Arena du Pays d'Aix
June 27, 2023
Comment by Bill Pagel
Today Bob Dylan will be playing in Provence, home to his acclaimed
'Rail Car’ Ironwork sculpture Château La Coste. ‘Rail Car’, his
largest sculpture to date, is an immersive, ironwork freight car
installation set on train tracks and was created in 2019 for
permanent installation at the Château’s outdoor art estate in
collaboration with Halcyon Gallery.
Review by Yvan Sallin
Bob Dylan played on two stages in Aix this Tuesday. He was
there with his band on the stage of this almost full 4,000
person Arena, a large sports hall located on the outskirts of
the city, close to the prison.
In my mind, he was also there in Châeau La Coste (thanks bill
for mentioning it), on the scene of his magnificent, imposing
and at the same time light sculpture, placed on a Roman road at
the edge of the forest, playing in front of and for the vine
plants in the setting sun listened attentively to The Foxes by
Michael Stipe (work also exhibited. He plays not only the piano,
the harmonica, but the chalumeau, the hammer, the file, for
sculpting, assembling, transforming this wagon into a work of
art and affixing his signature to this little bull sculpted and
signed with his name.
I have been seeing the artist in concert since 1981. I met him
in Aix for the 32nd time. I saw it in Paris in October 2022 at
the Rex. I'm sitting there in my place in front of the mixing
desk. The room goes dark, the group is in a semi-circle, around
the poet, as usual during the tour, of course, but I hadn't
aid attention to it during the other concert. I feel a strong
emotion. Aware that each new concert may be the last.
And this tour, and the album and the concert despite the size
of the room is magnificent. Bob is there, despite the lack of
intimacy, present, varying the emotions in his interpretations.
He speaks to me, he speaks to us, he tells us personally his
stories as if it were the first and the last concert of the
Never ending tour, as if perhaps we will not see each other
again. I have the impression that he is next to me talking to
me about life, music, creation. I feel the same when reading
his Chronicles or his latest philosophical work.
I was there very present throughout the concert, attentive to
what was being said and what was being played. Concentration
on the essential, the text, the subtle, renewed interpretation
of the setlist and by the "merci" and the "thank you".
And the 14th piece. I was hoping for Trucking cover like in
Japan. I even considered offering "Please Mr Dylan, play
Trucking". Fortunately, I am silent. It begins. I make out the
word “highway” in the chorus. The lightness of the piece, the
atmosphere make me think of the Grateful Dead. “The Grateful
Dead is a dance orchestra,” he remarks in his latest work. I
feel a joy on the stage. I don't recognize the song. I console
myself by rejoicing to discover the setlist on the site. And
it was definitely a track from The Grateful of the Dead.
West LA fadeaway.
And the concert ends after an intervention by Harp and
greetings from the group Bob there in front of us, in front
The stage goes out and the room comes back on too quickly.
On the "Rail car", there remains the song of birds, the smell
of the forest, the grapes nourished by this new concert with
sensitive and new interpretations of a masterful work renewed
from time to time on all the stages of the world.
Review by Laurette Maillet
Aix-en-Provence June 27th.
The city of Paul Cézanne ( one of the favorite painters of Bob
Dylan...for what I know).
And where his " Trail car " is exhibited somewhere North
Château La Coste.
For me that will be 'training' from Carcassonne to
Aix-en-Provence via Marseille. A nice trip with other Bobcats.
I check in my AirBandB and take Irene to her BB.
Then join Svein for a bus ride to the Arena.
8 km away from town.
In the middle of.... nowhere.
A large space ship ready to take of to the moon. But absolutely
nothing else. Fields with cows.
Luckily I bump into Fans I know to chat a while and rapidly
find a ticket. And ... walk inside more than one hour before
I chat again with fans (my good friends from Sydney) and
finally take my seat
; row 15 on the floor. Not too bad but
it's an arena truly ugly. All black inside ??. Huge ; 7000
seats. They closed some sections. To tell you the truth...I
was in a negative mood. I didn't believe there would be so
many folks.(ready to space to the moon).
