July 5, 2007
Review by T. Heyerdahl
O.K., so you look at the setlist and see that there were less than 16
songs last night, and you would be tempted to say that it was a poor
show, or that Bob held back in Ottawa on a beautiful July night for a
large crowd at bluesfest. You would be wrong on both counts. What an
incredible show! I had to talk to more than twenty people to find one
who felt it was a bad show, (you know his argument, "you can't
understand what Bob's saying", he's changed the tunes, why is Bob so
antisocial, yada, yada, yada....") but he was an embittered, cynical
old fossil of a security guard to whom I recommended that he should
have phoned in sick, stayed at home, and listened to a stack of bob's
The evening started poorly. I arrived in the gold circle section ($60
more than the "holy unwashed section") four hours early, about 5ish.
To my horror, I realised that I would have been closer to Bob, if I
jumped that $60 dollar barrier and "copped a squat" on the lawn rather
than sitting on my "early bird" plastic chair in row 24 with access to
beer and a porta-pee. What made this initial discontent worse was my
realisation that anyone I spoke to in the gold circle crowd, had never
been to a Dylan concert before, or had been to just one, and weren't
that thrilled with the experience and really didn't want to talk about
Bob (or get this, had in the past turned down Dylan tickets to see
Elton John!!!), but in the "wholey unwashed" section there were
enthusiastic, talkative people like me who either had seen Bob ten
times, or more like 28. Props to the guy in the fedora-like hat from
Nova Scotia who was seeing his fourth show of the tour with his wife!
Also kudos go to the lady calling into CHEZ radio after the concert
who was on her 60th concert! These people liked my worn-out shirt from
the 1990's concert (GE smith) ... the concert where Bob got his stolen
guitar back. They were also impressed when I told them that that
first concert was attended by myself alone on my honeymoon...and yes,
we're still married. I was clearly on the wrong side of the fence!
As I was saying to the two guys with whom I waited for the masses to
clear following the show, as good as the show was, I really don't know
what to say about each song, and the opener RDW ("Every one must get
stoned") is a good case in point. It was a standard rendition,
delivered with strength and confidence (always a good sign for a 1st
song), but I'm tempted to say, "nothing special". "Don't think twice"
was much enjoyed by the crowd, and is one of my favourites of all
time, and had "a little extra" in it, but again, it seemed to me like
he wasn't taking any risks with it and denied us the opportunity of
something absolutely brilliant (I admit, it's what I go to concerts to
see). I had been standing next to "the real Bob fans" near the front
row of "the old rich and privileged people", hanging back from the
front because security (in true Ottawa fashion) were being extremely
diligent with sending us "golden people" back to our seats, creating
an empty void of more than 20 feet in front of the stage, and like
true aging golden sheep, all except 5 people were complying. Why do I
mention this? Well, during a strong "Watching the River Flow", I was
beset by 2 security dudes at once, in my face trying to get me to
return to my seat. By the onset of an excellent "It's alright ma" with
a particularly ripping beat... the guy in the blue shirt with the hat,
and a couple more security dudes were asking to see my ticket (which I
had "misplaced" in my wallet). I did like what Bob was doing with
what he himself on a 60 minutes interview singled out as lyrics which
he can no longer write, but is proud of as being a real accomplishment
("darkness at the break of noon, shadows even the silver spoon, the
handmade blade, the child's balloon, eclipses both the sun and moon,
to understand you know too soon their is no sense in tryin'") ... if
Bob can't write that any more, let's see Foo Fighters (condescending
bastards ...reference their comments in the Citizen re "supporting"
Bob when they opened for him last November), or Avril (hah!) or anyone
else try that!... Well damn it! despite the long odds at this concert,
there was a sense in trying, as I explained to the poor security dudes
that I average only one concert every two years, and damn it I paid 60
bucks more than the people I was standing next to, I wasn't obscuring
anyone's view, I had arrived at the same time as the people I was
standing beside, and damn I didn't care that I had the privilege of
peeing, I wasn't going to. I admit it was great when the security guy
knelt down in front of me when I told him he was blocking my view
(twice!), especially after he had asked me to return to my seat in an
endless loop about 30 times! And here is where the whole concert
experience shifted for me, and all the golden fossils....just before
the 5th song, a very different "Girl from the North Country", the
beleaguered yellow-shirted minions of conformity and propriety
inconceivably waved all the grey plastic (chair) people forward,
encouraging us to rush the stage! And there I was... 20 feet from the
master, right up against the grey metal fence at the foot of the
stage, with "my people" (some who arrived at the break of noon) to my
right, right beside me. Well, halleluiah, there is a Bob! I could
be, and probably am self-deceived, but I think Bob played better after
Musically, and Bobically "Girl" was the pearl of the concert for me.
