April 17, 2007
Review by Melanie Longden
We made the long journey 'up north' with expectation that this would be a
good night, having been spoilt by Sunday's amazing concert at Wembley. We
arrived early, mingling and absorbing the atmosphere - very pleased that
we'd booked early and were only a few rows from the front. Things were
looking good and I felt the usual excitement - the nag champa began to
waft across the audience, the anticipation building by the minute. ' Cat's
In The Well' was the opening number - somehow it seemed just right - and I
confess, I feel ridiculously happy to see Bob centre stage, guitar in hand
again. I didn't for a moment expect 5 numbers, and 'Workingmen's Blues'
was a very special treat. Bob's performance was, for me, better than
anything I've seen for maybe 15 years - including Brixton and all the
others that we've stored away in our memories and fed off over the lean
years. It's all come together at the right time for this tour - his
voice, his energy and the sense of commitment he's reintroduced to the
songs - it's almost as if he's reminded himself that it's ok to be proud
of his body of work and to stand in front of his audience and deliver his
songs with conviction.
I loved the entire repertoire - old songs and new. 'Ballad of Hollis
Brown' sent shivers down my spine, the arrangement was sort of insistent,
with an almost physical 'stickiness' that drew you in deeper and deeper.
'Tangled Up In Blue' was wonderful, so reminiscent of the original but
revitalised and more relevant, thanks to the new arrangement. Now, all
the critics of Bob's keyboard style, will finally have a chance to
understand what he's up to if they get the opportunity to hear 'When The
Deal Goes Down' - the poignancy of the sound - sort of like end of the
pier at the close of summer, the tinny stretched sounds magnifying the
sadness and acknowledging all the sentiments of a lifetime (sorry to get
carried away here), it's emotionally devastating. The thing is, Bob is
always a few steps ahead of the crowd, he prepares the way and when we get
there we realise he's done all the work for us and explained it so that we
don't have to figure it out for ourselves. He did all the work and more
at Birmingham. If I never see him live again, this is the concert I shall
store away as the most treasured out of a list that stretches back to 1978
Review by Steve Haynes
Firstly the venue - the NIA in Birmingham is the "little sister" of the
truly awful NEC and better in almost every aspect. Pre-concert you can
stroll the canals, drink real beer in real pubs, and in our case take in a
very pleasant early evening meal at the Petit Blanc restaurant. No
comparison to the out of town soulless barn alternative. Even the parking
is better for goodness sake. Having enjoyed all the above in the
excellent company of my wife and "first timers" Aled and Gabrielle we
settled into some excellent seats, second row of banked seating level
almost level with the stage.
My expectations were high given the high praise from previous reviews and
inevitably speculation on the set list - without being ghoulish I couldn't
help wondering if there would be any connection to the awful events in
Virginia. Objectivity is always difficult when reviewing someone you've
admired/revered for many years, but my summary would be a very good
concert, some great moments, and one in particular that will stay in my
mind probably forever. Bob's voice really is stronger and better than in
recent times, great to see a guitar strapped on again. For me the band
were adequate - I loved the Charlie Sexton era, but for me this band are
doing a different job consciously further in the background leaving Dylan
to lead, and within reason, connect with the audience.
To the highlights - for me a set list including Workingman's Blues, Ain't
Talking, Tangled up in Blue as well as the expected closing four made for
a great selection and all were played with conviction and feeling. Across
the concert he's retained the ability to change the mood and styles of
music apparently effortlessly. It was the moments when the band dropped
back physically and in volume that the spine tingled - and the moment
that epitomised this more than any was Hollis Brown. The UK has had a
share of pointless tragedies - a few years ago a shooting in a primary
school in Scotland took innocent lives - I was at a rugby international
the following weekend and 60,000 people standing in a minutes silence was
emotionally charged beyond description - last night in a different way
Hollis Brown had the same effect - I'm sure it wasn't only me who felt
this was Dylan's oblique response to the Virginia shootings - not excusing
or explaining, but maybe understanding that for whatever reason people
sometimes go over the edge, and that truly terrible things can happen.
