Auckland, New Zealand

Vector Arena

April 30, 2011

[Andrew McCallum], [Derek Jacombs], [Marc Dombroski]

Review by Andrew McCallum

I have a theory. Actually, more of a point of view. My experience of
Auckland 30 April 2011 is heavily influenced by the recording of New
York 23 Nov 2011, which I've listened to a lot and I think is a
fantastic show and I think cued me in to what I was going to hear.
Notably, some crossover in the setlist - Gonna Change My Way of Thinking
followed by This Wheels on Fire. HW61, Thunder on the Mountain, Ballad
of a Thin man.

Anyway, my theory is that the late career Dylan is just as challenging
and confrontational as the 1966 Dylan was. Play Ballad of a Thin Man
from the free trade hall, then play the current version. Play Gonna
Change my Way of Thinking then play Tell Me Momma. Same attitude, same
cacophony of noise. 

Comments on the Auckland concert could have been comments on an English
66 concert. Too loud. He'd changed the songs, couldn't hear the words
etc etc. I doubt there has been any Dylan concert ever where there were
not some in the audience who didn't leave early, feel short-changed,
were disappointed. 

Nobody ever seems to have written intelligently and in depth about the
different sounds and styles of Dylan's NET bands. Or indeed what Dylan
might be trying to achieve musically from year to year. And clearly he
is very intent on the sound he is trying to create and this changes, or
the method changes, from year to year. In 2007, Dennie Freeman was
taking all the leads, and the various parts each member played appeared
quite specific. Dylans' voice, as I recall, was quite clear in the mix,
and the mix itself was more defined. 

The current sound is quite different - my 11 year old daughter is
currently part of a junior orchestra, and the first thing she learnt was
that it was not the individual sections (1st violins, 2nd violins,
cellos etc) that made the music, but how they interacted together. The
current sound Dylan has is on the one hand minimalist - no real soloing,
no one player dominating. Complaints about the simplicity of some of
Dylan's harp playing - single notes etc. On the other hand it is very
complex - every player contributing something. The musical intention
behind this, it seems to me, is very much about the overall sound, like
an orchestra. It's not about the individual parts, its about the
interplay between the parts that creates the whole. And hence the sound
can be dense, brooding, sometimes impenetrable - the Cold Irons Bound in
Auckland was like that, the new arrangement of All Along the Watchtower,
which eschewed the famous riff for a brooding pulsing rhythm. The harp
in TUIB - a few short bursts before moving to something a little more

It was loud, and over-amped - this was intentional I believe, although
the acoustics of the barnlike Vector arena will not have helped. The
musical intention was to create exactly that dense sound - in some ways
more dense and more confronting than in 1966. More confronting, because
this is a Bob Dylan who has played over 3000 shows (I think it is) and
who is knocking on 70 years old. He takes risks, he throws musical curve
balls, he improvises, he's aiming for that magic moment and because he's
trying for it not by rote, but by experimentation and sheer perversity,
it doesn't always work - that's the nature of his performance and his
art. That's why he's great, and sometimes aweful. And yes - the voice is
shot - but he's still doing what he's always done with the limited
instrument he has left - sings the meaning, not the words. That's what
great singers do.

I thought it was a great performance - it didn't have the chills from
the two other great concerts (of a total of 14) I've seen in NZ -
Wellington 2003, and Wellington 2007. But it was a very enjoyable
experience seeing Dylan so engaged with the music. It was an all out
rock and roll show, pretty much unrelenting from beginning to end. Like
a Philip Clairmont painting:



Review by Derek Jacombs

Some thoughts on the Auckland show. I've deliberately not listened to the
downloads of this tour in the hope of being surprised by some new arrangements.
I was, but not in a good way.

There was a really nice gathering before the show. Nick Bollinger, Les Kokay,
Andrew McCallum and other fans. Good to catch up with everyone.

And the show? 

In all honesty I thought it was very very average. I didn't go along to the
gathering afterwards because I felt too depressed, because about halfway through
the gig I started thinking - "I'm not sure I can be bothered to do this again."
First time I've ever felt that watching Bob.

But Bob shows are unique in their way of bringing out different subjective
reactions in people so I'll try and pick out what particularly distressed me.

First of all I though the sound (row 11, centre) was dreadful. No definition,
sloppy and cavernous. It got a little better if you stood back by the sounddesk
but it really pisses me off that you pay that much money and hear crap. The lack
of respect for the audience of rock music continues to appal me, having to watch
bands in cavernous sports stadium and hear indistinct mush. But maybe Bob is
just behind the times with his sound. Coldplay and Cohen each manage great
quality so Bob's sound should, at the very least, not make you wince every
couple of minutes.

And the most wince-inducing thing was the harp. Yes, props to Bob for playing
more harp than at any show I've previously seen. But does his harp need to be so
dominant? Especially when he's playing such dull lines? I started to realise
that when Bob's playing harp these days there might be a moment - one line! - in
a song where you think "Oh that was nice - Bob can still play when he wants". Is
that good enough? This man used to take my breath away with his harp solos, now
all I want him to do is shut up so I can hear Charlie's guitar. 

