Cardiff, Wales

Motorpoint Arena

May 3, 2017

[Jeremy Stone], [Bill Ferguson]

Review by Jeremy Stone

Sometime in the late 1950s, a young Bob Zimmerman dreamed of becoming a
rock and roll star like Little Richard. He formed primitive bands which
wailed their way through what were probably a bare handful of garage jams
and significantly fewer actual live performances. One of those gigs was a
brief appearance of the Golden Chords at Hibbing High School, where the
plug was quickly pulled on their racket after Bobby had ruined the pedals
and damaged the keys on the school piano. Well, that's how the story goes:
it's quite possibly all true. A short while later, the ever ambitious
young chap manged to talk his way into a very brief stint as Bobby Vee's
piano player where he appeared under the name of Elston Gunnn (yes, three
n's in Gunnn) Big time, Bob, big time. Needless to say, it didn't last and
Mr. Zimmerman went on to reinvent himself as the saviour of folk protest;
a gig which he stuck at for a couple of years. I was thinking about all
this as I watched Bob Dylan and his superb band return to Cardiff last

At precisely 7.30 pm, Bob and the boys trouped onto the stage at the
Motorpoint Arena to enthusiastic applause from the audience who, these
days, are provided with seats from which to witness their hero in all his
odd pomp. All very civilized but I do miss the old hours of queuing and
the rush to get as close to the front as possible. Still, at the age most
of us are now, thank heavens for small mercies and the chance to maintain
at least some dignity. My own vantage point pleased me more than I'd
feared, being in a block on one of the rising sides, not too far back,
with a very clear view of the man himself.

First up was 'Things Have Changed', which was played at quite a gallop
and, ironically, has been the opener for at least a couple of years now.
Immediately, it was clear that Bob is in very good voice indeed. Of late,
he has grown more and more into his catarrhal growl, which he employs as
an extension of his regular gruffness, contrasting with some recently
rediscovered lighter vocal tones. Throughout the whole concert Bob's voice
was undoubtedly the best I've ever heard it in live performance and
arguably the best its been in all the years of the Never Ending Tour.
There was little strain and much expressiveness, which often added layers
to already multifaceted songs. To go through the entire set-list would be
laborious but I'll mention my own highlights of a night that was mainly
focused on material from recent years with a reasonable sprinkling of the
Standards from the last three covers albums. Having said that, things
really started to swing with a roaring 'Highway 61 Revisited' which Dylan
sang whilst standing with legs wide at his mini-grand piano. With his
playing high in the mix I could see young Elston Gunn having a fine old
time as he hit those keys with, perhaps, slightly more aplomb than he did
back at school. There was a brilliant moment in 'Spirit on the Water'
where he may have imagined he was channeling Thelonious Monk when it
turned out to be the spirit of Les Dawson had shown up instead but when
you walk a 'razors edge' this is going to happen from time to time.

There were also wonderful renderings of 'Tangled Up In Blue', 'Pay In
Blood' and a take of 'Early Roman Kings' that sounded like Muddy Waters
and his band had just popped in from Chicago; much harder and blood-filled
than the album version. Of his own songs, 'Love Sick' and a surprisingly
jaunty 'Desolation Row' really hit the mark. Now, for me, the tunes from
the Great American Songbook, though splendidly performed, are starting to
out-stay their welcome. My favourites were 'I Could Have Told You' from
early in the set and the closing 'Autumn Leaves', which always sounds
truly heartbreaking but I could have lived without the test and 'That Old
Black Magic', whilst expertly played by the band, almost sounds like a
joke. The regularly punctuation of these tunes in the set, whilst possibly
adding some contrast, sometimes, for my ears, punctured an increasing
emotional build up that only Dylan's own songs can maintain. Still, that
said, all were sensitively performed and when Bob is striking poses centre
stage, I'll forgive him anything. An encore of 'Blowin' In The Wind',
nicely performed but I can think of at least a hundred other tunes I'd
rather hear, and a storming 'Ballad of a Thin Man', with Bob once again
legs akimbo at the keys, saw the evening close all too soon.

At the grand age of nigh-on 76, it's hard to imagine that this show can
last for very much longer and, thus, I found myself with a little lump in
my throat as dapper Dylan, in full riverboat gambler threads, left the
stage after a brief 'line-up' at the end. No, of course, he never spoke to
us or hardly acknowledged our presence but those who complain seem to
confuse Dylan the artist with an all-round entertainer. This is what he
does, take or leave it. Foe me, it's more than enough. I think Elston
Gunnn would be happy too.

Jeremy Stone


Review by Bill Ferguson

Things have changed?

We've now got back home after our usual trip to spend a night with Bob
whenever he comes over to the UK. My wife always says that she comes with
me mainly because she likes to see me happy and enjoying myself. These are
amongst the emotions that Bob has provoked in me over the almost 51 years
since my first live Dylan experience at the Glasgow Odeon. Last night was
a good night, we left with more good memories of what music and words can 
do. What has changed? Well, firstly what hasn't, Bob played what now seems 
to be pretty much his usual set on this tour last night in Cardiff. There
were four songs he played in Glasgow all those years ago,two in his
'folksinger' mode and two from the infamous second half of that tour with
The Band. It was nice to hear To Ramona again as well. What also hasn't
changed is the willingness to challenge an audience. What would the people
who walked out on the Folkie gone electric have thought of That Old Black
Magic? If he wants to play it, I'm willing to, at least, listen.
In those days, all the songs were played pretty straight as on the
recordings. The man who revolutionised popular music still hadn't started
playing around with his own work. Interestingly, the American songbook
stuff was treated pretty straight with as near as we're ever going to get
to a singing voice from Dylan. He clearly takes these songs seriously and
approaches them with commitment.
Any Dylan concert that offers Desolation Row and Highway 61 has a flying
start for me but the version of Tangled up in Blue was, we both thought,
memorable. Less so, maybe, Ballad of a Thin Man which was lighter on
menace than I would have liked. Whether due to the few days rest since
London or Welsh air but I thought he came across as fresher and more
outgoing than the last time we'd seen him. The band were even better than
usual, tight and strong.

Thanks, Bob, here's to the next time


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