Byron Bay, Australia

Byron Bay Bluesfest
MoJo Stage

April 26, 2011

[Mark Finlayson], [Phil Mason], [John Murray], [Chris Franklin]

Review by Mark Finlayson

The first thing to say is that I enjoyed tonights show a lot more that
last nights..but that most probably has something to do with the
conditions..last night I played sardines in the crowd with no great view
whereas tonight I got there super early and staked a spot on the rail so I
had a great view of the stage. Musically the show lived up to expectations
with Charlie Sexton's guitar work being a great asset and this year I've
been amazed by Bob's keyboard work, he was up in the mix and played with
enthusiasm giving some wonderful touches to the songs. It was great to see
him on guitar and in centre stage for more songs as well (5 songs from
memory) rather than spending the night hiding behind the keyboard. A more
static set list than I expected over the two nights with only 5 songs
different on the second night, but Desolation Row was fantastic. I'm not
sure that It aint Me Babe was an improvement as I'd really enjoyed don't
Think Twice the night before, but that's my personal bias interfering.
Ballad Of  Thin Man was a stand out for me on both nights and I left
feeling that he'd delivered what I expected, maybe more.

This was a different crowd to the normal Dylan show with many festival
goers seeing their first Bob show, or their first in many years and from
my conversations there were many who were disappointed, I think many
expected him to be still using an acoustic guitar and singing protest
songs, although many of  the large local contingent were making
comparisons to the 2001 Ballina show. I'd have to say my biggest criticism
comes down to the fact that Bob doesn't allow adequate use of the screens,
which in a traditional seated venue is ok, but in this festival atmosphere
and situation really doesn't work. I know many were disappointed that they
couldn't see Dylan at all and there were many rumblings that many people
felt cheated, one fellow reckons the organisers should have made mention
of that situation prior to taking people's money! 

That aside I've got to say that musically he lived up to my expectations,
but then again I was familiar with what to expect, unfortunately many were


Review by Phil Mason

Well, six days have passed and still no review for Bob Dylan's second
appearance at the East Coast Blues and Roots Festival in Byron Bay. I have
been reading reviews on the BobLinks website for too many years to recall
but I have never written a review myself. So, as a matter of historical
record I thought it my duty to fill in the blank and write a review now that I
have had six days to absorb the spiritual and visceral impact of the event. I
have been enjoying Bob for over 35 years and I haven't missed a beat with his
visits to Australia since the 1970's. I grew up with his music as the soundtrack
of my life spanning five decades. His songs are burned into my brain and I have
seen him over 15 times in Australia and have never missed a tour, except for

Finally seeing Dylan in my own home town of Byron Bay has been a deeply
satisfying experience. I remember the fuss generated when the tour
organisers tried to bring him to Byron Shire exactly 10 years ago. The venue
being negotiated was adjacent to the Tyagarah Airfield but the locals kicked up
such a strong protest ("Not in my backyard!") that Dylan was forced to play in
Ballina. So, here we are, 10 years later, and Bob finally came to Byron Bay and
played at a new location just to the north of the Tyagarah Airfield in the new
permanent home of the Bluesfest. It was tremendously gratifying for me
personally to see Dylan play in Byron. 

I have had over 30 years of history with this region and in the early 80's I
have strong memories of listening to 'Slow Train Coming' and 'Saved' living out
in a wooden shack in the back hills of this region.  Those albums changed my
life and set me on an entirely new direction. As the director of a local
spiritual community in Byron it was deeply fulfilling to see Dylan come here and
especially to open the concert with 'Gonna Change my Way of Thinking' from Slow
Train Coming. This was the new 2002 version rewritten by Dylan in collaboration
with Mavis Staples. Mavis also appeared at the Bluesfest but was already in
Sydney when Bob first played on Monday night.

As the now familiar voice of Al Santos, Dylan's stage manager who introduces
Dylan, boomed over the roaring crowd, telling us of how Dylan 'disappeared into
a haze of substance abuse' and 'emerged to find Jesus,' Dylan launched into a
full scale assault on the senses.  The man who 'forced folk into bed with rock'
was now immersing his audience into an intensely loud and invasive rock and roll
proclamation, telling us that "Jesus is coming; He's coming back to gather His
jewels!  This is a reference to a Bible verse in Malachi: "They shall be Mine,"
says the Lord of hosts, "On the day that I make them My jewels." (Malachi 3:17) 

With 50 years of public performances under his belt Dylan now carries the
weight of a significant slice of modern history and he can reach into his
back catalogue and conjure memories of times and seasons when he told
everyone that he had literally changed the way he thought about reality. Of
course, 'Change my Way of Thinking' is a metaphor for repentance which literally
means to change your mind. It was only 5 years ago that Dylan reminded us that
his 'repentance is plain' (Beyond the Horizon) and 'I'm beginning to believe
what the Scriptures tell.' (Nettie Moore) As I checked out the setlists for this
Australasia tour it struck me that Dylan opened every single concert with this
song except the first night of the tour in Taiwan when he opened with 'Gotta
Serve Somebody.' Sounds like he is trying to make a point!