But what do I know? A Bob Dylan show is always surprising!
So tonight they start at 8.33pm for unknown reason. Show was
programmed at 8.30 pm.
The sound is loud. 'Watching the river flow' correctly done.
Bob is in a a good mood! Didn't mind the fields and the cows!
Or is it his red shirt matching the curtains?
The audience is polite (a lot more than Carcassonne).
Respectful and reacting with emotion.
Bob will say a shy "merci" after 'Masterpiece' ( I believe).
But no 'Baby ce soir' though this song brings the most
enthusiasm from the public. Another reaction on "you may be
an embassador to England or France' ( yeah! Yeah! Yeah!).
Then Bob says "I will present my Band now though it's not
easy after that song but it must be done" ( or something of
that spirit). A remark about Tony Garnier. And during the
show a couple of "Thank you".
His singing with energy, even screaming at some point.
A slight mistake on the lyrics of "Key west" and again on
"Every grain of sand" where he will blow some harp.
But the most unexpected is the 14th song.
I was betting on " tweedle Dee and tweedle dum".
But they start a swinging Rock-and-roll. Obviously a Greatful
Dead song. I don't know the song but recognize the style.
'West L.A. fadeaway'.
The public reaction is not as wild as expected.
Dead heads might not be so numerous tonight. This is,
Aix-en-Provence, not San Francisco.
But nonetheless this is the highlight of the show.
The BAND nailed it! Fantastic!
Maybe Bob should do a Dead show.
To my astounishment that show was far better than Carcassonne.
Bob and the Band in a remarkable energy and a great audience.
Even a stage rush at the end. A longer stay for the final bow
I bump into a French Fan, Evelyn, who will give me a ride
back to downtown. And with her I finally meet Nancy from
Unfortunately I won't be able to go to 'Château La Coste'.
Unreachable by train or bus. Maybe on another trip to visit
Museums: Cezanne (et la montagne Sainte Victoire), Chagall,
Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso...loved that region.
Should be my next vacation time after the BD Tour.
So ... Thanks to all good people!
See you next in Lyon!
Wear a Tie Dye shirt.
Review by Sergi Fabregat Mata
I'm a bit on the run trying to get this written before the Lyon
show ends, just before Bob plays another spot #14 surprise and
everyone moves on from this last show as of now, on the
beautiful Provence country, near the extremely cezannesque city
of Aix (not just because of him but because of how much his
paintings are born from the light, architecture and colours of
Aix) and a bit more than far a walk from the city itself,
literally in the middle of nowhere, in a truly lost land, in a
venue close to a McDonald's and resembling a huge spacecraft.
Here we are, after the mysteries of Carcassonne, less than 24
hours later, in a cold, impersonal arena, I get to my first
front row since Valencia 2019, the night I saw Bob throwing
kisses at the audience and the night I met other bobcats for
the first time. A pandemic, a new amazing record, more shows
than I could have ever dreamed of, after almost three weeks of
highs and lows, eastbound and westbound, boyfriend and myself
get to the front row and at our left, across the aisle, there's
Sue and at our right we are next to Viktor123 and gibsona07.
After so many shows going alone, that hits different, and being
so close to the stage surrounded by many mind-alike people
feels like a shelter, at least to me. With Bob is always very
personal between the songs and your most inner self, but the
rumblin' in the sky is there when you know you are not out
there on your own.
Canada, Ecuador, Catalonia, Sweden and Scotland (also the US,
France, Germany, many more of course) all lined up to greet
the Minnesota ambassador, who enters the place like a tired
boxer, firm slow steps, head down, looking for the piano bench,
like if he would rather be anywhere else more than in front of
us, yet he can't help it. Like it happens to me often, Bob is
both my greatest pleasure and my greatest headache. And he
starts playing, and from the front row he's literally invisible.