There was nothing fancy or spectacular about the reading -but I felt that
every word was coming from the heart - and he wanted it to be heard. I
may be making too much of it and will be interested to hear other views,
but I found it touching and profound beyond words. Catching up with Aled
after the concert he described it as a privilege to be there - a fine
Review by Peter Higginson
The NIA is a slightly less awesome aircraft hanger than the NEC Arena
which is where we went by mistake until grabbing a taxi back to the
centre of town. Other fans had done the same.
What struck me from about halfway back was how good the lights were: a
good golden display on the apron and some lovely traffic-light
combinations: red on the opener Cats in the Well, amber for Aint
Talkin', torquoises for Tangled Up In Blue.
Dylan's voice was the best I've heard it since 1990 at Hammersmith
Odeon- every syllable captured precisely and sung with feeling, and
the band as tight as a platoon of marines on patrol in downtown Kabul.
Donnie Herron is a modest guitarist but his work was greatly
appreciated by the audience who were all-seated throughout, fairly
lively but missing cues to sing on It Aint Me babe and Rolling Stone,
though the man next to me did whoop about the President of the United
States standing naked, and when nobody else did, he sat down fast.
It was a bit of a Cliff Richard audience: lots of nice people coming
to be entertained and missing the social spark that sometimes happens
in Britain when Dylan hits a political line the English like such as
Maggie's Farm or Jim Jones. But Dylan was on fire really: totally
attentive to each groove which in Summer Days, Thunder on the Mountain
and Watchtower was considerable; completely interested in the words to
Hollis Brown, Till I Fell in Love with You and Working Man's Blues
which was an extra treat in the guitar section of five songs.
I took a break for a ciggie during Memphis Blues which sagged a bit-
being another 'horizontal' song without a vertical climax, and
reflected that I have seen Bob fifteen times since 1978 and each time
his social relevance has waned, some concerts have been rubbish and
some acceptable- but this was an impressive display by a man who has
gone from Messiah to Sage over that time and remained a really
likeable professional artist of high ability indeed.
Highlight for me was Aint Talking: the quintessence of Dylan's dark
vision and lonely road and the only social relevance anyone can really
have now: to express the truth of ones' existential contempt for the
way things are as truthfully and intriguingly as possible. Four Stars.
Review by Nick and Shelagh Webster
Well that was Bob …. Then end of another hugely successful British leg
of this years never ending tour. We managed the get Newcastle, Sheffield
and Birmingham in this year, and enjoyed each one, all for different
reasons. Birmingham’s NIA arguably must be the best venue his Bobness
played and the fans were there in force to play their part too. Highlight
of the night for us was Tangled up in Blue, and just like Bob, he keep
everyone waiting until the final night of the tour to play it. Everyone in
the audience seemed to know the words are were all singing along creating
a great atmosphere. The Ballad of Hollis Brown went down well as did
Ain’t Talkin’, two songs that are not played as much as maybe they
should be. Like a Rolling Stone always gets the crowd going and Birmingham
was no exception, pity Bob didn’t let them sing along like he did at
Sheffield… or was it Newcastle……, it’s been a long week.
Review by Tim Heard
Great show tonight. Good to hear some of the old songs ( Ballad of Hollis
Brown was a treat) particularly when performed with such enthusiasm - Bob
still rocks ( Stuck inside of Mobile and Watchtower).
Out of seventeen songs five were from Modern Times and these seem to get
the best crowd reaction. When the Deal goes Down and Ain't Talkin are both
great tracks on the album but performed live are taken to another level.
The unbelievably brilliant most fantastic thing though happened 20 minutes
into the concert when Bob sang live,for the first time ( I think but I'm
no expert) WORKINGMAN'S BLUES # 2. What a song, what a performance- we
It was great to take a good look round the audience- what a mix of people,
all ages. Some probably came for the old songs but I'm sure a lot came for
the new stuff.