I feel the ascending 5 notes with the descending eighth note really
worked, and made this old gem fresh and new... possibly Bob was trying
to evoke the sounds of a fair...that's what the riff sounded like to
me, and I would love to get a copy of this so that I could hear his
counter melody again.... very special! Also, "Girl" had the first
harp (mouthharp/harmonica) solo, and a keyboard solo which were both
excellent and made up for the disappointment of seeing Bob put down
I know for certain that "Spirit" was the emotional, if not musical
high point of the night. I liked his monotone growl on "thinkin' 'bout
you baby", he's worked hard for 47 years for this voice, and damn it,
this voice works hard for him...naysayers be damned! As Bob sang
"you ought to be a fool about me", I screamed "I am, I am", -- people
are not paying attention if they are not. However, most people
were.... and here's the high point... as he sang "you think I'm over
the hill" thousands roared back "no!" and when he sang "You think I'm
past my prime" a huge chorus let out a negation "no way", and by the
time he encouraged us to show us what we had, thousands euphorically
affirmed that we were all having a "whopping good time"! I have never
in my 10 concerts felt that kind of interchange between Bob and
audience, and he clearly responded to it. One lady remarked that he
was smiling the whole night, and judging by the faces around me, so
was everyone in the crowd, fossils or fans. Oh, and then add another
harp solo. Wow.
For the first-timer I spoke to following the show (Marcus), "Masters
of War" was the high point of the evening. It definitely was up there.
I, myself liked the gunshot-like rim shots on snare, and the evocative
instrumentals following "young people's blood ...buried in the mud".
This song is relevant today, and will probably always be...
unfortunately. Dear Mr. Bush, Cheney, and to a lesser degree, Mr.
Harper, I will join Bob as you are lowered into your deathbed.
Two rational Gold Circlers I spoke to (Craig and Marcus) agreed that
Bob keyed it up a notch (was is possible?) for HWY 61, LARS, High
Water and Watchtower. This was not Bob shifting into autopilot for the
last songs, as I have thought at other concerts, this was the
proverbial icing on the cake of a very strong performance and a
memorable night. Other emotional fuzzies for me, were the young lady
on my left who had "jumped the golden circle" to be close to Bob for
her first ever Bob concert. I can only describe her expression as
"enraptured". And also, during High Water, a young lad (13 or so),
pushed in behind me, and was having the time of his life. Finally,
following the show was the "newbie" who struggled to express what was
so special about Bob live, who found the more than acceptable solution
that "there was more texture" in the live performance. I'm glad to
see the next generation of Bob fans catch the spark.
So despite a "slow start" and worries of being trapped in the
upper-middle class morass of Bob-snobs and Bob-Bourgeoisie, I managed
to experience the best of both worlds, and could not have had a more
thorough sampling of all the audience, nor been in closer proximity to
the "great one". Well done Bob! Keep on inspiring us... you are
unique, vital, and relevant.