I concentrate on the band, also so amazingly close: Pentecost
doesn't look at Bob that often, he seems to know precisely
where to step, while Lancio, Garnier (to my big surprise) and
Herron have his eyes glued to Bob's hands moving through the
keys, the first notes starting to fall, and Britt just seems
on his own, pretty serious and surely concentrated. From the
get-go, Bob's voice, the only trace that those closer to him
have of the man, is crystal clear, perfectly audible, and for
a moment I kind of wish that he could remain seated. That Bob
without Bob could be a way to just concentrate on his voice
and the music, as sometimes I do when I'm home and listen to
bootlegs, finding myself more emotionally embroided than when
I'm physically there, not having to worry about seeing his
face, or if he hides, or if he stands or not. Just knowing,
like with the gone, that he's there, not that far a walk.
First two songs fantastically enjoyable, the way in which Bob
sings the last "your waaaay... And I'll go mine" is amazingly
young, like if that 82yo man was not that far from the 60s
smart guy. Then he stands up, and I'll forever remember that
moment, as if he was emerging from the pitch black darkness of
the piano, and that face expression that sums up everything you
could think of, giocondesque half-grin, half-grimace,
impossible to decipher yet so relatable, that face we all would
have the boldness to put on when things are too much but
instead we perform. Because Bob Dylan, when you look at him
with your sightless eye, you realize is not performing per se,
you could say he is transforming or morphing or forming, but
not performing, as the authenticity so many have praised is
displayed in a very stark way, not so lightful or natural as
radically naked. As with wild landscapes and uncomfortable
nudes, that expression contains what you are now thinking of,
as if a Picasso painting was unfolding with its many sides in
front of your eyes.
So, trying to focus on the music while the history of the whole
human race is right there is not an easy, pleasant task, yet in
the end the guy is just a man, playing songs with an amazingly
greased band, so I try my best to let myself loose while
enjoying the sight, because Bob, when on stage, travels at the
speed of light, and plays and sings the songs with his whole
body and specially his face, raising the eyes, showing that
sarcastic regard, sometimes doubting how to inflect the words,
and finally delivering what only 60 years of hard working
intuition could convey. 'False Prophet', seen on the flesh of
the moment, thunders true and deceiving, with those misleading
enchanting lines of walks in the garden that could end up with
you in a ditch or the perils of self-proclaimed equality (he
spoke the word! "You rule the land, BUT so do I..."), paradises
of torture and foolish things. Really, how he sang "Open your
mouth, I'll stuff it with gold", you could feel it running
down your throat.
By 'When I Paint My Masterpiece' I'm more or less calmed about
having Bob so close while at the same time I refuse to normalize
it, I want to be pumped and thrilled, I want to pay attention to
those nuances that only close observation can provide, and that
first harp solo on 'When I Paint My Masterpiece' speeds up the
train wheels of my memory, it's like I'm seeing something I
could never have seen: Bob Dylan playing harmonica is something
belonging specifically to a time long before me being born, and
yet here we are, both of us, during a song that plays about the
perception of life passing and goals being achieved, and it's
like the spin I'm in is impossible, is onthologically
impossible. Bob Dylan can't be playing harp in 2023, yet he is,
and in that incredible paradox we are all moved, because he
somehow bends time and toys with the dangers of iconography
and myth like no one else does. We cheer because time flies
and he's still standing, but also because we acknowledge the
power of present, the strike of lightning, the irreplaceable
miracle that we are there, enjoying that 2 hours of time
I'm glad to know later that Viktor is hearing the new version
of 'My Own Version of You' for the first time, and I think that
Bob does something really special on that one, as I sense all
of us like in a kind of trance, funnily even more than any
other time I've seen the song performed in its more album-like
tempo, outright mysterious and dark. Speeding things up,
desacrating the elevated thoughts, is what makes the new
version so, so incredibly good and special. Because, suddenly,
the song is not single-minded, suddenly it speaks the Holy
Trinity of languages of Leon Russell, Liberace (who I like to
cheer just for the sake of it and his frivolity) and Saint
John the Apostle; like the Holy Trinity, it is both one and
three at the same time, and then the title acquires perfect
meaning: my own version of you. I point at Bob a couple of
times when he sings the "you", as in the end each show for me
is in a way an own version of him, but of myself too, so the
way in which he turns his phrasing into strikes of lightning,
so incredibly merged with the music, at the end of the song
is mindblowing. "Turn back the years", what the f*** was that.
