Vienna, Austria


April 16, 2019

[Hermann Rechberger], [Coenraad Botha]

Review by Hermann Rechberger

The night when Bob talked....

We had the usual set on high level so I would not talk about the music at
this night, the drama was starting at the encore!
At encore break a stage rush did happen and the aisles where totally
filled, then Bob started with Blowin' and stopped the song before the
first chorus. He went to Charlie, talked to him went back to piano,
Charlie talking with Tony, it was obvious that he announced to immediately
starting with It Takes A Lot To Laugh..., stopped again after approx. half
a minute, than Bob stood up, taking the center stage microphone and went
in front of the audience, and what followed was the longest speech in
years! Bob left piano, went in front of audience, start talking about
taking pictures (if you take pictures, we won't singing), went backwards
(face to audience), stumbled over monitorr behind him, nearly felt, went
back in front of audience: "I say it again: take pictures or don't take
pictures, and we gonna play or we gonna pose, well"! after a few seconds
your hear the audience: "play, play,..." and Bob went back to piano,
starting the final encore again with first verse and played it in it's
entirely beauty!

No one knew what exactly has happened, but we whitnessed it from balcony,
it must have been more than a cellphone or camera, my guess is a flash
direct to Bob, as I have never seen him so angry, interrupting two songs,
and after he talked about playing or posing he went back to Tony, both
standing side by side and looking the same direction in the audience, Tony
did gesture with his hand in that direction as I both have recognized the
responsible person!

By the way, if there have ever been doubts about Bob's fitness he proofed
that he was in very good shape. His reaction to avoid falling after he
stumbled was absolutely stunning.


Review by Coenraad Botha

"We can either play or pose. It's your decision!"

The Konzerthaus is a turn of the century attempt at a Jugendstill theatre
that still meets the old fashioned tastes of the late Austro-Hungarian
monarchy and society . Not a building of particular architectural
greatness and certainly not Viennese Secession that professed "To every
age its art, to every art its freedom". None of the elegance of an Otto
Wagner, none of the reductionism of Adolf Loos. Still the remnants of the
pretentious neo-classical architecture, posturing and posing.

But still an intimate hall with some flair of modernity and the setting
for the latest rendition of Bob Dylan’s NET. We chose the first night of
2, just as well as I ended up having a business trip on the second. Almost
exactly one year since he visited Vienna in 2018 – then in the large
1950s Stadthalle.

On a lovely spring evening the typical Dylan fan demographics are gathered
in quiet anticipation in front of the building just off the Ringstrasse.
Many familiar looking faces of Vienna’s alternative Who’s Who many in
jeans and three day beards – I could recognize the leader of the Green
Party and the director of the State Opera. He would have approved of the
music fanfare preceding the entry of Dylan and the band – apparently an
outtake of Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man.

Then they played. Things have Changed.

Certainly I found this more focused compared to last year, as noted in
other reviews the staccato drums quite dominant, the guitar and slide
forming a gentle background to the vocalist and his piano. Dylan’s voice
is clear, his singing beautiful as immediately showcased on It Aint Me
Babe – a very reduced musical version – with harp! What an amazing
sound to here…. Over the next few songs a coherency of musical
arrangements are evident, in my opinion more so than last year where I
felt each song was used as a vehicle to showcase the different American
musical genres.

Of course these influences remain, but far subtler in a way with a clear
overall artistic vision that reminded me “Love and Theft” as a package
of songs. In this way old classics and new gems merge into a single piece
of art, at times playing games with one’s mind – “was Highway 61 not
on Time Out of Mind, and was Cry a While not on Blonde on Blonde?”. All
the songs now as an integral part of the Dylan Ouvre with no
differentiation between the various decades.

