June 30, 2013
Review by Francis King
Bob Dylan turned out an enjoyable performance in Nashville on Sunday night.
It was not the best of the 53 Dylan concerts I've seen since 1974, but it was
a solid B, maybe a low B+. The band was stellar. Dylan was very much
engaged with his performance.
Now, before turning to specifics about this particular show, some preliminary
I've read a few reviews lately that complain about the "deterioration" in
Bob's voice... one going so far as to suggest that it is "fraudulent" for him to
continue touring. Really?
Dylan isn't misrepresenting anything. Everybody knows his voice has aged to
the point where there's no real range left. Well, get over it. Folks have
complained about Dylan's voice (or, more accurately, voices) since 1962. If
you think he sounds like an old codger now, well, give a listen to the
original "Blowin' in the Wind."
Frankly, I think his voice in 2013 sounds pretty much the same as it has since
about 2009, if not earlier. That being said, the appreciation of Dylan's approach
to singing is an acquired taste; always has been. Some do. Some don't. I
always have. Still do. What he does with his voice (even what's left of it) is
uniquely entertaining. There's never been anyone else like him, and never will
be. (Who else could make "bottom" rhyme with "autumn," for example. See
"Idiot Wind.") Nobody else does anything remotely like this. (No, I don't
subscribe to the Tom Waits comparisons.)
There's a Joni Mitchell interview on You Tube, in which she says, "Bob's
invented a character to deliver his songs." While the remark comes off, initially,
as not intended to be flattering, she then adds, invoking a pretty passable
Dylan impersonation, "Sometimes, I wish I had that character myself." Exactly.
That character is what makes Dylan so special (well, one of the things that
O.K. Sunday night's show.
1. "Things Have Changed." Basically, the same version he's been doing the past
couple of years. Different from the original, but just as good. The band was
wonderful on this one. Great rhythmic interplay between Stu Kimball's insistent
acoustic guitar, Tony Garnier's bass and George Recile's drums. Not quite as
compelling as last year, when Mark Knopfler's lead was magnificent beyond
anything anyone else could hope to do. (Sorry, Duke.)
2. "Lovesick." This was an excellent rendition, essentially true to the original,
but played better. (This is one song that Dylan has not tinkered with much
over the years.) Bob's vocals on this were clear and strong. On this and other
numbers, his enunciation was quite clear and easily intelligible. No mumbling, as
has sometimes been a problem in the past. The clarity and authoritativeness of
his delivery compensated for the limited melodic range of his voice. Nice
interplay between Dylan's harmonica (albeit, a little shrill at times) and Robillard's
3. "High Water (for Charley Patton)." Another strong rendition. Fine banjo
playing by Donnie Herron, who could actually be heard (in contrast to some
tours, when he was pretty much lost in the mix). Again, pretty true to the
original. Dylan, center stage (as with the first two numbers). Fully engaged
with the song (if not the audience, to whom he spoke not a word all night.
Not even to introduce the band. Well, if you want banter with the audience,
Bruce is a better bet.)
4. "Soon After Midnight." The first of three offerings from 2012's "Tempest."
True to the recorded version. Nicely done. (I have yet to figure out what this
song is about.)
5. "Early Roman Kings." The second one from "Tempest." Excellent performance.
Band shined. Fine interplay between Robillard's lead and Dylan's grand piano.
Best vocal performance of the night by Dylan. Powerful.
6. "Tangled Up in Blue." Yet another new arrangement of this classic, which
he's now done at least 10 different ways over the years. This one had a great
bluesy instrumental in the middle, Duke offering a great lead. For some reason,
Bob left out a couple of verses. Interesting, subtle melodic change in the
opening line of each verse; well executed vocally by the supposedly "voiceless"
Dylan. A high point … but, not as good as last year's version with Knopfler.
7. "Duquesne Whistle." A so-so rendition. Sounded muddled. Not up to the
original on "Tempest."
8. "She Belongs to Me." One of the things that keeps me coming back every
year is the inclusion in Bob's sets of at least a song or two that he hasn't done
in a long time. I don't remember hearing this one since, well, I don't k now
when. Not in the 21st Century at any rate. I liked the arrangement a lot.
Could have done without the unimpressive harmonica playing on this one. (I
always thought the sub-title to this tune should be, "She Belongs to Nobody.")
9. "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'." A good switch for Bob on this one to the piano
from the last few times out, when he tried to play it on the electric guitar. I
can put up with his late career vocal limitations, but the tendonitis (or whatever
it is) that has caused him to be so sparing about attempting the guitar the past
10 years ultimately rendered his guitar playing pretty awful. ( A real shame, as
he was once a better than passable guitarist, especially on the acoustic.)
Nothing to complain about re this performance. Another good interplay of
harmonica and lead guitar. The best live version I've seen of one of my least
favorite Dylan songs of this century.
10. "A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall." This was lovingly performed some 50 years
after it was written. The arrangement built up gradually in tempo and dynamics
as the song progressed, reaching an effective, anthem-like crescendo by the
final verse. Liked this one a lot. Again, Dylan was very engaged with the song.
11. "Blind Willie McTell." This is a great song, and it's nice to see it trotted
back out after a long absence. Excellent arrangement.
12. "Simple Twist of Fate." Definitely a high point. Haven't heard him do this
in a long time. It was different, but very recognizable. Good arrangement. His
best harmonica playing of the night.
13. "Summer Days." Very well done. Perhaps, consistent with his getting older,
Bob's current version of this is jazzier and not as intensely rocked out as the ones
from the early part of this century, when the lead guitars soared. I liked those
better, but this was a solid rendition in its own right. More of a nightclub sound
than an arena.
14. "All Along The Watchtower." Every tour, Dylan and his band change this
one up just a bit. Subtle, but discernibly different, which keeps it fresh. No
exception this time out. As always, a high point.
15. "Blowin' in the Wind." I was disappointed because I was expecting "Ballad
of A Thin Man." But, what the heck. This was fun, albeit not my favorite
version of the song. Having the McCrary sisters join on stage was a classy
touch, but they could hardly be heard.
First time I can recall a Dylan concert without at least one song from "Highway
61 Revisited" and "Blonde on Blonde." But, some unexpected gems (e.g.,
nos. 8, 11 and 12) made for a refreshingly different set list (as did the elimination
of some songs, e.g., "Thunder on The Mountain" and "Like A Rolling Stone,"
which had become too predictable in recent years).
You never know what Dylan's going to do on any given tour. That's what
keeps it interesting for me, and why I keep going back. If you want it to
sound just like the record, well, stay home and listen to the record.
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