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Review by Seth Rogovoy
(ALBANY, N.Y., July 21, 1999) - Lightning didn't strike nor did fireworks
ignite when '60s icons Bob Dylan and Paul Simon joined forces on a handful
of songs at the Pepsi Arena on Tuesday night. In fact, what on paper might
have seemed like a stroke of promotional genius - pitting the two folk-rock
visionaries together for the first time in their careers for a barnstorming
tour of the nation - turned out to be anti-climactic from the get-go.
Not only did the three-song duet portion of the show - including a medley
of Buddy Holly's "That'll Be the Day'' and Dion's "The Wanderer" -- sink
like a stone under the leaden weight of the two singers' incompatibility.
Coming at the end of Bob Dylan's fiery opening set, which roared to a climax
with encore performances of "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Blowin' in the
Wind," it stopped the show dead in its tracks, as the audience had yet to be
primed for the summit meeting of the folk-poets.
Dylan himself was in fine form during the show, seemingly catering to two
constituencies at the same time: ardent fans who came to hear him play rare
gems like "Desolation Row," a harmonica-laced "Mama You Been on My Mind" and
"I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," and long missing-in-action baby-boomers drawn
by the novelty of getting Dylan and Simon in one neat package, for whom he
played a generous sampling of greatest hits including "Maggie's Farm," "All
Along the Watchtower," "Tangled Up in Blue," as well as the aforementioned
pair of '60s anthems.
Flanked by a trio of handsome, guitar- and bass-wielding gunslingers, all
dressed in variations on country and western suits and topcoats, Dylan spat
out his rootsy song-poems with his trademark wit and vinegar. While the
mercurial prophet seemed in a good mood, enjoying the camaraderie of his
fellow musicians and the adoration of the crowd, he underlined the graver
aspects of his material.
While "My Back Pages" was tender, wistful, even nostalgic, his phrasing on
"All Along the Watchtower" emphasized the its darker subtext. Through the
easygoing country-swing of "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," he turned
deceptively innocent phrases like, "Kick your shoes off, do not fear," into
the equivalent of a rapper's sexual boast. Even "Maggie's Farm" was invested
with an Elvis Presley-like sneer atop a "Mystery Train"-enhanced rockabilly
The fans in the crowd were treated to a stark, stripped-down version of
"Not Dark Yet," off Dylan's Grammy-winning "Time Out of Mind" album from a
few year's back, followed by the hard-rocking concert staple "Silvio,"
fueled by Rolling Stones-ish riffs supplied by Dylan's new rhythm guitarist,
Paul Simon couldn't have looked or sounded more out of place than he did
when he joined Dylan's ensemble at the end of their set. The contrast
between Dylan's dapper crew and Simon the shlump, dressed in a baseball cap,
T-shirt and faded jeans, symbolized the musical gulf that separated the two.
Their Dion/Buddy Holly medley was sandwiched in between an overwrought
version of Simon's "Sound of Silence" taken at a snail's pace, and a
throwaway version of Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," noteworthy only
for Dylan's inventive lyrical twist, "I hear you knockin' but you can't come
Simon took the lead on all of the duets, with Dylan trying his best to
improvise his way around Simon's rote readings, but this wasn't harmony --
it was more like oil and water. Their voices never blended, instead merely
leaving a listener longing for Art Garfunkel's sweet, soaring tenor.
After a brief intermission, Simon took the stage with his 12-member
ensemble in a program heavy on songs from his world-beat albums, "Graceland"
and "Rhythm of the Saints." While the pop orchestra played faithful
renditions of these bubbling, shimmering, African-influenced compositions,
the arrangements seemed stuck in time. What was vital and exciting music a
decade ago now seems overblown and cliché, kind of a late-'80s version of
vintage-'70s prog-rock, even down to the drum solos.
Perhaps it was the stark contrast between their approaches which made this
program a noble failure. Whereas Dylan seems to continually dig deeper and
deeper into the well for the kernel at the essence of his material, Simon
didn't seem interested in doing anything more than reprising his stage show
from 10 years ago. It certainly had its high points, including a
Cajun-spiced "Mrs. Robinson," a salsa-infused "Late in the Evening" and an
energetic, horn-fueled "You Can Call Me Al" that had the entire arena
boogie-ing at the end.
But one would have thought or hoped that Simon might have taken a cue from
Dylan and, for example, reinvestigated the country roots of his own
"Graceland" in order to reveal something new about the song. Simon is the
only songwriter who can make Dylan's lyrics seem minimalist in comparison,
but the bombastic arrangements - however authentically rooted they were in
the vital rhythms of Southern Africa and Brazil - ultimately suffocate the
material and overwhelm the self-effacing singer-songwriter.