The band seem at their best when playing the new tracks and Bob sings the
new songs with that extra bit of edge.
A good venue, a great city and a very happy audience.
Review by Roger Collings
This time I decided to travel by train since we were at the NIA
(Birmingham centre) not the shed of the NEC. This means no driving, thus
beer is allowed.The much maligned British railway system was really good,
clean, quiet and timely. I also decided to sit stage right, since for the
last however many times, I have watched the rear of a small black jacket
most of the evening. Much good that was, everything is rearranged and I
still watched the rear of a small black jacket after 5 songs. You would
think after 45 years of watching I would hit lucky one time. Bob was
really on song tonight, plenty of energy and good voice. Sadly from where
I was, the sound balance stank, over amplified guitars, lots of distortion
thus drowning the singing. That said, the overall effect was a still
really excellent rocking concert with mostly well executed songs. When did
he last sing Hollis Brown in the UK? I did say after Cardiff 2006 I hoped he
would ditch some of the tired material which he certainly has done.
The NIA was only 3/4 full so sad on you who did not make the effort, some
bus pass holders still have something to say, next time don't miss. Just
maybe Bob will make a live performer from Denny, if only they would relax
and not be so wooden, Tony is the only one who is at all animated, apart
from Bob. Or am I missing the point? Thanks RZ hope to see another one
Comments by Anthony Waite
Repsonse to Roger Collings who said:
"The NIA was only 3/4 full so sad on you who did not make the effort,
some bus pass holders still have something to say, next time don't miss."
I was one of those who missed the concert. The reason being for three
seperate major incidents on the M56 and M60. It took 3 hours (usually
45 mins) for my dad and my friend to get from Liverpool to Manchester
where they were picking me up. By the time they got there it was 7.50pm
and having checked Bob forums, knew that he would be on stage or about
to appear on stage already. The predicted time to then get to Birmingham
(with the traffic) was 11pm. It would have been impossible to see any of it.
I guess this must have happened to the other 1/4 of the audience who
didn't appear. I was bitterly dissapointed. Especially since I have never seen
Bob live before (being only 18 years old). I had the guts to check the set
list and I would have loved to have heard the songs off Modern Times and
Hollis Brown and Tangled up in Blue would have been a treat. Having
previously been unable to attend a concert in Manchester in 2005 I am
wondering whether the Gods are transpiring against me and I will never
have another chance to see Bob live again.
Review by Martin Gayford
My third and last show this time around was up there with some of the
best. Bob was on superb form tonight. The slightly truncated
Workingman's Blues was lovely to hear. Ain't Talkin' stormed the arena
with the force of a gale. Hollis Brown was banjo pluckin' good. Bob
played some very nice harmonica breaks, more melodic than I've heard for
awhile, and turned in some charming turns of phrase. Another nice
surprise was how well Denny played. Plus the NIA is about as good as an
arena can be (as long as you're in the first 50 rows), and the sound was
great. It's Alright Ma was a knockout, the best of the last 3 nights I
think, and with the exception of Nettie Moore, all my favourite Modern
Times songs were there. It was as good as, hmm let's see...well let's
just say it was great. Thanks Bob, and thanks to the gent who lent me
the binoculars for Spirit On The Water.
Review by Mike Jackson
'I'm ready for to fade, into my own parade …' And forty-three years later
he has done, though fade is hardly the appropriate word. He has become
one with his parade of characters, emotions, philosophy. He lives and
breathes each and every song. The texture of his voice, his intonation,
exactly fitted to each song, at least, the way he wants it to tonight.
It's Alright Ma - is it blues, punk, rap, rock and roll? - who cares? - they
too have faded, melded, into Dylan's parade. This chopped version of
the tirade against modern society - no less relevant now than forty years
ago - punches home the message, much in the style of Subterranean
Homesick Blues. Tonight he cuts some of the words to make the lyrics
fit the latest arrangement. But the message comes across crystal clear
(are you listening Mr President?).
