Ry Cooder. Great stuff: An eye opener.
Evening rolled around and we headed back to Odaiba Island and Zepp Tokyo. Odaiba is
built on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay and is a large entertainment zone. Thereís a ferris
wheel, TV studios, a fake beach, a Statue of Liberty, all kinds of fantastic science fiction
style buildings, a 6,000 person capacity hot springs resort theme park in the style of
19th century Edo (Tokyo) with 16 restaurants, etc.
It was raining like crazy so we went next door to Toyota City Showcase, a huge building
where you can try out new Toyotas, ride in kiddie cars, see displays on hybrids, play
arcade type car racing games, etc. We climbed in the back of Toyota van and kicked
back for a half hour until it was time to line up.
In line I met a potter from Tokyo who had been at the previous nightís show, too. He
really dug Catís In The Well and Under the Red Sky. He was very conscious of how
special this tour is and appreciative of Dylan doing so many shows in small venues instead
of just a few at Budokan or another stadium. Once inside we were about 20 feet from
the stage, a little better position than at the last one. Also ended up near Andrew and
Nobuku again. Met an architect from Kobe who was seeing all 14 Japan shows. Talked
about architecture in Southern California and Japan, California wine (heís designing a
winery) and last nightís show. Kerouac again on the PA. Mentioned that it was from
"On The Road" to the architect guy and he was amazed and thanked me for letting him
know. All conversation stopped though, as the lights dimmed.
Big surprise when Dylan opened with Stuck Inside of Mobile. On this song Stu shines on
acoustic, as he did throughout the shows we saw. All those years of sulking/pondering/studying
in the dark side-stage have paid off--heís there keeping the jingle-jangle rhythm going,
adding those tasty licks that are much more audible in the mix. The rest of the band
was grooving all night long. Donny and Zimmy are constantly consulting each other visually,
smiles and nods exchanged again and again. Tony remains the leader, keeping it moving
and conducting with his eyebrows. Charlie was more low key than during the October
shows. A little less jumping around and showboating. (Nothing wrong with showboating,
by the way; it certainly adds to the energy!) He seemed to have technical difficulties both
Tuesday and this night, pointing in frustration at his pedals and mouthing something to the
sound board. He sang along with Dylan on some of the choruses, but off mike. Did his
squatting, kneeling thing and worshipped at the keyboard altar of St. Bob a few times.
Audience loved his antics and his playing. Then thereís George. The only thing I can say
about him is that I think that heís the best drummer Zimmyís ever had (Levon is a
drummer/vocalist, so he doesnĎt count).
The sound of this band is so different from what it was when Denny was playing. Even
though there are the same number of players, it sounds stripped down, more elemental.
Bobís guitar playing on It Ainít Me Babe was audible and fun. Rolliní and Tumbliní reinforced
my theory that there are two things almost everyone in the world loves: the blues and pig
meat. And the Japanese love both, rocking out in the case of this old classic reinvented
and producing some fine Tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlets), as I can testify. Cold Irons Bound
has a great new arrangement, a pulsating beat and great phrasing. Iíve always loved a good
Cold Irons Bound: such grim, dark lyrics so simply expressed. My favorite two songs in a row
during this show, though, were Desolation Row and Blind Willie McTell. People were shaking
their heads in amazement. Only yawner in the show was If You Ever Go To Houston.
Everything else was state of the art Dylan, circa 2010.
After the show we accompanied Andrew and Nobuku to "Polka Dots", a Dylan-themed bar.
In Japan there are many tiny bars and cafes that accommodate fans of every stripe, for example:
a bar for horror movie fans where youĎre locked behind bars and served evil-looking drinks from
test tubes and beakers, musical genre bars (rockabilly curry houses?!? A tiny bar dominated by a
B3 Hammond organ that features only B3 jazz and blues combos?), bars for vampire freaks, and
cat cafes where you can chill out with a room full of cats, paying by the hour.
The Dylan world has just such a temple: Polka Dots. Polka Dots is located across the street from
exit C3 at Ikebukoro Station in a small subterranean mall. It neighbors in the mall include several
restaurants and another small club called Free Flow Ranch where an all-Japanese band was playing
1950s American country music the night we passed by. About the size of a medium living room
in the US of A, Polka Dots offers a great bar, snacks, a wonderful sound system with a tube
amplifier, and a wall of Dylan discs and vinyl. Dylan posters and portraits cover the walls. About
15 or 20 people were talking, drinking, and smoking and the place was full. An upright piano was
in one corner and guitars were propped up against the wall. While there, we heard a nice 1997
show playing as well as some studio albums, Tell Tale Signs, for one. The owner is Tokyo Bob,
Japanís #1 Dylan re-creationist. Iíd read about the bar and Tokyo Bob online in a Japan Times
article last year. You should google it and check it out. I hadnít heard Tokyo Bob and was
hoping to catch him in action at the bar. We walked in and Andrew introduced me to Tokyo
Bob. Bob shook my hand and then, with a flash of recognition, led me over to a wall of concert
posters. He pointed at one from last Octoberís Hollywood Palladium show. "I met you here," he
said. Then I recognized him. While in the lineup last year in Hollywood, I had seen three quiet
Asian folks in line who I figured were probably from Japan. I introduced myself to them, asked
where they were from, and practiced a few Japanese phrases. The young woman in their trio
pointed at one of the men (not Tokyo Bob) and said, "This man is the number one Dylan collector
in Japan". Having some idea just how obsessive Japan fans can be about their passions and also
how humble they are, I was impressed. This guy must be the real deal, I thought. In fact, when
the Japan shows were later announced I started putting together a packet of Dylan memorabilia
(ticket stubs, handbills, programs, publicity material) to bring along in case I ran in the gentleman
again. I didnít meet him, but damned if I didnít run into one of the members of his party and he
turned out to be Tokyo Bob!. The bar was crowded and he had work to do, so we gave him the
envelope and a T-shirt Iíd made commemorating the Japan shows and let him go. We soon
finished our beverages and split. Before we left, though, Bob gave me copies of his two albums.