A lot of people were pissed off at Dylan because he acquiesced to the
Chinese cultural thought police and chose not to play any overtly political
protest songs in China. But perhaps it escaped these same critics that Dylan
opened his 2 concerts on mainland China with a strong gospel message; 'Everyday
you've got to pray for guidance' and 'Lord, You know I have no friend like You!'
At a time when the Chinese authorities are dragging house church leaders off to
prison and trying to subdue the underground house church movement which is
experiencing explosive growth, Dylan didn't exactly pander to the rules they set
for him. It sounded more like he gave these serial human rights violators a
strong kick in the arse!

So, anyway, back to the concert in Byron. Dylan threw in four changes from
the previous night's setlist. He added 'It Ain't me Babe,' perhaps to
silence the obnoxious guy standing next to me who was invasively intoxicated and
who kept telling everybody around him that Dylan was his god! Dylan pointed all
of these sycophants to 'Someone who will die for you and more,' even back in
1964! He also added a powerful version of 'Desolation Row' with its bleak
imagery of life outside the gates of Eden. He also threw in 'Cold Irons Bound'
and 'Spirit on the Water.' These were the only four changes from the previous

I have always been a huge fan of 'Cold Irons Bound.' "I'm beginning to hear
voices and there's no one around..." Dylan laments the pride that keeps people
from seeing what lies beyond the horizon. "Well, the walls of pride; they're
high and wide. Can't see over to the other side! It's such a sad thing to see
such beauty decay. It's sadder still to feel your heart torn away!" The only
cure for the disease of conceit is humility and repentance. In the previous
concert on Monday night Dylan performed 'High Water' with Donnie Heron on banjo.
"I'm preaching the Word of God; I'm putting out your eyes..." he growled. For me
every Dylan concert is a profound spiritual journey, perhaps because I've
journeyed with Dylan for more than 30 years and his songs are so inscribed upon
my memory. But there always seems to be a rhyme and reason for his song

There is a weight to Dylan's words and he knows it! Presenting people with
truth night after night on his never ending tour he is only too aware that
if people hear the words but don't take them to heart, (like the obnoxious
lout next to me who uttered blasphemies and expletives all night) they end
up even blinder. Jesus said 'Seeing; they do not see,' and 'Hearing; they do not
hear." (Matthew 13:13) Anyone who preaches the word of God knows that there is a
gravity concerning how people choose to respond.

The magic of Dylan is his exploration of themes so sublime and so profound
that penetrate to the core of our existence in this crazy world. This is
what adds weight to his concert appearances. Even though his voice is old,
weathered and gruff, his subject matter keeps the occasion fresh and alive. The
centuries old voice somehow adds to the prophetic persona. It's like he's
channeling the world weary bluesman of old, wearied by the decades of watching a
suffering world descend slowly into the abyss. 

His academy award statuette sits to the right of the stage just behind
Dylan, reminding us of the words he spoke when he received the Oscar for his
song, 'Things Have Changed.' "Oh good God! This is amazing," he said in shock
from Australia in 2001. "I'd like to thank the members of the Academy who were
bold enough to give me this award for this song. It's a song that doesn't
pussyfoot around or turn a blind eye to human nature." And therein lies the key
to understanding Dylan. He's done with pussyfooting around and living the rest
of his life as a nice performer.  He has a message to tell and it hasn't changed
since the late 70's when he had a literal Damascus Road experience where he
claims that Jesus appeared to him and put His hand on him.

On the second night in Byron Bay Dylan performed a superb interpretation of
'Spirit on the Water.' Man, I love that song! 'Spirit on the water, darkness of
the face of the deep. I keep thinking of you babe, and I can't hardly sleep.' "I
always knew; we were meant to be more than friends!' The longer you live in the
mystic garden the more familiar the voice of the Spirit becomes.  This is the
same Spirit that hovered over the face of the deep at the dawn of creation.  Now
he hovers over us, calling out for intimate friendship.  'From East to West,
Ever since the world began. I only mean it for the best; I want to be with you
any way I can.' 