When The Deal Goes Down - another of those 'songs' which Dylan isn't
really singing to his audience, but rather, we are so many witnesses to his
soul-baring. And if we have pearls in our hearts, he will make them glow.
If not, you may go away voicing, 'He can't sing', as if what we've seen
tonight is a 'singer'.
Workingman's Blues #2, reworked, delivered with electric guitar - another
powerful, magnetic exposition.
The death of Hollis Brown and his family, is more than a generalised
tragedy - we are taken to the South Dakota farm, made to feel their
desperation, the anguish, the emotional crescendo towards their deaths.
We are made to see the blackened grass, the empty well; and then the
shotgun on the wall, the seven shotgun shells. And we are made to
hear the shots ringing out in that silent pin-dropping moment in the dark
of the National Indoor Arena. Yet at the end of this ballad of a
poverty-stricken American family, we are made to face the poignant
futility of the 'life goes on …' syndrome - 'Somewhere in the distance
there's seven new people born.'
A focused, riveting, magical performance. Yes, Bobby cast his spell our
way, and I for one went under it.
Review by Paul Gill
Went to Birmingham today. Asked my son, who is 23, if he wanted to go, and
he arranged to meet me there. Got to the box office about 4pm and couldn't
believe what good tickets were available.We were at bottom of tier, second
block out from stage right. Very lucky, as it was very close to being
full. Met a lady called Sheila from Chester who was very knowledgable
about Dylan and extremely interesting. She had a front row seat. We went
to a pub on the canal, and there started chatting to Jules and Simon who
were from Portsmouth. Two hours went by in the blink of an eye. Bob really
connected with us all. Definitely going to keep in touch with them. My son
turned up late during "Workingmans blues". From that point on, the
pleasure of seeing him enjoying Dylan as much as I did at his age made me
very damp-eyed. We got seven songs we didn't get last night. "it ain't me
babe" was very good. "Just like Tom Thumbs blues" was a highlight.
"Workingmans blues" was even more of a highlight. "Till I fell in love
with you" was ok. "tangled up in blue" was for me the best of the whole
night. His voice rasped to perfection and there was a great harp solo.
"Hollis Brown" was another highlight, and "Stuck inside of Mobile" was
good as well. As the last chords of "Watchtower" sounded and the lights
went out, someone close to us shouted "Thanks Bob". That summed up what we
all felt.What is it about this man that makes us all love him so much? The
poetry of the words for sure. But not only that. Theres the music of
course, the different arrangements. The fact he's always doing something
fresh. He doesn't talk to us, but no other artist inspires this love.
Admiration yes, but not love on this scale. He does talk to us of course,
but through his music only. It only takes one phrase from a Dylan song and
he connects with you for life. Genius is the only word for it. Well,we
were all definitely touched by genius tonight. Thanks again Bob.
Review by Vernon Briscoe
THE WHEELS ARE FLYING
Last night I had to make a deal: a moral dilemma was placed before
me. I am a big fan of the singer Bob Dylan and I am also a respecter of
the law. And for a moment I thought I was going to have to make a choice
between the two. It happened as I arrived at the Birmingham arena for the
show. I swung the car into the car park entrance and suddenly found
myself jammed in a narrow gap between some police traffic cones on one
side and Bob Dylan's tour bus on the other. I gulped. I edged forward.
"Oh sweet Jesus, I think I am about to hit a folk rock legend," I
stammered. My companions were barely concealing their amusement but were
also staring gimlet-eyed at the door of the bus in case the object of our
affections decided to step out. A bead of perspiration trickled down my
forehead. I managed (in a few seconds that seemed like a lifetime) to
place the police cones in slightly more peril than the Rock icon.
Mercifully the tour bus remained unscathed and the cones in place. Phew.
We parked the car and then saw a hooded figure in combat trousers step off
the tour bus a few feet in front of us. Could it be? It must be ...
Surely? .... No. Just a roadie. Or possibly the Grim Reaper. He likes to
wear a hood and combat trousers too, I understand.
Anyway. You are probably wondering about the show...
