April 25, 2009
Review by Rebecca Harley
Dylan seems to have decided that he is no longer old and frail, but is now
robust, lithe and healthy. In fact, last night was comfortable-in
his-body, happy Bob, and that was a joy to witness. Gone was the
strangeness, the twitches and grimaces, the fumblings for the harp, (his
hands didn't look swollen and sore). In fact, every harp he used was in
the right key, played with assurance and commmitment. He was moving and
dancing with strength and grace. At one point he jumped quite high in the
air - never expected that, and he's rediscovered normal walking. He's
raised the height of the keyboard mike so that he did't have to stoop
awkwardly pecking at it like an arthritic hawk over a kill, as he has done
over the past few years. Vocally he was strong and often melodic. I get
the feeling that he'd like to do a bit of crooning, especially when he
took centre stage with the mike and harp. (Not quite, but sort of going a
bit in that direction at moments - thought the same on a couple of tracks
on the new cd) .
During a heart-rending "Chimes of Freedom", I found tears rolling down my
face, much to my amazement and embarrassment. "Hattie Carroll",
"Workingman's Blues" and "Hollis Brown" were delivered differently this
time, less as psychological dramas emerging from inside the songs and
inside Dylan, but as potent social stories delivered as powerful
"Highway 61" was a stunner. he was thrilled, everyone was thrilled. He
went and high-fived Donnie Herron afterwards - and here is another change
too. In previous years, I've thought that Donnie has looked at his wit's
end and scared. Last night he was animated and smiling hugely and ther
was a vibrant and friendly rapport between him and Bob. George Recile and
Tony Garnier both fantastic. Husband felt it a shame that Bob has so much
control that he doesn't let the guitarists cut loose and fly, but that's
not what the music is about at the moment. He loved "Spirit on the Water"
Son loved "Things Have Changed".
Finally, he looked tremendously handsome and his beautiful pearl-grey
jacket and hat really suited him and added to the sense of a much lighter
mood in general. Great, great stuff. Still very angry and upset about
the ticketing debacle at the Roundhouse which prevented us from being able
to get tickets. Should be a fabulous gig - we are so envious - enjoy, all
you very lucky ones out there!
Review by David Clarke
Transport for London in their wisdom decided to suspend all trains
on the Jubilee line on Saturday all day causing absolute mayhem
for concert goers showing just how in touch they are with events in
this big old city of ours.Having already heard about the suspension
my partner and I decided to take the river bus down the Thames from
The London Eye,only to find it fully booked and and the prospect of an
hours wait and a 45 minute journey once on the boat.To say the least
my partner and I started to panic,we hailed a cab and our journey went
fine until we hit Greenwich I think more or less every concert goer had
decided to go by car.We finally arrived with minutes to spare and after a very
quick visit to the bathroom and a fleeting visit to the bar we literally put
our bums on the seats and Dylans usual introduction blared around the arena
'Ladies and Gentlemen please welcome the poet Laureate of rock 'n' roll.......
The lights came up and Bob ripped into the opener Maggies Farm,I must
say Bobs voice was the best I had heard it since Brixton Academy a few years
back right from the outset the lyrics sung with conviction.Next up was The
Times they are a changin' I must say I have never seen the crowd so subdued during
this song before again Bobs words coming across clearer than as of late.and the
best harp playing I have heard in years....