Iím listening to one now. Iím not a big fan of cover bands, but I really like this stuff. Uncannily
accurate Dylan impersonations, great musicianship all delivered with enthusiasm. Occasionally
thereís a Japanese mispronunciation of the words but itís endearing. Tokyo Bob covers songs
from all of Dylanís periods from early acoustic stuff to the present, including covers of some
songs by other people that Dylan has covered. Check it out, too, if you can.
This, I thought, marked the end of our short Japanese Dylan experience. We spent the next
week and a half traveling around, mainly in western Honshu (the main island), doing great hikes
through dark forests and over holy mountains, staying in traditional inns and visiting thousand year
old shrines and temples and castle ruins, eating everything from raw horsemeat to 5 of the
"7 Special Delicacies of Lake Shinjii" (the other two were out of season!) to 10 course haute
cuisine traditional kaiseki meals. We drank Japanese microbrews and unfiltered sake with fragments
of rice suspended in the milky liquid. We soaked in a few natural hot springs and watched flocks of
black kites, hawk-like birds, fishing off the docks of a small village on the Inland Sea. We went to
a tiny jazz club in Hiroshima and saw a quartet of young players and the sax playing clubís owner,
an older guy who had pictures of American jazz greats on the wall but who had never heard of
Dylan. Meanwhile, Zimmy was finishing up his series of shows in Tokyo. I read the setlists online
and was torn; I wished I was still in the city seeing him play, but I was having such a fantastic time
experiencing the country, too. I hope when I retire I have the energy to keep traveling and that
the Never Ending tour is still going, because I want it all.
As the trip wrapped up we returned to Tokyo for one last night before our flight home on Easter
Sunday. We decided at the last minute to drop by Polka Dots again. It was a lot less crowded,
tour was over and no doubt people were home recovering. Tokyo Bob came and sat down with
us. I asked him which show he enjoyed the most and got a typical Dylan fan response: a
noncommittal "they were all good" though he did single out the March 28th show for its
performance of a particularly touching Love Minus Zero. Bob also told us about a top secret after
show party that occurred one night in Tokyo and showed us some pictures on his laptop. Letís
just say that a certain member of Bobís band showed his appreciation for the Japanese Dylan
community by sitting in with local musicians at a jam session of Dylan and other tunes. He
introduced us to a couple who had recently honeymooned in San Diego and Mardi Gras New
Orleans and we chatted with them for awhile. Then Bob brought over and introduced a young
twenty-ish guy dressed in the conservative dark suit of the Japanese salary man, the stereotypical
faceless cog in the bureaucratic corporate machine. Looks can be deceiving. He sat down and we
spent the next hour discussing American music, culture, and history of which his knowledge was
encyclopedic. He had traveled to the US a few years back to see shows on the East Coast and
visited the Village and various Dylan-associated haunts and had taken pictures on Jones Street,
site of the Freewheeliní cover photo. He had learned some Dylan songs as well as the Woody
Guthrie song Do Re Mi and performed them recently at a "live house". Do Re Mi brought up
Ry Cooder which led to Grapes of Wrath and Steinbeck and Dust Bowl Refugee. The young man
was amazing! Kate asked him how he got in to Dylan. He said that when he was 13 he was first
exposed to Dylanís music and became obsessed. His friends were all listening to J-pop (Japanese
Pop music) and he was the loner digging music that no one else understood. He said he really
felt sorry for his friends, though, because they were missing out on such beauty. Bob came over
with a smile, put his arm around the young man and said, "This is the next generation."
It was getting late so we left for the swarming beehive of the Tokyo subway system and headed
back to the hotel. We saw at least 20 people with musical instrument cases on the trains,
headed home from who knows where after a gig at a live house or someoneís apartment or
whatever. They might be into the blues, jazz, metal, or vacuous J-Pop, but at least they were
into something, some kind of community. Hopefully itís as interesting a community as our Dylan
community is. It was a very high, sublime moment.
Thanks for reading this, thanks to all the fans (Steve, Andrew, and Nobuku, in particular) who
shared the Japan experience with us, and thanks to our hero for giving me an excuse to travel
now to four different continents and experience the transcendent world of Bobness.
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