Cardiff, Wales

Motorpoint Arena

October 29, 2015

[Jerry Stone], [Paul Denham], [Trevor Townson], [Colin Popplewell]. [Kirk McElhearn]

Review by Jerry Stone

The Cardiff Motorpoint Arena is not necessarily the most welcoming venue
one may wish to visit; whilst not as vast as many of the other lifeless
spaces live music is presented in these days, it remains a hollow shell,
devoid of spirit or history and a challenge to any artist who treads its
stage. Bob must like something about it, however, as he's been back many
times since his first concert there in 1995 and has regularly put on a
good show for his Welsh audience in the intervening years. Last night was
the first time the 'Motorpoint' (AKA the CIA) has offered us seats for a
Dylan show and given that Bob seems to be attempting to conjure up a
mid-20th Century night club vibe these days, the seating was both welcome
and apt. 

At exactly 7.30pm the lights dimmed and in the darkness one could make out
the figure of a riverboat gambler in white wide-brimmed hat as he shuffled
out centre-stage ready to burst into 'Things Have Changed'. Well, some
things may have changed but this set-list changes little from night to
night these days, so I'll spare you an absolute breakdown of each and
every moment in exchange for an overview of the night's proceedings.
First, it must be said that the band, as well playing as fabulously as
ever, looked utterly stunning in their flame-red suits, contrasting nicely
with the maestro's mainly black get-up and previously noted white
headgear. Visually, this is definitely one of the best Dylan shows I've
seen; the tastefully subdued lighting perfectly matching each song. There
were one or two moments when I could hear myself going 'Ahhh...' in
delight as the lights changed. 

By the second tune, a rather touching take on 'She Belongs To Me', it is
obvious that Bob's voice has improved no end in recent years and then he
takes a lovely harmonica break where he's really adding something to the
song and not merely playing gratuitous harp for harp's sake. For 'Beyond
Here Lies Nothing' Bob moved behind his mini-grand piano and played some
splendid accompaniment that took the sound somewhere close to a night out
in Havana. Whilst still somewhat idiosyncratic, his piano playing really
sparkles these days and is a long way from the times he first took himself
off behind the keyboard and gave us those weird casio-style bleeps and
farts of old. 

This time around, Bob is certainly focussing on the strength of the
material from Shadows In The Night and it must be said that the
'standards' seem to bring out the very best in him. Adding 'Melancholy
Mood' and 'All Or Nothing At All' to the mix may be pressing the
'Sinatraesque' point a little too much for the more casual fan but these
songs generally engendered the best audience reactions on the night.
Having said that, pre-interval closer, 'Tangled Up In Blue', did lead to a
deserved standing ovation that dangled the promise of perhaps even greater
excitement in the second half of the show. 'Tangled' was surprisingly
close to its original incarnation with a few line changes and a couple of
verses missing but we could almost have been back in '75. Wow. Then came
the intermission.

Now, I can understand why Bob may need a little break and the pause may be
doing his voice no end of good but with energy levels getting to a nice
high-point I felt that the lull took the wind out of both the audience's
and the band's sails a little and never quite got up the same peak again
in the second half of the show. Saying that, 'High Water' and 'Scarlet
Town' both exuded some menace and, once again, the Sinatra-related
material often reached for the stars. Both 'Why Try To Change Me Now' and
'The Night We Called It A Day' were performed perfectly by Dylan and band
but the best was left for main-set closer, 'Autumn Leaves', which in two
short minutes managed to stop time altogether. For the latter, Bob's voice
sounded like it had been pushed up even louder and literally reverberated
around the hall. I'll add that the sound was near-perfect all night from
my seat about one third of the way back, directly in line with Bob when he
was stage centre. 

The encores were the usual 'Blowin'' and 'Love Sick' and very nice too but
my lasting impression of Bob this time around is of the old, world-weary,
crooner, revealing much soul and managing to turn a usually cold piece of
Cardiff into a welcoming and intimate night-spot for the broken hearted.
Yes, a very fine evening by an in-form Dylan and a band now tighter and
more accomplished than ever. Thanks, Bobby. 

Jerry Stone


Review by Paul Denham

When I last saw Dylan almost two years ago in the shabby splendour of
Blackpool's Winter Gardens, I thought his performance was so dire that it
was finally time to end our relationship of nearly fifty years and go our
separate ways. Then he turned up on my door step in Cardiff and, like some
old lover who can't actually end things, I readily persuaded myself to
give it one more go. And I was very glad that I did.

The set list appeared sadly familiar. Twelve out of Blackpool's 19 songs
were lazily recycled, often in much the same order. Seven of the new
additions were from "Shadows In The Night" and the only other change was
Blowing In The Wind. That said, some of the Sinatra covers were poignantly
done, especially Irving Berlin's wistful What'll I Do which could pass for
a recent Dylan original.

Dylan was in sprightly form, dressed on a dark suit with long jacket and
white hat, looking like Big Jim, a Mississippi gambler, or one of the
corrupt politicians who conspired to kill Billy the Kid. He seems to
occupy a mystical territory in the Mid West located some time in the
twentieth century before he, himself, appeared on the scene like a tornado
in the early 60s to blow all these coy ballads and country blues over the
rainbow. This Dylan is more Hank than Woody; more Oklahoma radio station
than Blackbushe; more fireside and dancehall than stadium. 

As even, Dylan is his own man, a strong and focused 74 year old whose
changes match his own inclinations rather than staying the way we loved
him when we were young. His voice was as powerful as it has been for
decades and he seems to be enjoying himself again, thumping out a lively
contribution on a baby grand piano. 