Things have changed came next and from this point on the tempo really
kicked off with Bob completely in control.Next came the Chimes of freedom which
was one of the highlights for me this was followed by a rip roaring rendition of
Rollin' and Tumblin which seemed to rouse the masses the girl behind me stood
up and started dancing and even Bobs legs were doing a little shuffle.Bob
brought the Tempo down a little for the next so song again a heart felt
rendition of The Lonsesome Death of Hattie Carol.Bob then strolled over to the
center of the stage to a roar of applause and and accompanied by the band gave
us Till I fell in love with you again giving us some nice tuneful harp.The
crowd went absoluetly mad next to me at the opening chords of the next song
Workingman's Blues and Bobs voice was excellent especially on the chorus where
he took the last line unusually up a pitch.This was followed bythe brilliantly
executed Highway 61 the band were really tight.Next came Ballad of Hollis Brown
followed by a very nice version of Po' Boy then straight into another favourite
of mine Honest with me .The tempo then came down a little and Bob almost crooned
When the deals go down then straight back into a thundering Thunder on the
mountain.This was followed by the legendary Like a Rolling stone one of the best
versions I have heard, Bob seemmed to almost spit out some of the lines with
some of the conviction of ol. Bob and the band promptly left the stage to
thunderous applause. The couple next to me actually got up to leave I spent a
few minutes convincing them there would definately be an encore they had just
sat down as the lights came up and Bob more or less scooted towards the keyboard
and charged into All along the watchtower. This was followed by spirit on the
water at the end of witch Bob introduced the band and then gave us the final
song Blowin' in The Wind this to me was a trualy remarkable version of this
song and again a fantastic highlight of the night.This was Bobs first ever visit
to the O2 Arena and hopefully not the last the sound was brilliant unlike
Wembley arena where I find he gets a little lost I known the capacity is
similar but I think the accoustics. This was my 11th time with Bob and my
partners first who I may add was truly converted. Thanks to transport for
London the queue for taxis ooutside was horrendous waited half an hour and we
were the lucky ones apart from this it will go down as one of the best evenings
with Bob to date. The man still rock!
Review by Joe Neanor
The Millennium Dome, now re-branded as the O2 arena, sits in a remote
corner of South East London, the river Thames sweeping around it. There
was major public transport disruption tonight, with the nearby tube line
closed and it was real slog to get to the show.
Performers remark on the gob smacking size of the venue. It has a 20,000
capacity with upper tier seats tickets carrying a warning about being
unsuitable for those with a fear of heights. The stage was placed at one
end of the arena. So there really was a need for the large TV screens
routinely used here to allow those in the remoter seats at this sold out
show to see what was going on. Unfortunately, and unfairly, these were
Bob took to the stage looking like a dandified riverboat gambler, wearing
a white hat with something like a small feather in the brim, white jacket
with silver trim on the collar and cuffs, black and white shirt, black
trousers with white trim and, of course, cowboy boots. The band all wore
black hats, except Donnie Herron.
A high energy performance from Bob and his musicians. The show moved at a
real pace, with instruments being swapped with roadies before the chords
of last song had been played and new songs begun as musicians scrambled to
ready their instruments. The harmonica was used fairly sparingly but when
played it was with serious purpose. This was particularly so when Bob went
centre stage, his hat tipped forward and fingers pointing, to sing Till I
Fell in Love With You and to play some real bluesy harmonica. The
Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll is a powerful song but tonight's vocals
arrangement, with it's up and down melody lines, did not work for me.
Bob's keyboard was clearly heard in the mix. Bob had clear sight of all
his musicians on stage .The three guitarists now stand in a line together
in front of him - a better set up than the last time I saw a show, when
the rhythm guitarist was behind him looking over his shoulder.
The sound quality was generally good, within the limitations of an arena
show, though there seemed to be an "echo" as the sound hit the far end of
the arena and Bob's vocals seemed to be easier to hear at the start and
end of the show than in the middle.
All in all an enjoyable and committed performance by the always twisting,
bending and swaying keyboard player and his band. Highlights of the show
for me were Things Have Changed, Hollis Brown, and a sublime When the Deal
Immediately after the show I asked four people sitting close by what they
thought about the show. My impression was that none were Bob Dylan
regulars. One said it was amazing and two that they enjoyed it. The
fourth was not so impressed, citing Bob's lack of interaction with the
audience. and we were sitting fairly close to the stage!
Thanks to Alan for navigating the mean streets and Ned & Kara for being
such good company at the show.
Review by A. Adkins
How great to see Bob once again bringing his wonderful music to UK. After
not playing here during his Europe tour last year it is very well
appreciated. I won't go into set list song by song, as it is well
detailed, but must comment on the good choice and variations of his songs
for all the UK concerts so far. I like to see a lot of groups play live
but Bob and his excellent musicians are my No. one favourites. I
travelled to Spain and the Twin cities to see him, his band and music last
year. Keep on with the good music Bob and your friends. Can't wait for
the other shows myself and my daughter are going to at Birmingham,
Liverpool and Edinburgh. Wish we could get to see him play Return To Me
at one of these shows, but suspect this song was only for the Italian
concerts. Love it anyway. Can't wait for the new CD!