A couple of songs later, it comes the most amazing moment of
the night and maybe the craziest one since I've been following
Bob. Down a beautiful version of 'To Be Alone With You', with
Donnie shining beautifully with his violin and both Bobs
following each other during the instrumental break, the last
verse starts: "I'm collecting my thoughts in a pattern...". If
bootleg, fingers crossed, surfaces, you'll hear how amazingly
Bob nails the delivery of that start, crushing the instrumental
part with his bare teeth like if he had absorbed the music and
now he's just recomposing it. "What happened to me darling,
what was it you saw..." he continues, and a bit later, "well,
my heart's in my mouth", then he stops, turns his head a bit
to his right, to the point that he blocks a bit the little side
light next to the piano and his entire face expression is more
outlined, and as I'm almost sure that he's looking directly to
me, he sings "my eyes are still blue", then he turns his head
again to his left, the light on him getting back to 'normal',
and finishes the song, and I still get goosebumps remembering
that moment. Being quite lively for the previous songs, could
Bob Dylan have looked into my eyes just to state what colour
are his? I'm sure of one thing: his eyes are still blue, as
while he sang the line, I saw them like a shooting star.
Seeing Bob performing 'Key West' from so close was an
incredibly special thing, as you could clearly see how much
personally he takes the epic duration of the song, almost as
if he retreats to a monastery behind the piano to pray and
play, or the other way round, almost looking at no one and
just doing his thing, concentrated in maybe reconsecrating
the whirpool of lies our world is nowadays, like so many
times before. I use to follow 'Key West' as if it was a
beautiful dance, by midsong I realized I wanted to just see
Bob up there, trying to help us in vain, searching for the
radio signal, maybe looking for something in someone's eyes.
Picking up speed, 'Gotta Serve Somebody' was again the
powerhouse staple that we all need after meditation and
suffering, but witnessing that close was, wow, something else,
the precision and carburators of all the band on fire, Bob
loosing himself and letting some "ohhhhh, yeah" of his mouth,
or missing some "somebodies" along the way. The delivery of
the last verse, with me pointing stupidly at myself when he
sang "some sweet mother's son" (God, I'm so dumb), was such a
masterpiece, I'm sure he enjoyed rollicking and frollicking
with all the young dudes upfront, we surely delivered our part
in building up the energy that led us to paradise divine in
Again, wait for how Bob throws in the last verse's start in
Aix's 'I've Made Up My Mind' as its absolutely incredible, I
could see Jerry beating the s*** out of the drums while the
guitars rose, and Bob waited a fraction of a second so the
music could elevate a tiny bit more before breaking the damn
dam and telling us that his heart is like a river that sings.
His heart is the Via Romana, where his 'Rail Car' is located,
a way which lots of us will pass along our lives, on our way
to fulfill some good during this long and wasted years.
Something in my throat at the end of this one, the "thank you
Bob" coming out a bit unwittingly restrained.
What happened then? Was it planned all along or Bob pressed the
green button on the fury of the moment? I like to think our
upfront vibe gave him the last bit of confidence to go his way
with 'West LA Fadeaway'. I'm a bit proud of myself of guessing
the song on present time while it has happening, but as I said
that night, no one else in the world could make me think I'm
having a new favourite song I've never heard before. Was it the
Chateau nearby where his train is forever parked? Was it the
'youngsters' there he was trying to impress? Was it just Bob
Dylan being Bob Dylan? Who knows, but seeing him, waaaay past
bedtime, hollering "West L.A. fade away, west L.A. fade away,
Big red light on the highway, little green light on the freeway,
HAY HAY HAY!!!". Those added "hay, hay, hay", shouted, laughed,
scorned, coming from the dawn of his own life, from the damn
iron north he comes from, that was the kind of thing it kept
you dreaming of being one day half as cool and witted as him.