For me, 'Spirit on the Water' was an absolute highlight, perhaps because
I've spent so much time meditating on the words. 'Sometimes I wonder why you
can't treat me right; you do good all day, then you do wrong all night.' It's
the age old story of Jesus calling out to humanity, enduring mockery and scorn,
enduring crucifixion, all for love. 'I've been trampling through mud, praying to
the powers above. I'm sweating blood; you got a face that begs for love!' The
thousands of folks who came to the Byron Bluesfest, perhaps for their first
encounter with the legend of Dylan also trampled through mud; four inches deep
of smelly, slimy black mud. When he spoke to them in the city did they hear?  

I have no doubt whatsoever Dylan is a reluctant prophet. He is not your
conventional performer. He is disheveled, loud, old, a bit grumpy, always
re-inventing the songs, shuffling around on stage, uncertain if he is
enjoying or disdaining the attention he is receiving, but he is clearly a
man on a mission.  He pissed a lot of people off by not allowing the concert to
be filmed and broadcast over the big screens but that is his personal
prerogative. He obviously doesn't like being filmed! My only personal
disappointment was that the sound was so poorly mixed, more so on the first
night than on the second, to the degree that that the potency of the lyrics were
often lost amidst a wall of unnecessarily loud and muddy sound. And that sucks
when you come to hear the poet laureate where the music should be subservient to
the message. It seemed like the sound guy had an inordinate obsession with low
end rumbling energy, like a biker with an extremely loud modified Harley. Does
Dylan have his own travelling sound guy or is he at the mercy of whoever?

But personal gripes aside, to finish the hour and a half show, Dylan closed with
a beautifully moving rendition of 'Forever Young;' a benediction delivered with
sincerity and a deep sense of moment. 'May God bless and keep you always, may
your wishes all come true... May you grow up to be righteous, May you grow up to
be true, May you always know the truth and see the light surrounding you, May
you always be courageous, Stand upright and be strong, May you stay forever
young!' With his 70th birthday looming on May 24th, this might have been the
last time Dylan comes to Australia, time will tell. But, love him or hate him,
he certainly has left his mark on this nation and on thousands of admiring fans
who trampled through mud to see him perform for the first time at the Byron Bay
Bluesfest. Thanks again Bob for the gift of significant memories!


Review by John Murray

I guess with every Music Festival comes the mud, and this was my first
attendance at Byron Bay's Bluesfest, so I arrived with umbrella and coat but
wasn't really prepared for so much "Muddy Waters". One of the first acts to
kickstart the afternoon's entertainment was Tony Joe White in the Jambalaya Tent
and I was not disappointed. With only drums as support, he captivated the
audience with his special kind of "swampblues" and I could smell the deep south
with each song. (or was that the muddy waters?) After setting the mood, I slid
across the mire to the Mojo Tent where the main action was starting to take
place......Buffy St Marie and her tribe of warriors (passionate
brilliance....she's great: so much more than just Universal Soldier as I found
out)....then Australia's greatest songwriter Paul Kelly, educating us again on
life with his songs (crowd was getting tighter now)......then Aboriginal artist
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu taking pride of place in between Paul Kelly and
Bob.(getting squeezy now) Anyone not familiar with Gurrumul, check him out? Very
special. Now for the big one......switch off the video screens, focus on the
stage wherever you may be in the mud and prepare for the ghost of 'lectricity
howling from a band that is so tight it made me feel spacious in the packed
crowd up close to the rails. I'm not going to dissect each song because that's
all been done before with variations from show to show....but every time I see
Bob Dylan it's a surreal experience and I find it hard to believe sometimes that
I'm standing in front of an artist who has been such a huge part of my life for
so long.....and then he's blessing us with Forever Young and suddenly the stage
is empty!! It was a great concert with very little disappointment....apart from
some average harp interspersing lines from Tangled Up In Blue and his habit of
singing high at the end of some songlines.....I will forever be left with his
electric rumble that filled my soul this night!! Rollin' and Tumblin' was never
my favourite on the cd but tonight it overwhelmed me, seeming to go on forever
and I didn't want it to stop. Bob catches us when we least expect it I guess?
How silly of me!!!!

God Bless you Bob and thanks for sharing......John.


Review by Chris Franklin

Last night's concert was a great gig, but this time, I’ve got front row and have
been treated to amazing performances already today by Paul Kelly and Gurrumul
Yunupingu prior.