Review by Sarah & Dominic
Bob Dylan and his band on the current tour are on top of their game.
Tonight at the 02 Arena was no exception. I don't think I have even seen
Bob enjoying himself more on stage than he is at the moment. If you have a
chance to get yourself a ticket for any of the European venues (if you
haven't got one already) and there are any left - then do get one!
Whilst a number of songs remain constant throughout his recent set lists,
Bob also included some tonight which could have been predicted and a few
others which were not anticipated at all.
With such a large back catalogue of material it is impossible to please
everyone, but with Dylan's delivery of his songs at the moment he is
ensuring that everything that is delivered sounds good - even songs which
you may not select yourself if you were given the privilege of doing so.
Sure if we were allowed to choose songs from Love and Theft to hear live,
it would be great to hear Mississippi at the expense of Po' Boy and maybe
Modern Times was over represented with five of the eighteen songs tonight
coming from that album - and whilst we may be paying the piper we have no
right to pick the tune. Dylan is playing music that he enjoys, in a style
with which he is comfortable and as a result we have the benefit of
hearing this music sung by an artist who is performing material in
concert arguably better than ever before.
Saying all of that, how many artists other than Dylan, with a new album
being released in just two days time would not use the tour as an
opportunity to promote the product? I suggest none other - which goes some
way to demonstrate Dylan's satisfaction with his own material performed
live, and the sound that is produced as a consequence. A time will come
when the songs from Together Through Life will be heard in concert, but we
have to trust Dylan's judgement call regarding this.
Regarding the band - simply, they continue to be awesome and should be
recognised for their part within the performance, providing so much more
than just a supporting role.
Dylan's voice has continued to deepen in recent years growing in strength
and expression - complimenting the songs selected, none more so tonight
than Hattie Carroll, Thunder On The Mountain and Maggies Farm. However,
highlights were without a doubt; Working Man's Blues and When The Deal
Goes Down which were heartfelt, moving and inspirational.
Throughout Dylan played keyboard and not guitar, opting for harmonica as
well at times - which he did with expression of movement and on occasions
with the slightest hint of a dance.
A truly memorable evening was had. A full two hours worth which had only
one downside - well two if you include the engineering works on the
Jubilee Line and a replacement bus service to and from the venue.
Namely the number of people getting up to buy drinks and food throughout
the concert. I don't get it! How can the need for a burger or a beer be
greater than the opportunity to hear Dylan performing some of his greatest
material, within a repertoire ranging from blues, to ballads to pure
unadulterated rock 'n' roll? The question is rhetorical and the answer is
that it can't, and that the venue should respect the artist by restricting
the sale of refreshments to before or after the performance as would occur
with any theatre production.
Tonight's audience was a mix of those who clearly by their appearance were
there when Dylan started out 48 years ago and others who have joined him
along the journey. New converts continue to join the mass of Dylan fans
each year and with performances of the magnitude of tonight's concert,
this is set to continue for the foreseeable future.
I only hope for those who admire and respect the man and his music and for
those still to discover him that He can keep on keepin' on, well for the
foreseeable future anyway.
Review by Ros Merchant
A good concert with some great moments... though also with some
disappointments. Somehow managed to get some tickets in a box which was
pretty good in some respects but also pretty tough as i was the only die
hard fan there and the others were merely 'ohhh what a bad singer etc....'
Started off and i was nervous of how his voice would be, but for the most
parts it was very strong and at times it was exceptional.
The truely great moment for me was working mans blues... i song i was
desperate to hear live and one that was better than the CD version...
though a string instrument at the end would have been great.
Also really liked Po Boy... and Hattie Carrol
Okay the disappointments... the arrangement for Blowin in the wind was
very poor and just lost all feeling... and his singing on Like a rolling
stone was also unfoccessed.
What came across is that his newer songs are delivered with more
conviction than the older ones.