Review by Nick
"he not busy being born is busy dying" --there were a lot of the latter at
the Ottawa show, abetted by the festival 'organizers' lack of any but the
profit motive. Bob seems to have taken fright at this mass of the living
dead, so kept it short and all too familiar. There must have been a high
point. But even "Masters of War" howled at the adjacent War Museum,
with the Peace Tower far in the distance, didn't quite make it. In a show
best forgotten, many reasons to repeat the final "none of them along the
line know what any of it is worth." But then we're not the first to get
rooked at a north country fair.
Review by Bill White
What a difference seven months makes!
Last time around here in November, the band played with a grimace in a
sterile hockey rink somewhere outside of town.
This time, twice as many people stood on a field close to the centre of
town in a fenced off space measuring about a kilometer by 80 metres beside
The War Museum, Ottawa's most recent "cultural" edifice, which looks
something like a cross between the Starship Enterprise and a squat
Montreal Olympic Stadium. The night before, Van Morrison ripped open
Bluesfest by electrifying the same place, tearing through 22 songs in 90
minutes - a staggering musical display of greatest hits and odd curios
displaying virtually every aspect of the influences in a musical career
that is almost as long, varied and storied as Bob's.
Two years ago in Buffalo with Elena Fremerman, this current band seemed to
be savouring the exploration of nuances in the repertoire - and the chance
to sink their teeth into fantastic new arrangements like It's Alright Ma.
Last November, however, it was just another damn job to get over with. On
Thursday night though, it was obvious that this band is at the top of its
game, having pretty much fully wrapped their musical talents around the
new arrangements of old songs.
Denny Freeman is right into playing the best licks of his life when the
moment arrives and it is truly a sonic wonder. Take the highlight of the
night: Masters of War. Denny got down with the song's obvious reference to
the museum of death just off to his right, and fingered riffs that were
simultaneously rife with menace and melancholy. It was simply amazing.
Only question I have is: did Bob leave out the last verse, which ends with
".stand over your grave to make sure you're dead?" Guess my hearing ain't
what it used to be.
But then again, I distinctly heard a slight lyric change in yet another
phenomenal new arrangement of It's Alright Ma: "It AIN'T he or she or
them or it that you belong to." And that new arrangement seems to borrow a
ton from "Tangled Up In Blue" but works a little better then the circa May
2005 arrangement by giving Bob a bit more space in the music to deliver
After Masters of War, the best song of the night was Like A Rolling Stone:
I've only seen Bob 13 times since '78 (which makes me a neophyte beside my
buddy Paul who's notched 50 gigs and counting), but this Bluesfest
rendition was the best version of this song that I have ever heard him
play live. Again, the key to the arrangement was more space: at one point
toward the end of this performance, the band just stops on a dime to allow
Bob to deliver the phrase, "Like a rolling stone" and in that moment,
everyone just seemed to freeze in combined astonishment and recognition,
and a great "ahhhh, yeah!" swept through the place to the effect of "this
is the song I remember best from this guy".
The other reference to the locale was Watching the River Flow, because the
Ottawa River is a scant 100 metres from the Bluesfest site. This one
rocked the crowd silly; I'd bet 90% of the crowd had never even heard this
tune before, but they loved it like crazy. This one also had a special
personal resonance for me and my friend Marsh, who drove up from Toronto
just for this one show: 10 years ago, we joined Paul Bagnell to see Bob
with Larry Campbell for the very first time at the Molson Amphitheatre in
ol' T.O. That version rocked, too, and Marsh's son Kit - seeing his
father's hero in person for the first time - was transfixed.
Last November, we were just itchin' to hear the New Material from Modern
Times and we were kinda disappointed with the results (save Nettie Moore)
- wasn't Bob's fault entirely, although his keyboard work was just
outrageous (too many attempts to out-Garth Garth Hudson), because his
enunciation was, typically since Time Out of Mind, as focused as never
before in his career.