Of the seven shows I have just seen this was the finest (pipping
second night Amsterdam and first night London to the prize). The
magic came. And the magic stayed.
By It's Alright Ma it was apparent that Bob was fully-engaged. The
song is manifesting itself inside a mighty beast of an arrangement
these days and when our man hits every line like some muscle-bound
navvy it shoots through not just your body but your soul too. Has it
ever sounded more insanely righteous?
Workingman's Blues, in a beautiful delicate acoustic based arrangement
with Bob on guitar, was jaw-dropping. Dylan inhabited the song fully,
soaking into its every crease like a fine brandy. Til I Fell In Love
featured a massively extended harp solo which hit the spot. When The Deal
Goes Down was an emotional tsunami. Highway 61 saw an early appearance of
Poor Howard stepping into the wrong verse but he just prompted the band to
rock out like demons.
The blue-collar sentiments expressed by the protagonist in
Workingman's Blues chimed beautifully with the set's highest peek:
Hollis Brown. This could only have been sung with reference to the
Virginia campus massacre. "Seven shots ring out like the ocean's
Unlike the previous evening when there seemed genuine anger and
warlike rage at work in the set tonight's tone was reflective and
somber. So brave of Dylan to select Hollis Brown: a narrative which
takes the position of the gunman. "Somewhere in the distance there's
seven new people born" made the point that the reasons for this kind
of violent outburst are not simple and that there is a story to be
told about the gunman (Hollis) too if we are ever to understand.
Ain't Talkin' was vast. It went so far beyond the previous night's
version as to be almost an entirely new creation. It was complex,
Dylan operating on both personal and universal levels.
Like a Rolling Stone was also incredible. Often it is played on
autopilot or as a sop to the legend gatherers in the audience but
tonight Dylan truly sang the lines. The tale came alive once more.
"Once upon a time" indeed. Of course the "You've been to the finest
school" line took us back to the terrible events in Virginia once
Watchtower was emotional for me. I knew it was to be my last song on
this little stretch of shows I have seen. I felt elated and terribly sad
at the same time knowing I had witnessed greatness once more and wondering
if I would ever be lucky enough to do so again.
A brilliant show.
Thank you, Bob. I like your shiny tour bus.
You wanna look after that.
Review by Trevor Townson
Not the best starts for this show as I had intended to bring the old man
with me tonight but unfortunately from the time of buying the tickets he
had become too unwell to travel or attend. Not sure if there is a record
for the oldest person to attend a first Dylan gig, but 76! "A mere
youngster" shouts Willie Nelson. Guess it was going to be a bit of a male
bonding thing dad knowing what a Dylan nut I have been for years and how
else do two Yorkshire men, even father and son, get together outside of
the pub. Although it is only in later years that I have started taking in
the live shows to any extent dad remembers the sound resounding
throughout the household until at age 16 I left home. Trying to unload
dads prime ticket at the eleventh hour proved a problem though as
security were being rather strict outside with touts so it was not easy
to feed off them to a genuine fan. Talking to a guy outside who told me
what prices were being asked for front block tickets just wanted me to
find someone genuine to give it away to. No such opportunity arose and I
had left it as late as possible so inside I went with two tickets.
Knowing that one song pays for the ticket paying for the two would be easy
for Bob. However by now I did not have great expectations for this show,
I had wanted it be be good (whatever that means) for dad but the omens
seemed against it the longer the day went on. How wrong I was to be proved
to be, Birmingham was a very, very special show. To dad and all those who
could not be there for whatever reason - in the salt in the wounds
wording of that quiz show host - "Here's what you could have won". Was it
really five songs with Bob on guitar, the last being Workingmans Blues.
