October 24, 2013
Review by Sascha Krieger
One must assume that the pool has gone dry. The “Dylan Pool” that is, a favorite
pastime of Bob Dylan fans from all over the world, competing with each other on
who can best predict his set list throughout a tour as well as for individual concerts.
Playing it these days must be a rather boring affair: Bob Dylan, the master of the
unpredictable, the moody troubadour with whom you never knew what you were
going to get on any given night, seems to have joined the ranks of those well-oiled
musical machines who play exactly the same songs in exactly the same order night
after night, well-rehearsed but without any surprised. Currently touring Europe,
Dylan has now extended his stretch of consecutive identical shows to six – and an
end is not in sight. Has Dylan’s live act therefore been stifled in pure routine,
become another mechanical touring act aimed at pleasing audiences with minimal
effort and even less artistic ambition? Far from it, in fact, Dylan’s latest incarnation –
or should one say re-invention? – as a live performer my well be producing his best
and musically most exciting performances in a long time.
For the price of more predictability and less to no surprises has been paid to achieve
something Dylan’s live shows have often lacked: musical intensity and consistency.
Unlike the somewhat eclectic and often uneven efforts of the 1990s and 2000s,
Bob Dylan’s music today has a clearly definable character: a strong symbiosis of
country and blues rock, with elements of rockabilly, jazz and folk merging with it in
an effortless and logical way. So when he takes the stage for the first of three
straight shows in Berlin’s comparably intimate Tempodrom, it soon becomes clear,
that the heartbeat of this music is set by drummer George Recile: his stomping drum
work lays the foundation and defines the pulse of this dense, earthy, pounding
music that has a strong blues core from the first to the very last note. Recile has
been Dylan’s drummer since 2002, the entire band has spend a minimum of eight
years on the road with Dylan – bassist Tony Garnier has been there since 1989 – in
this precise lineup they have almost 300 concerts under their belts.
Now provided with a stable set list, this familiarity finally shows. The arrangement
have become much more complex, there is more musical consistency and density,
indeed more substance, in them, the sloppiness of earlier days is gone. Whereas in
the past, Dylan seemed to have made them up as he went – and fairly often actually
did so – his renditions are now well considered, almost definitive interpretations of his
songs. This is quite obvious for the more familiar songs in his set list: She Belongs to
Me is now a tight, soulful blues ballad, Tangled Up in Blue a hard-nosed folk rock
ballad that rambles still but meanders no more, Simple Twist of Fate has a hard and
edgy earthiness it has never possessed, Love Sick has been reduced to pre, bluesy
staccato while his Oscar winning Things Have Changed is now a lively country rock
number, as is the ever-changing All Along the Watchtower.
Another thing is characteristic of Dylan’s current performances: Whereas, in the past,
he has mixed material from different periods of his career, the focus now is clearly on
recent material: six songs are from his 2012 album Tempest, overall twelve of the 19
songs on the set list have been released since 2000, only a single song on the regular
set list – plus the two encores – is from the famed 1960s. Bob Dylan is very much
still a creating – and creative artist – a musician who lives and works here and now.
So it is no surprised that the newer material is among the strongest: this goes
especially for the rougher, rockier tunes such as the almost violent Pay in Blood or
the pure blues rock of Early Roman Kings. Duquesne Whistle has an almost effortless
drive, while the dreamily floating ballads Forgetful Heart and Soon after Midnight, but
also the starkly balladesque Scarlet Town provide several highly poetic and at times
even haunting moments.
And Dylan? He moves back and forth between singing center stage and performing
behind the grand piano, his current – and surprisingly ably played – instrument of
choice. No more is his playing on the edge of funny or even embarrassing, as an
instrumentalist, he has become a key element of the band’s sound. His singing has
improved again: his raspy voice is at its most expressive, he uses it to practically sculpt
songs, his monotonous bark has given way to a surprisingly versatile voice full of
nuances that show particularly on the newer material. Far from just shouting out the
lyrics, he fills the words with meaning, has returned to being the story teller he used
to be – although with a very different feel, he has almost turned into his own version
of one of those old-time blues man he admires so much. He still doesn’t smile or show
emotion in his face, but it’s all there: in the singing, the playing, the music. And who
knows: during the next two shows, he might surprise us after all?
Comment by Tommy Kerr
The review by Sascha Krieger is the most eloquent, insightful, and accurate
reflection of this concert and of this entire 2013 tour. Krieger nailed it without
veering into bias or hysteria while explaining exactly why this tour is exquisitely
Review by Werner Kehl
When earlier in the summer the two Berlin dates were announced (third was
added much later) I cringed. The reason simple enough: Tempodrom. No,
this isn't the what was once awesome and exhilarating but by now long
defunct circus-like tent where Bob & band played such memorable shows in
'95 and '96. This super modern concrete palace (like a replica out of the
movie "Logan's Run") happens to be one of the worst places for a concert
with bad accoustics, horrible lighting, cold and uncomfortable, just
atrocious allround. I've often vowed never to return there again after
dull performances by the likes of Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Van
Morrison, or Elvis Costello (it really wasn't their fault!) but what can
one do if there cometh artists of such high caliber one just cannot dare
to miss them? The last time I went there was to see James Taylor a year
and a half ago and it wasn't so bad because I was kinda up close and he
charmed the roof off the place. For thursdays concert I had a similar seat up
towards the left looking down onto the stage diagonally opposite from
where Bob was when he was at the piano.
My expectations didn't run very high for said reasons but much to my
surprise the show went down much better than expected. The sound (at
least where I was sitting) was not too great at the beginning but got
better as the first set progressed. Highlights for me were a poignant She
Belongs To Me, a tender reading of What Good Am I, a nice jazzy rendition
of Beyond Here Lies Nothin', and a full-swinging Duquesne Whistle.
Intermission lasted a good 20 minutes and the second set wasn't
particularly gripping until the 'slow' part of the show with heart-felt
renditions of Scarlet Town, Forgetful Heart, and Soon After Midnight (I'm
not at all a fan of Spirit On The Water, should be dropped also because it
makes the 'slow' section too long). Not a big fan of Long And Wasted
Years either but Bob put 110% into it and the audience really responded
energetically to it. I personally thought that Watchtower had a Grateful
Dead-like vibe to it, spacey in the middle and then bursting into a
crescendo at the end.
Totally positively noticeable: Bob's voice was in good form, his piano
playing flawless and he didn't touch the keyboard/organ once which I found
to be of great relief!!
So now later onto the next show; I have a same-seat ticket for friday but
none as of yet for saturday. I have a feeling that if I attend a third
performance nothing in the set-lists will change. And if I don't go, Bob
will drop Tempest or something to that extent unexpected just to shake
things up and perhaps reward the faithfull and just make it interesting
for all involved...I'll sleep it over and decide last moment.
Anyway, it was great as always for him to drop by and pay us a visit and I
look forward to our next encounter hier in Berlin in a year or two,
hopefully in a much cosier venue!!
Thanx Bill P. for posting and thank ya'll for reading!!!
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