That's what Bob is all about, that intuition of how the world
and the human soul works, unshyingly thrown at your face for
you to make out of it whatever you want. In this case, be happy.
No wonder he started 'Mother of Muses' cracking up a laugh or
two, he should have thought those crazy kids were a little too
excited. But again mister, you are the doggone Bob Dylan, what
more can I say? Seeing him from there, after so much happened
since the last time I met him that close, felt more soothing
yet more unreal each minute it passed. These last shows, the
last three songs tend to found me in an state of profound
connection both to the songs and within myself, but in Aix I
feel also connected with the man, with the people, with the
world for a while. 'Goodbye Jimmy Reed' features Bob swaying
sideways while at the piano, that nodding thing he does where
he's looking down, so deep inside, away from us, going on in
his quest all along the lost land, rattling jewels and crowns,
I feel specially the line "I need you like my head needs a
noose". And again the last lines' delivery is nuts, he doesn't
hold back a bit, how he just let out "Virginia!", like if he
was there, crossing the gates of Eden, long before the first
Ironically, 'Every Grain of Sand' is such a comunicative moment,
again I dare to lose all respect for the guy and try to let him
know how that song talks to me, how much, if he feels all that
he sings, that is the way that I feel to, the sun shining on me
while I beat down every step of the way, most of the time
trembling on each stumblin' block. "I've gone from rags to
riches", he and I sing all the same, and on a night like this,
I just feel that way, like as if every hair is numbered, I just
got my lucky one.
He grabs the harp, I see it shining between his fingers, he
blews it and blews it and puffs and puffs, and it blows you
away, just that vision, I lay back a bit and a tear comes out
my eye, almost too shy to cry. How many times must a man look
Bob gets out of the piano, to his right, and comes a bit closer,
and I run up the closest I can, happily quite some of us do it,
and we start cheering him, clapping and thanking him. Now I can
say he looked me in the eye a couple of times, then he did some
hand movement, smiled a bit, a tiny bow, and when the lights
went down, all that was left was these words and the silence
As we were coming home the day after the show at night from
Marseille airport, just half an hour by bus from Aix, the plan
was to visit some Cezanne related places and, of course, do
everything in our hands to go see Bob’s ‘Rail Car’ in Chateau
La Coste. I’m happy to say that what followed one of the best
couple of hours of my life (that is, the Aix show) was also
one of the best days of my life, that will only get better in
retrospect. In the morning we got a visit to Cezanne’s atelier,
a magical place that is basically a big room upstairs a little
house at the outskirts of town, but full of objects that
belonged to Cezanne, counting three skulls that he painted
during his later years, several jars with which he
revolutionized art, and of course that table and chairs on
which he placed apples and drapes that astonished the world.
I took one picture that, looking now at it, does seem a bit
like a Cezanne painting, and I just love it, sitting there
looking at the table, white drape and apples while the guide
explained some bits about Cezanne’s life and art. After that,
we walked to the Terrain des Peintres, a little hill in the
highest part of Aix from where Cezanne painted the greatest
love of his life: the Sainte-Victoire mountain, an hypnotic
mass that is just 1000 meters high but that truly dominates
all the surroundings with a very particular form. Also,
looking and taking photos of it, I got why Cezanne sometimes
painted the mountain blue, as depending on how the sun shone,
the mountain does look blue, so Cezanne was, in his one way
and as always ahead of his time, tangled up in blue. A couple
of alsatian directors, Jean-Marie Straub and Danielle Huillet,
which I like very much, were also admirers of Cezanne, and for
a documentary they did in 1989, the year I was born, they did
some incredible panoramic shots that just sooth through the
mountain, eastbound and westbound, and it moved me a lot to be
seeing that, as such incredible artists did before.