It was a lost opportunity for Simon to stake a claim as anything other than
a nostalgia act at the end of the century, and a failed chance for Dylan and
Simon to synthesize their disparate talents into something new and unique.
Chalk it up to just another detour along the road of Bob Dylan's
[This review appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on July 22, 1999. Copyright
Seth Rogovoy 1999. All rights reserved.]
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Review by Hodah
This show almost started with a bang. I got to Penn Station with only moments
to spare to find that Amtrak was not running due to a bomb scare. After going
to a phone and checking my Greyhound alternatives, the trains started running
again. This seat was easily the best arena seat I've ever had. 6th row stage
right. It was so nice to be that close and not have to stand for over 6 hours.
The show started with a series of bright flashes of white light. The band walked
out with Bob following. Why wear that cowboy hat if you're gonna take it off
before you even get on stage? He was dressed natty as usual. It looked like
the same suit as the Crossroads benefit. I like the long tie instead of the bolo.
They started off with BABE IT AIN'T NO LIE. I've heard this on tape many times,
this was my first time seeing it live. But for myself and I imagine the band
performing, the first three songs or so, are almost warm-up songs. So I don't
think I was really in the right state just yet. I felt that way about the whole
acoustic set. I just feel it's too early. I like the pace of the earlier shows.
But BACK PAGES, with Larry back on fiddle, and Bob blowing an INFIDELS
style harp counters my previous paragraph. DESOLATION ROW........ what
an upbeat arrangement. I enjoy it more contemplative, but anytime I hear Bob
sing those crazy lyrics, I'm happy. I wondered when Bob decided to turn what
seemed to me to be DON'T THINK TWICE into MAMA YOU BEEN ON MY
MIND. but if that's the case I'm glad he did. I love MAMA....... especially the
BOOTLEG version, but I still close my eyes and remember the first time I
heard him do that live in a basketball gym in Providence Rhode Island in '92.
(does anyone have that tape?) His harp playing was very nice as well.
A sloppy first third of TANGLED UP IN BLUE. My only recollection is of one
chorus where Bob sings "Taaaaaangllllllllllllled uuuuuuup in blueeeee" in a
way I can not describe. A brand new beautiful Fender strat appears in Bob's
hands and WATCHTOWER. I liked having this one back again, different spot
in the set and a different arrangement. I noticed he held the guitar in a
different style. Pointed distinctly upwards, he held the body high as well.
But it was the sound that really got me. A real Rock & Roll crunch. That
sound seemed to stay the night. I'LL BE YOUR BABY...... Larry on pedal
steel. A minor change in lyrics that was cool. MAGGIES FARM. I find that
I don't enjoy the set lists of arena shows as much as the college gigs. The
bigger shows lists don't seem as adventurous. NOT DARK YET being the
only song from TOOM played all evening. I could listen to that album
performed live again and again. (I gotta hear HIGHLANDS!!!!).
With the introduction of the band we got the " New song...unmade bed" joke.
SILVIO back again. Talk about a love/hate relationship. As much as I was
getting tired of that song, I felt Bob and the band never did . Yet I always
found myself punching the air and yelling the chorus along with everyone else.
The LOUDEST ROLLING STONE I've ever heard. Damn...... that was a blast.
BLOWIN' IN THE WIND. I love those harmonies. I love that song.
" A man who needs no introduction, but I'll introduce him anyway..." Came
out. I'll be honest..... I busted out laughing. What a trip seeing those two old
guys together. SOUNDS OF SILENCE...... hmmmmmmmm........ Bob's harp
was wonderful, but I don't think that song did either of them any justice,
especially after seeing Bob and Clapton sharing a microphone for a RIPPING
version of CROSSROADS. THAT'LL BE THE DAY. I know both of those guys
are from the roots R&R generation. But that medley is one I'd like to have
heard as a jam session tape. Live I think they could be a little bit more
creative in their duet selections. Although KNOCKIN' was fun. I liked the
trading off of lyrics. Paul Simons' set was a huge amount of fun. He had
that place DANCING. Performers like him remind me of how much fun
shows can be. Don't get me wrong. I remember the days when our cranky
Uncle Bob would come to visit and you never knew what to expect. And I
do appreciate his newfound joy in ....... I don't know...... humanity? But I
also enjoy acts like BRIAN SETZER, DAVE ALVIN, PATTI SMITH, and the
many other musicians out there that have a different approach than Bob
does to touring. The night ended with my running into TONY GARNIER
walking the streets of Albany smoking a cigar. Talked to him for a few
minutes then we both went on our way. While all this was happening
hopefully a friend of mine made it to TRAMPS early enough to get us
THIS WAS WRITTEN WHILE LISTENING TO A WEBCAST OF RADIO ONE
LIVE FROM IRELAND
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