Ohhhh and whilst on my soap box.. What has happened to Blood on the
Tracks, not one song.
The band.. overall were pretty bland, fine at what they did, but on the
bootlegs i have got and i am by no means an expert they dont seem half as
good or exciting.
Still Dylan live...is still a great experience though as i looked down at
the stage and then to those near the front i could not help but feel
jealous of their position.
Review by Fran Scott
A mixed bag at the North Greenwich Peninsula shopping centre, the
sterility and vastness of the venue offset by a decent sound mix and Bob
willing and able to fill the arena with his vocals.
Shades of Wembley '03 as a powerful Maggie's Farm opened up - Dylan
belting out the vocal while stooping behind the keys.
Times - sensational harp playing closed a wonderful performance.
Things - unspectacular, backed by a march-like beat.
Chimes - good to hear this but I felt the arrangement took a little of the
urgency out of the song.
Rollin' - ok.
Hattie Carroll - wonderfully played blues harp to close this, a gentler
version than in previous years.
Till' I Fell In Love - Dylan centre stage, boxer-stance, mic in one hand,
cable in the other, both feet at 45° from the centre, bobbing and weaving
as he delivered the lines, pointing at the audience at one point. Very
prosaic harp solo however - a performance notable for its theatrical
rather than musical elements.
Workingman's - probably the best musical arrangement of the night, let
down by the lyrics being delivered in short sharp bursts, the tempo of the
vocal at odds with the accompaniment.
Highway - a strong version with the keyboard very prominent in the mix.
Hollis Brown - transformed into a haunting cowboy ballad, the highlight of
Po' Boy - started unpromisingly but the band really got into this as it
went on with Bob wagging his right index finger at the band in time with
Honest - straightforward rendition, Bob was BARKING out the lyrics.
Deal - delicately played, a real change of pace, gentle stabs of the keys
in time with the beat.
Thunder - great performance, really tight, the keyboard almost trading
solos with the guitars.
Rolling Stone - horribly fiddly solo by Denny Freeman taking the pace
right out of this tonight, extremely average overall. Donnie Herron and
Bob were delighted at the end of this however with mutual low-fives on
their way off stage.
Watchtower - tremendous Stu Kimball solo, great performance.
Spirit on the Water - dreadful, what on earth is this doing in the
Blowing - a controlled performance to close the show, a bit staccato for
my liking but well-delivered.
Review by Mike Gold
I'll say one thing for the monstrosity that is O2, the acoustics are
superb. I heard Leonard Cohen's brilliant performance here last year,
and I've never heard Dylan's band so clearly. Bob's Grade 3 organ
vamps are revealed in all their primitive glory. "Maggies Farm"
started off briskly, clear singing and a hint of "Thunder On the
Mountain" rockabilly in the backing. On The Times They Are a-Changin",
the old codger seemed to growl his way into three/four time to give us
the graceful feel of elderly couples waltzing across the ballroom floor.
In a captivating way, this was swiftly followed by Things Have Changed.
Fun because that song sounds like an ironic re-write of his "voice of a
generation' anthem, 37 years later. Donnie Herron played staccato
violin stabs which livelied up the rhythm. Chimes Of Freedom benefited
from Dylan's organ fills and also sounded like it was lurching towards
waltz time. Rollin' and Tumblin' was imbued with a manic "this world
is crumbing" vibe, making it into a song of survival rather than a
piece of sexual bragging. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll also
sounded to me like it was closer to three/four time. Is Dylan waltzing
his way into the darkness? Has the Never Ending Tour become Dylan's
Dance to The Music of Time? Why am I hearing everything in waltz time?
I've wanted to hear a live performance of Working Man's Blues #2 ever
since I first heard this song in August 2006. It's one of his great,
late numbers, and he seemed to invest extraordinary precision in each
syllable off economic hardship that the song chronicles: buying power,
proletariat, low wages, compete abroad (shades of North Country Blues),
money's gettin' shallow and weak. When Dylan sang "Bring me my boots
and shoes", it sounded pleading in a way that conveyed both strength
and vulnerability. Of course, it sounds more timely today than when he
wrote it: a wonderful requiem for the economic fantasies of ever-rising
house prices and ever-ascending stock markets. The highlight of the
night (for me and my friend) was Hollis Brown. Dylan's vocal really
inhabited this ballad of rural poverty, making every detail sound
claustrophobic and terrifying. The band summoned up an eerie gothic
sound that framed the lyrics beautifully, and pumped out a rhythm that
reinforced a sense of inexorable doom. Never did birth become such a
bleak event as in the closing lines: Somewhere in the distance/There's
seven new people born. Even the lighting worked. An oddly slatted effect
like light filtering between the gaps of planking in a broken down farm.