Of all the songs on Modern Times the studio recording to my mind of
Workingmans Blues could not ever be better. The phrasing on the album is
just superb, live tonight it still was not a match with the album version
to my mind but with Bob on guitar, LIVE, WOW. I did however have to re
listen to the album version again just to make sure, but yes Mr Frost
wins! But hey five on guitar including Workingmans Blues, live, tickets
paid for. 'Til I fell In Love With You, unexpected but not as unexpected
as the never ending harp solo which was included. Then an equally
unexpected Tangled Up In Blue again with harp, fabulous. The whole show
just sounded so good but suddenly something different happened as a whole
new sound came through during Hollis Brown and memories of Live Aid and
acoustic guitar sounds filled the air. Having done multiple shows it has
been a treat to hear so much of the new stuff and the older stuff yet
again totally revamped and renewed. After Love and Theft I always thought
Modern Times a quieter album but this is not so. Cannot belive I have not
heard live yet the one song on Modern Times, Someday Baby, that I thought
would really rock live. On first hearing the new album, I always thought
that Nettie Moore would be the Po' Boy of Modern Times but this has not
proved to be the case, so far it seems to be that superb Beyond The
Horizon. Bob to me has always been the sound whether that be the words or
music or both, as such, I can easily live with this excluded song by
listening to the album if never to be heard live. Just love the way the
whole band enjoy those Summer Days and Highway 61 numbers. After a
fantastic "new sound" Watchtower the show closed on a high. The lights
seemed to stay off for an unusually long time giving a feeling of more to
come. I was praying not, for me the job was done, more than enough had
been given. My first visit to the NIA and I really enjoyed the
experience. Don't know how much a hot dog or beer was, never bought one,
but to the people who do and complain - don't buy them or at least be
grateful you can afford one and have the luxury to complain and remember
everyone has overheads to cover. Does anyone have the number of the bus
from Copenhagen to Herning, no matter, guess one can always put one foot
in front of the other. Fantastic concert even in the end without Pop, the
rest of what you all missed you can read elsewhere. If you were there but
saw it different thats OK too. I am of limited knowledge anyway and I know
your Bob is not my Bob either but if you missed him this time catch him
next, but remember he will be different then. Special thanks Bob and also
to the band for supporting so well and yes thanks too to Mr security.
Review by Alan Platt
This was my second visit of this tour, the first being in Amsterdam on
Easter Sunday, where my partner experienced her first Dylan gig, enjoyed
it a lot, but she thought we could have done without all the spurious
chat to the audience! My first was the famous Manchester 66 'Judas'
concert, so I belong truly to the dinosaur category of fan. Amsterdam was
a good site with fine acoustics, but it took forever to get in. At my age
I prefer reserved seating and was glad Birmingham was not at the soulless
NEC. Also the NIA meant I could get there by train from North Wales and
get home the same night. My first time there and a good venue.
Initially I was a bit disappointed because the first four songs were as
the Amsterdam, and most other places, set list, so for example the
surprise version of 'It's all right, Ma' wasn't much of a surprise, but
the band was tight and Bob in good voice, with little upsinging. The
audience cheered all the Modern Times songs which were played pretty much
as on the record. 'Workingman's Blues', a first on this tour, was cheered
on the intro, and was one of the highs. 'Tangled up in blue'was the only
song from the middle period, and was very good, and it's not one of my
favourites. The one for me that was worth the price of the ticket was
'Hollis Brown' with everybody on acoustics and a rolling drum figure. I've
always loved this song and it was a great surprise to hear it live.'
Mobile' has figured on just about every gig and still works, as does the
current version of 'Highway 61', which really rocks. He always seems to do
' Summer days', while averyone seems to wish he didn't but then you know
you're on the home straight. After Amsterdam, it was fun to hear the crowd
caught out by the start to 'LARS' which works well, and again finally a
different version of 'Watchtower'.
As always there is a slight disappointment at the end because he
didn't do 'Hard Rain' or 'Johanna', 'Girl from the North Country','
Blind Willie McTell' or a hundred others. The truth is, of course that
this isn't a standard songwriter with half a dozen good songs to his name,
but a man who wrote a shedfull of classics and changed our culture and who
still, forty plus years on, is creative and innovative. I just hope he's
around for a bit longer to carry on doing it, and I'm still around to hear
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