We had good seats on the left side, about 20 meters from the stage – the
same simple back curtain with hanging theatre lights setting the scene.
The band somewhat reduce from last year, Dylan on the far right behind the

After the opening numbers some very strong performances: Simple Twist just
beautiful, Cry a While with a hard and mean guitar riff, a delightful When
I Paint My Masterpiece (Heaven forbid if this man will still paint his
masterpiece one day…), Honest with Me (I recall Charlie really killing
this on a Telecaster), Trying to Get to Heaven these days so poignant (how
long will he still keep going?) and then for me the absolute pinnacle of
the night: Scarlet Town as the center piece  of the show.

The only song Dylan was to perform not behind the piano – standing
center stage holding the mike in his Sinatra manner. And singing
absolutely beautiful. The gentle background music, double base, just
guiding the singer and his song. Dylan in complete ecstasy as he delivers
the song. Indescribable.

The second half included a very nicely sung Make You Feel, a less angry
Pay in Blood, a more gentle Rolling Stone (but with a kick back into the
chorus that was just delightful) , a deep Blues Roman Kings (he does work
that piano!). I liked how he played Don’t Think Twice. Slow, acoustic
piano – amazing how he uses what his arthritis fingers can still handle
as the vehicle to guide the musicality he has in him. Love Sick was almost
as on the record (shock!) Thunder on the Mountain strong, a very
beautifully read Soon after Midnight (with Charlie doing a Blue Moon quote
on the Gibson) and ending in a ROCKING Gotta Serve Somebody.

The band was fantastic – great syncopated drumming from Recile, the
solid base work as one is used from Garnier, sometimes using the double
base.. Heron providing a gentle wall of sound on the pedal steel and the
odd highlight on banjo. And Charlie Sexton, now older, grey, wearing
glasses - looking more like a music professor than a rock star - provides
a very understated guitar work on a range of axes including a Strat, a
Gibson, a Telecaster and a Les Paul. A few songs he really rips though.
The band is forming the perfect backdrop to the artist in the limelight:
Singing, playing harmonica and then some seriously wicked keyboards,
channeling his inner Little Richard.

I was blown away – for me the best concert of Dylan I had seen.
Controlled, focused and perfect.

But wait – the drama is not over.

The crowd, as always in Vienna very polite and not particularly lively,
stood up to applaud as the band left the stage. In that moment the
discipline of a few seem to drop and mobile phone screens appeared here
and there. Dylan came back and started a gentle violin backed Blowin’
but soon stopped, turning to the band – it was unclear if there were
sound issues or perhaps his voice had gone. The band changed gear
(electric base etc.) and started It Takes A Lot only to break that off
too. Still Dylan was not happy. He stood up to address the crowd, but
spoke into a dead mike and was inaudible – but clearly annoyed. As he
stepped back from the mike in a gesture of disgust, he tripped over the
guitar monitor – stumbling backwards towards the drums and just managed
to avoid falling down.

Some people in the crowd were in defiance of all announcements made,
filming this lot (I expect some footage will appear on the net). Dylan
again made it to front, this time speaking into an open mike asking
something to effect: “Take pictures or don’t take pictures - We can
either play or we can pose. It’s Your decision”. He went back
mid-stage and took his classic hand in the midriff pose in defiance.

The crowd was unmoved, actually completely unaware of what was happening.
Some continued filming, a lady behind me starting taking photos.
Unbelievable. Finally it slowly dawned on people, and the filming seem to
stop. Dylan went back to the piano and did a short but complete take of
Takes a Lot, stood up gave a short bow and was off. The band did their Tom
Thumb Blues routine, a lovely idea. Getting a lot of applause. And then it
was over.

We left with a somewhat bad taste in the mouth. An absolutely fantastic
performance was ruined by the lack of understanding that art is not a
Facebook moment. Not kitsch interiors. Not empty poses. Greatness, beauty,
unforgettable moments are bigger than Twitter or Instagram - It is about
what happens when artists come together and make that beautiful sound,
create that magic -  when they play.

We were in the presence of such greatness on Tuesday –still resounding
in my ears, even now days after the event, indelibly imprinted on my
brain, not in some distorted, grainy mobile video or blurry photo. A
fanfare from a very uncommon man.

Coenraad Botha


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