We ubered easily to Chateau La Coste from there for the last
stop of our trip, the still ‘Rail Car’. I already knew what was
in Chateau La Coste, but I was heavily impressed with the
extension of the place and also the quality of most of the
artworks. The staff at the entrance gave us a map of the place
and a dossier explaining the artworks displayed. In essence,
it is an open air, contemporary art museum among beautiful
vineyards, and it is frankly spectacular. We took our time to
follow the path up to Bob’s train, enjoying the art on the way
and, going up a dirt road, in the middle of a turn, Mangala,
Sue and Tim appear coming down. I don’t lie if I say it was
such a beautiful moment, so funny, like it was la Romería to
see La Virgen del Rocío, half dylanverse in Provence looking
for the train, outcast avengers born on the other side of the
railroad tracks. OMG, as I say, such a beautiful and funny
moment! They gave us the energy to pursue our search and, after
a while, we saw Bob’s ‘Rail Car’ at the end of a real Roman way
and to the vineyards at its right. As if we had found Troy back
in the day, I screamed to my boyfriend “it’s there!”. As we
approached, we saw quite some people in the car and we
preferred to come back a while later as we wanted to enjoy it
a bit quietly at first.
So we came back like 15-20 minutes later and a couple was there
too. We entered the artwork and what first impressed me was,
firstly, how big it was yet, secondly, how light it felt. It’s
a real scale rail car made of lots of metal pieces coming from
all across the US (if you look closer you can see many pieces
from states like Illinois, Colorado, Connecticut, New York,
Iowa…), but they are ensemble so gratefully that the thing
looks ethereal despite its undeniable heaviness, both literal
and metaphorical, with those fences, wheels, pipes, tubes,
tools and other metallic pieces.
We took some pictures and I heard the husband saying to his
wife that he was getting out a bit so “these guys can take some
pictures”. I noticed the American accent so I asked him where
they were from, and he told me “Minnesota”, which of course was
quite something. I didn’t dare to ask if from Duluth, but his
eyes were also blue. We talked a bit more, they had been to the
Barcelona shows and were going to both Lyon shows too, and I
said that we were from Barcelona. After telling me that they
had been to 350ish shows, I was free to say that I had been to
73 without fear of crazy looks, and then he asked me if I was
on “Expectingrain”. And then, inside Bob Dylan’s ‘Rail Car’ I
was asked if I was “Bobcelona”. Man, that felt so funny, I
literally answered “yes” half-laughing; now I can say that I’ve
been kinda recognized inside Bob Dylan’s train! Thank you both
for your kindness, I honestly can’t wait to go to see Bob in
Minnesota and meet you there! What were the chances of that
happening? I mean, that was so unforgettable… We spent a bit
more time in the ‘Rail Car’, just admiring the details,
enjoying the sunlight and the wind, me spinning all the wheels
that could be spinned, goofing a bit and well, always looking
ahead, like all things do.
We continued visiting Chateau La Coste and, coming down the
‘Rail Car’, out of the wild in a little forest zone, we
encountered Angus, Viktor and Elizabeth, it was just the
cherry on top of that day! By the way, you were nicely clothed,
kudos for that! A pleasure to have lived these days along these
great people, I really hope to see you all on many shows to
come. We ended our art stroll and after having a look into the
book showing a bit the process of making ‘Rail Car’, I opted to
not buy it as its price was a bit outrageous 65€. Well, time to
patch our bones and head home, at least for some days, and
ubering out was not as easy as ubering in, apparently. The
staff could not guarantee that a regular taxi would cost us
50€ or more, so we opted the rough and rowdy way: walking down
the road to Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade, the closest town to the
domain, and then a bus back to Aix. To be honest, while some
people go there even on a helicopter, I loved having to climb
a bit the mountain of swords on my bare feet to get out of
such a beautiful place and back into the political world,
overlooking the Provence landscapes, on the road again…
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