The Bluesfest show was no exception - the man delivers those lyrics like
it's his last night on this planet - but the band was also delivering the
goods straight up and especially for the Modern Times tracks. In addition,
Honest With Me is stripped of the high-pitched slide guitar lick and is
definitely improved as a result. In fact, this is another live classic
now. Marsh always hated that track on the LP, but it was always one of my
favourites because it positively ROCKS. And boy, does this tune Rock now!
I'd love to hear them groove on something like Til I Fell In Love With
GREAT to see Bob with the Fender Sunburst again - and hammering out no
less than two leads on Don't Think Twice. The local paper made a big deal
in its review about Bob not wanting this or that. they slagged Van
Morrison big time the morning of Van's show to the effect that Van has a
digital clock on stage and when it hits 90 minutes, he's GONE. So the main
screen beside the stage was blank for Bob's show. Frankly, I didn't mind,
because it was something of a distraction during the Van Morrison concert,
largely due to the amateurish camerawork and sloppy directing.. But during
my walkabout from in front of the sound board to the back of the crowd, I
noticed that one video screen was lit up for the masses at the rear,
although they killed it for the encore. Most people didn't mind. But then
again, as is usually the case at festivals, a lot of people at that
distance were busy babbling among themselves, taking cell-phone pictures
of each other, inhaling beer or hydro. you, know, the usual nonsense
associated with "making the scene" or "entertaining the room".
And while the forecast all day was for thundershowers that evening, I
distinctly recall looking up at the heavens during Highway 61 to see the
stars poke through the rising cloud cover - probably thanks to Jamie -
while a gentle breeze wafted toward Bob and the boys as they cranked it
Review by Marsh Birchard
This one was for Jamie. The Reverend Gripton would have been 51 this
week and since he rarely missed a Canada Day celebration in Ottawa,
he would have tucked in this Bob show.
"Ottawuh, huh?" Jamie liked to quote Bob's comment from the stage on
his eventual return to Ottawa in 1988 (?), after a 20 year absence
and, Jamie was certain, nursing a grudge against the city for the
last minute cancelling of a Civic Centre show in the 70's when it
conflicted with a minor league hockey game.
Despite the guy in front of me who insisted on waving his smelly
socks at the stage rapturously on Dylan's arrival and the balding
golf-shirted doofus who insisted that he was entitled to stand during
Denny Freeman's solos at the start of the show, thus obstructing the
people behind him, Bob appeared not to notice he was in Ottawa at
all. Another day at the office. "She said where ya been, I said no
That is until late in the set when Masters of War seemed to be in the
list as a nod to the venue's site beside Canada's War Museum. Dylan
would have savoured, had it been pointed out to him, the irony in the
fact that the semaphore for "Lest We Forget" is misspelled in the
french version of the morse coded dot / dash windows on the front of
the museum. By the way Bill, speaking of Masters of War, he did sing
the final verse "I hope that you die ... And I'll stand over yr grave
till I'm sure that yr dead" with all the chthonic menace that
frequently inflects The Poet (as Sam Beckett referred to him) in his
For the fans of Tangled Up In Blue lyrics variants. This night he
gave us, "She was working at the Tropicana, I stopped in for a beer,
I said I was goin to Atlanta, she said I'll stay right here..."
"All l I knew how to do was keep on keepin on. " If that don't
summarize this guy's post-heartbreak career, what does?
The other moment, and I'd like to know if this is a regular crowd
reaction or whether this was an Ottawa crowd who were listening was
when he sang, "You think I'm over the hill/ You think I'm past my
prime" during Spirit on the Water, the crowd (at least immediately
around me in the front sections) went wild yelling, "No! No you're not".
Jamie found the kernel of greatness in everything of which he
partook, and Dylan shows were no exception. The new material, When
The Deal Goes Down, Honest With Me, Rollin' and Tumblin', seemed to
warrant fractionally more care than the hits package. But autopilot
is being generous. His frequently garbled, repeated and truncated
lyrics during the standards were not Bob in his prime. Still, Jamie
charitably would have said it was a show laced with gems.
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