And, for that matter, where was Donnie in the sound? I'm sure that last tour
when he played a banjo you could actually hear more than two or three banjo
pings at the start of the song. Same with the pedal steel, buried under the mess
of Bob's organ. Since Bob seems to (or seemed to on Saturday) use the keyboard
mainly for dynamics does it have to be so godawfully loud?

On the plus side, I thought Bob made quite a good job of most of the "slower"
tunes. "Willie McTell" was fine as was "Wheels on Fire" and "Desolation Row"
(aside from most of Bob's instrumental bits which went largely nowhere). BTW,
there were 8 verses - no "Nero's Neptune". "Thin Man" was terrific.  

But there was so much of the show that Bob just seemed to be going through the
motions. "Highway 61" was the single most boring performance of that song I've
ever heard - what happened to the arrangement? It just plodded with no spark at
all. I don't think Bob wanted to sing it. And is there any excuse for playing
both "Summer Days" and "Thunder on the Mountain" in the same show? Either one
used to be quite fun but they both seemed lacklustre on Saturday. When
"Tweedledum" is the best of the uptempo tunes you know there's something

"Cold Iron's Bound" was weird - this was a new arrangement - stripped of most of
it's power. "Tangled" featured the first two and last two verses. I like the
arrangement but what's the point? Next thing he'll start playing medleys.
"Spirit on the Water" was ruined by Bob's jaunty carnival organ which stomped
over everything else. "Beyond Her Lies Nothing" is a pretty nothing song and
certainly came across that way. I thought Donnie played trumpet on this - it
would have helped.

And the encores? "Rolling Stone" seemed perfunctory and god knows what happened
to "Watchtower". You can't say Bob's playing the Hendrix version anymore. He
doesn't really seem to be playing any version. I've heard second rate pub bands
pull out more coherent readings. "Forever Young" was pleasant.

And about half way through the show I started thinking "I'm not sure I can be
bothered to do this again." Bob used to move me to tears, astound me, frustrate
me, thrill me. For the last couple of tours it's been a matter of waiting for
those few transcendent songs. "Visions of Johanna" at the Civic in Auckland in
2007. Now it's a matter of looking for moments, a brief flash of something
somewhere in some song. Is that enough? I start to wonder if anything Bob is
going to do live now will stand up alongside memories I have of him from the
past. It was lovely to Hear "Blind Willie McTell" and "Tom Thumb" but, aside
from the power of actually hearing them in person, I couldn't get over the
thought that I've heard them before and better.

Dunno. I've started thinking about things that have not concerned me before.
Like - even if you know every lyric of every song (like us) Bob is barely
intelligible when you hear the songs live. That's just silly. I know this is the
complaint of Bob dilettantes but I'm beginning to get on board with it. Perhaps
it was just the technical sound but what's the point? How can you be moved by a
lyric when the only way you can understand it is from memory? 

Dunno. I'm just ranting here. But something deeply pissed me off about the show,
and it's probably the last time Bob'll come here (never say never, I know). Of
course it was always going to be "just another Bob show", but this time I kept
thinking: "Is that all there is?"

Derek Jacombs


Review by Marc Dombroski

I was very happy with my view from the 5th  front row and stage right. Loved the
footlights creating huge shadows of Dylan and the band members on the backdrop;
an artistic substitute for video screens and cameras up your nose.

My friend Janek and I stood with the excited crowd of similar aged people
and a healthy sprinkling of younger fans for the entire night. Don't know
why they have seats on the floor of the arena as no one uses them. 

I did not notice any change in his enthusiasm, musical talent, singing or
professionalism since he was here last in 2007.

The band was driven by Dylan more than I remember but then I have not seen
him sing solo with only his harp before (on 6 songs). It makes a huge
difference for more variety, and communication with the band and audience.
The rest of the time he shuffles from keyboards(ice hockey arena tone) to
electric guitar(prime numbers pickin' style) in his unique leg gyrating

I enjoyed hearing 4 songs I have never heard live before: Gonna Change My
Way of Thinking ( a very strong opener), Blind Willie McTell, This Wheel's
on Fire and Beyond Here Lies Nothing(all favourites of mine). The new
version Of Tangled worked well while Desolation Row and Watchtower were
revised in a less than successful new guise to these ears. Ballad of a Thin Man
was totally brilliant and was another strong performance that worked well.

The highlight for me was finishing the night with Forever Young. I couldn't have
wished for more really.

Somehow I don't think this will be the last time we get to see him though I do
wonder how he can keep up the intensity of his performing. Next time I would be
perfectly happy if he just prowled the stage with mic and harp in hand and let
the band have more free rein to contribute. Until then I'm happy to appreciative
whatever Dylan cares to share with us.

Marc Dombroski
New Zealand


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