After this, it became a bit of a blur. An awful lot seemed to be in
waltz time. Bob's singing isn't getting any better. His reading of
LARS was the most matter of fact I've heard: neither gloating, nor
condemning. Just a straightforward enquiry. How does it feel? I could
happily live without the Bing Crosby crooning. But my final impression is
awe and respect. Awe at this extraordinary catalogue of work, awe at the
stamina that delivers it night after night, and respect for the way he
invested almost every number with real commitment.
Review by Mr. Jinx
CRUNCHIN' TIMES IN LONDON TOWN
With Canary Wharf Tower (Thatcher's Folly) looming and in the imposing
shadow of London's financial district, Dylan takes to the Docklands Dome
stage for the first time. How apt, then, that he should have money and
power on his mind . . .
Right from the off Maggie (her again!) wields her power over her poor farm
workers in fine style. We hear about senators and congressmen in a
brilliantly staccato The Times They are a Changin'. Things have changed
contradicts Times's idealistic tone and sentiments nicely setting us up
for a fabulous metronomic Chimes of Freedom.
Freedom and change? Bob is clearly reading from the Obama hymn sheet
The two twinkling highlights of the show are an audacious Hattie Carroll
in which our oppressed Hattie - a mere maid of the kitchen, you understand
- is duly slain by that recently deceased fellow with the rich wealthy
parents. This really is a fantastically fiscal performance from Dylan.
Workingman's Blues is the other great highlight of this powerful show:
goose bump delivery, Bob reaching in and out simultaneously. In times of
penury it's rice and beans all round.
Po' Boy - that put-upon dumb dealer and teller of knock-kneed knock knocks
- is charmingly rendered. My girlfriend and me have to brush away a tear
for the boy tonight.
Hollis Brown - another character beset with financial woes - draws a dark
and darkened performance from Bob - the house lights dimmed to etch the
band in shadow; the stark black story pitched right at us Bluegrass style.
The wine-supping businessman from Watchtower might very well work in the
Docklands financial complex just across the way. If he does he will have
been shaken to his bones by this searing rendition. Two (under) writers
were approaching and the wind began to howl!
Just time for that first great Dylanesque political statement Blowin' in
the Wind - again beautifully re-arranged - before Bob and the boys are
blowin' outta there like a bunch of dodgy sub-prime brokers at the annual
A terrifying and inspiring show, then. Now one for the faint-hearted. But
then in these credit crunching times we need our prophets guaranteed.
Ladies and gentlemen: financial guru and city whizz kid, BOB DYLAN.
Review by Brian Bleese
We took our seats, high above the stage in Level 4 of the O2 Arena, about
an hour before the show was due to start. Well prepared with beer and
binoculars we discussed what songs we might like to hear. The last four
had been consistent for the previous 7 or 8 shows and there had been some
great rarities played recently. I pointed out the Oscar for ‘Things Have
Changed’ and the box of harmonicas atop the amp box behind the keyboard
to my friends who had never seen Dylan in Show and Concert before. The
excitement mounted as we waited and the arena gradually filled-up. Finally
the lights dimmed and the ‘Poet laureate of rock…..’ intro announced the
imminent arrival of the Dylan and his band.
Dylan leapt onto the stage looking animated and up for a great night and
launched straight into a rocking version of ‘Maggie’s Farm’. Great start,
he then completely hoodwinked the audience with a completely reworked ‘The
Times They Are A-Changin’. Great new tune and it took most of the 14,000
people present till the first two lines to recognise it. ‘Things Have
Changed’ went down well followed by good versions of ‘Chimes of Freedom’,
‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’, and Hattie Carroll. Dylan’s move to centre stage
for ‘Till I fell in Love with You’ was greeted by cheers from the audience
and we were treated to some vintage harmonica – a real highpoint.