The set up is precise as always. The pony tailed roadie ‘leader’ is in
control, mics are tested and cleaned. The Grammy sits proudly on the amp.
The big white harp mic lies in waiting. This is the first tour I have seen
Dylan step out and play harp as a solo instrument, away from the guitar and

Hard ass Dylan fans have been waiting front row for over 12 hours. Watching the
roadies set up is an exciting part of the gig. The repetition, and exact nature
of where everything is positioned conjures barked orders from Bob over the years
to hone the process to minimum set up time. Any minute now ‘that’ recording will
announce from the darkened arena, the arrival of this crazy revolving door.

Dylan struts onto the stage but immediately steps back off, something is not as
it should be, Seconds later Dylan returns followed furiously by ‘Pony Tail’
roadie and ‘Stiff Leg’ roadie. Heads bowed like naughty children, earlier in
their element, in control, confident, but now desperately at Dylan’s side with
the missing set list. I’m sure that wont happen again at the next gig.

Dressed in black, red pin stripe, white hat, one leg up on the rail
underneath the keyboard, Dylan starts bouncing to the first tune. Between 15 and
20 times I have seen Dylan since ’86, and I still can’t work out what is really
happening here. A true Mr Jones I am. The grimaces which look like smiles, the
head twists, the flicking of the hair, the back leg strutting out, and the
barking of each line as he thrusts these gems at us with gusto.

This tour I feel his playing, keyboard and guitar, are more pronounced and
distinctive. Audible and melodic. Definitely more fancy than the one-note
solos of tours past. Bob is more in control, Tony is more set back. And the
subtleties are hypnotic.

During ‘Spirit on the Water’, Tony is thrust into a panic, as his double
bass is not properly tuned. His head spinning to find his tech, his mouth
roaring “FLAT’ or “F%#&” I cant quite decipher. His fingers flicking and
tuning between notes in lightening speed to desperately get the beast inline
with his colleagues. Touring with Bob would have its dull repetitive moments I’m
sure, but a single miscalculation or lapse in perfection and the wrath of two
beady eyes from across the stage, drives these grown men into a panic and frenzy
at the slightest hiccup.

Charlie Sexton adds a sideline of animation to the show, he struts and
plucks centre stage, almost swimming over, behind and through some of Bob’s
finer moments, but never in front of. Bob is the attraction here and Bob leads
with vocal, solo and style, in Bob’s mind and everybody else’s.

Highway 61 drapes the stages in deep red; the logo behind oozes a crimson
resonance as Bob growls out this most famous fable. More a rhythmic shaman
now, Dylan entrances his gathered tribe into an angry, scowling dual between his
voice, his keyboard and the rest of the band. There is definitely a solo battle
between the keyboard and Charlie’s guitar. Back and forward they parry and
thrust. Donnie Herron on pedal steel, rocks to and fro, challenging Bob to take
it further, smiling broadly, and handshaking Bob in between songs in

First of a two-song encore, Bob launches into the most popular tune of the
21st century, Like a Rolling Stone, and drives it with an amazing force.
This song will be covered forever more, it’s an incredible feeling standing 30
feet from the creator as he belts it out across the ocean air of Byron Bay
Australia. Charlie solos briefly towards the end, and Dylan as casual as you
like, left hand resting on the side of the keyboard, right hand adding the
iconic organ wail, nods his masterpiece to a close.

At this point, Bob speaks to the audience in showman melody…

“Well thankyou frieeeennnnnds, wanna introduce my band right now, its Stu
Kimbal playin on eerrr… rhytym guitar… Stu Kimball.

Donnie Herron playin on steel guitaaarrrrr…., Charlie Sexton playin on
electric GUITaaaarrrr, [Bob continues needling on his keyboard behind his
introductions, and Charlie drops to his haunches as Bob introduces the back
line] …   George Recile playin on the drums…..  Tony Garnieeeerrr playin on the
bass GUITaaaarrrrrr….

And with that - straight into ‘Forever Young’. This song is anthemic and apt for
Bob turning 70 this year. The show’s end is signalled with the obligatory line
up of serious band faces ‘frontish’ of stage, with Bob in the middle raising his
arms oh very slightly. No smiles, no individual acknowledgments, just a band of
mean looking cowboys having shot up the crowd with all the ammo they got. Bob
nods and it’s back to the horses to get the hell out of this here one horse

Or at least that is how I was imagining it to be.

The stage darkens and Bob is gone. And so concludes an amazing road trip of
4,794 kms by car, train, bus, scooter, tram, taxi and foot. Four concerts,
Adelaide, Melbourne and two at Byron Bays’ Bluesfest, a support by BB King and
two front row shows.

Until the next tour Bob.

Chris Franklin


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