‘Workingman’s Blues’ was followed by a thumping ‘Highway 61’. Then the
great gift of the night from my point of view – ‘The Ballad of Hollis
Brown’ – worth the ticket price on its own. ‘Po’ Boy’ next, it has become
something of a standard and is gaining a fair bit of popularity on the NET,
just as ‘Silvio’ did a few years back. Reasonable rendition of ‘Honest
With Me’ was followed by a sensitive ‘When the Deal Goes Down’. The band
then launched into a great ‘Thunder on the Mountain’ which had the audience
rocking and foot stamping. A great ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ ended the main
Cheering, clapping and whooping continued for about 7 or 8 minutes and we
started to worry that we might not actually get an encore but we were not
disappointed when the band struck the first chords of ‘All Along the Watch
Tower’ and the audience cheered again. ‘Spirit on the Water’ was nice but
he rushed through the “…over the hill…..past my prime…” lines without
giving us the chance to disagree. We were all expecting ‘Blowin’ in the
Wind’ and hoping that we would get the chance to sing along – not a chance,
the timing and delivery were so different from the original that it was
Dylan’s voice was strong and clear throughout and the tour programme hints
at some special treatment to improve it. Although he does not enunciate as
he once did his cracked and broken voice is a strangely beguiling instrument
that adds a mystical and very moving quality to many of his old and new
songs. He is surely one of history’s great artists. Certainly the greatest
living artist in any field and along with Picasso one of the two most
important artists of the twentieth century. The fact that he is still working
and personally bringing his art to people across the world about 100 times a
year makes him the most accessible artistic genius of all time. Seeing and
hearing him on a regular basis is a huge privilege. Keats, Byron and Picasso
were never so real.
Review by Julian Moseley
Which opener would it be - Maggie's Farm, Thunder On The Mountain, Cat's In
The Well? - all tried recently in Sheffield and Geneva and Brussels. It was Maggie's
Farm. Then Times They Are A Changing. Perfect, in tune with Obama I felt.
The sound however was metallic on the faster numbers. As if the sound check
had been cursory. Or maybe the O2's acoustics are set for brassier acts such as
Girls Aloud, soon to appear.
As two years before at Wembley, the band swung and pounded. Bob snarled and
rasped. I do think however that given the significance of his readings these days
that we need clearer acoustics. On Chimes Of Freedom particularly, I was at a loss
and this in the seventeenth row, left centre. God knows what it was coming out
like back up in the Gods down nearer Greenwich.
He didn't touch a single guitar all night. Perhaps saving that treat for the vaunted
acoustic gig at the Roundhouse? He stood centre stage and blew his harp on a
couple of numbers; slightly unsure it seemed to be so exposed. Although no Mick
Jagger he commands all attention.
Hattie Carroll was as ever heartfelt poetry. I felt like burying the rag deep in my
face, again. Hollis Brown was a rare downer. Again maybe reflecting the bleakness
of life in the recession in rural America.
Highway 61 was the killer moment. It thundered along like a runaway freight, Bob
belting out his wry observations from the footplate - red, white and blue
shoestrings, a thousand telephones that don't ring, bleachers out in the sun.
Like A Rolling Stone got the crowd singing their anthem, now more rolling than
stoned as the years have gone by.
Then the standard three encores, Watchtower, Spirit On The Water and Blowin' In
The Wind. 47 years old as a song and now featuring in an ad for The Co-op.
Comments by PhilTheTill
Started off so promising with Maggies Farm.
Very impressed with O2 arena, nice sound, better than the aircraft hanger
they call Wembley Arena Logistic problem, there were free bus'es from
Charlton station to the arena, but no one bothered to inform the staff at
either end. They hid the bus'es round the corner, nightmare. A message to
the football thugs in front of us, go see Bob in Brixton Academy, see if
you can get away with hurling abuse to proper security guys, not 14 year
old kinder garden wil of the wisp's at O2. Anyway getting back to the set,
average no thrills show, Bob please drop Spirit from encore, it just does
not hold water. I live in Cornwall so quite a trek, looking forward to the
Roundhouse, Yes I have a ticket!
Review by Darren Hirst
Immediately following Bob Dylan's shows in London this weekend I read
droves of reviews complaining. Now I would have expected them to complain
about some things - the engineering works that meant there was no tube
service heading in or out of North Greenwich on Saturday, the hours of
queuing outside of the Roundhouse on Sunday and the insensitivity of the
door staff in closing off the toilets, hours before the concert, to those
who were having to wait outside, perhaps. But whilst these matters got
their own fair share of deserved criticism, it was the artist's
performance which took the lion's share of negativity - a verdict which
left me rather bemused. One member of the public posted on a messageboard
that it was a good thing that Dylan insisted on not using the large
screens at the o2 and that he couldn't work out which one of the distant
figures on the stage was Mr Dylan - because if he couldn't have figured
that out, he would have marched down the front and punched poor Bob on the
nose. Now I've been a Dylan fan for over thirty years and I know all about
the variable quality of his live shows and his periodic apparent
disinterest in what the show amounts to and all the rest - but these shows
were Dylan at his idiosyncratic best. Sunday night the O2 was the host to
that other giant of popular music "Girls Aloud" and if you want to hear
crystal clear versions of all the hits just as they were originally
recorded, bright colours and dance routines then perhaps that was the show
you should have been at. But if you're going to see Bob Dylan at least
judge him on his ability to reach his apparent goals. He will trawl
through all his catalogue of songwriting and redesign the melodies on a
whim. He won't talk to the audience much if at all (let's be fair when he
has done this - for example, at his gospel shows in the early 80s, nobody
wanted to listen). He won't pick up his guitar and pretend this is 1962
just because you want him to. But if you want to hear an artist recreating
songs from his best known to his most obscure, then perhaps this is the
place for you. The fans are apparently quite happy with his current tour.
The band isn't the most adventurous. He changes the bulk of his setlist
most every night - although some of those who watch closest tell me that
they can guess what he is going to play according to what night of the
week it is. The opener changes each night - The Wicked Messenger, Rainy
Day Women, Maggie's Farm, Gotta Serve Somebody but often according to
which day the calendar shows. For example, Sunday night seems most likely
to be gospel night. One audience was recently treated to Gotta Serve
Somebody, I Believe in You, Every Grain of Sand and Tryin' to Get to
Heaven. Monday night had none of these. There is a kind of perverse logic
to all this.
The two nights, then, were very different affairs with the Roundhouse
proving the better show partially because of the increased intimacy and
better atmosphere of the smaller venue.
Highlights? Saturday had an excellent version of "Things Have Changed"
with Donnie Herron echoing the riff on violin. "The Lonesome Death of
Hattie Carroll" was all bent out of shape but still has power to make you
think about humanity's inability to treat all of society like human
beings. There was a powerful and echo-ey version of "The Ballad of Hollis
Brown" which was driven by Tony Garnier on double bass. "Po' Boy" and
"When the Deal Goes Down" were full of all that is best about Dylan's
current work and were drawn close to the versions that you would be
familiar with from the albums. For me, the best was "Workingman's Blues
#2" with Dylan cherishing each line and obviously enjoying himself.
Saturday also produced indistinct, poor versions of "Rollin' and Tumblin'"
and "Honest with Me" so this was far from a flawless show - but it was
Sunday was better. Nothing here was fumbled just different degrees of high
quality. The older songs "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right",
"Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat", "Tangled Up in Blue", "Like A Rolling Stone"
were straightforward enough renditions and kept the crowd on board when
perhaps the attention of the casual visitor might be tempted to drift.
"Million Miles" and "High water (for Charley Patton)" were rumbling,
threatening and apocalyptic. The peaks were "Ain't Talkin'" and "Tryin' to
get to Heaven" where the lyrics were biting and heartfelt.
So Dylan in London wasn't quite a triumph but this was a very good weekend
indeed for music . He will always divide opinion (for what it counts for,
I think it's probably part of his intention) but for those who get it,
these were shows we should be talking about for years to come.
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