We might find fault with his set list, but he's always had rather dubious
judgement about what is his best work. Remember how he persisted with
Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum for years, just as he now loves the convoluted
Early Roman Kings. I don't know how many of the dozen 'Dylan' songs from
tonight's show would find their way into most fan's Top Ten, but they
obviously mean a lot to Bob at the moment. 

One song that certainly would feature in most of our lists is Tangled Up
In Blue, which was delivered beautifully and with substantially rewritten
lyrics. There were no Great North Woods or fishing boats outside
Delacroix, or mention of shoe laces or revolution in the air, but the song
still had a kind of magic. It left me feeling that this guy is not The Man
Who Used To Be Bob Dylan as I'd assumed, but the current incarnation of
that flawed genius who has continued to fascinate us for half a century.
The audience seemed to love it.  Roll On, Bob!

Paul Denham


Review by Trevor Townson

Trev; What; It's me; I know, what the hell you calling this early for,
it's not even eleven pm yet, the day is still young so to speak; How was
Bob, actually after Manchester I reallly wish that I could have been there
in Cardiff, I now understand why you fans forsake fancy houses to do that;
So down size and live in Keighley instead of Addingham, your house is
worth a packet compared to mine, you could follow Bob First Class then; I
cannot live as basic as you and it is a bit rough where you are; Rubbish,
look I parked a brand new company BMW down my street and it never got so
much as a scratch; Only because everyone thought you were the local drug
dealer having a car like that and living where you live, no one dared
touch it; Look, there are Bob fans who live in fancy places like Oxford so
they don't all exactly rough it like me, anyway mine was a religous thing;
No it wasn't, when you started you just wanted to live as cheaply as
possible because you had that thing about minimising utility bills;
Rightly so too, why should I pay fat cats for lighting and warmth; You
don't, you spend most of your time round my place using my lighting and
warmth; Well two can live as cheaply as one so I am not really costing you
anything, anyway as a woman you would have the heating on full blast
whether I was there or not, actually I am a pretty hot blooded male so in
theory I am adding to the warmth in your place, thus in fact reducing your
bills; How is your cat Smudge; Struggling but soldiering on as all
Yorkshire cats would, grinning and bearing it so to speak, she still has
serious diabetis and dementia, as you know she is nearly twenty years old
now; Was she OK during the time you spent in London; Yes, mother called in
a couple of times to look out for her, still a big mess when I got home as
she can't keep down solids anymore, that's Smudge by the way, not mother;
Oh, what a shame, really funny hearing what you say about Smudge; Well you
would not think it too funny if you got back from a five night stint at
the Royal Albert Hall and the first thing that you had to do was to start
scrubbing carpets and skirting boards, bet Bob is not down on his hands
and knees the minute he comes through his door after touring; Poor Smudge,
what a shame; Shame don't come into it anymore, I've had enough of that
bloody cat; I thought your second wife sighted Smudge in your divorce
proceedings saying that you loved your cat more than you loved her; I
loved the bloody neighbours cat in the end more than I loved her, she let
me down leaving me when she did; I thought that you said that you left
her; Look there are always two sides to any argument; You can't expect
your mother to do all the cleaning up as well whilst you are away now that
she is in her eighties; No, I don't, I told her that she could stop doing
cleaning of the carpets and washing of the skirting boards for me after
getting back home from tour when she was in her late seventies; Your
mother is a Saint; All mothers are Saints as far as sons are concerned,
example, I would not get my mother complaining like you do over a few quid
spent on central heating for me; Oh shut up, tell me about the show; Where
to start, Cardiff is a special place for Bob and me; Anywhere Bob performs
is special for you; True but Cardiff more so, there is a particular
reason, even if only for me; So was Bob good; Daniel Kramer says Bob is
always good, may be I see Bob more frequently now than Daniel; Look just
tell me was Bob good; I thought that I was in touble again tonight; Why;
All around people whooping, then shouting out, "come on Bob", "Go Bobby",
"Brilliant Bob", none of them me; I need more time to write this properly
as no one would believe it; Why; Some just think that in some peoples eyes
Bob can do no wrong, my eyes would probably be included within those
people's; Do you need to ramble; Not saying Bob does no wrong by any means
but please; Go on then; If I had to choose a set list for Bob hardly any
of the songs performed tonight would be in it but you know, that was
easily by far the best Bob Dylan concert that I have ever been to, for me
that was concert 120 and easily the best, Bob had dressed the band in
Scarlet and obviously told them that they would be wearing that all the
time unless they performed; The band performed, boy did the band perform,
my mate at the front doing most shows this time round agreed with me
during our interval discussion that this was by far the best so far,
people queing for the toilet were talking about how good the band
performed, people behind me as we walked out were talking about how good
the band were, people shopping later in the Tesco Express were still
mumbling about how good the band were; that is not talking anything away
from Bob, on the contrary it is adding to the part Bob played which to put
it quite simply was, the best performance that I have ever heard from Bob,
no time or place here but you could write a book on just tonights
performance, there was so much in there, I would need to go back to before
I even knew Bob to start the monologue for that one, truly when that one
started,  "T'was In Another Lifetime"; I missed a good one then; Sorry Jen
but yes, not only did you miss a really good one, you actually missed the
best but still I envy you; Why; Been looking on Youtube for Blackburn v
Burnley 2015, boy did I miss out on that, you were actually there, on the
coach with the fans and in the crowd singing; But I do not sing but loved
the song that they sang for Scotty Arfield; Not half, I would certainly
have woken up on Sunday morning with no voice but proud to be so; But you
were there tonight to see a victory of a different kind; I know, who needs
Slade or Leeds United, Come on Bob, Come on Burnley, Together Through
Life, Brilliant! 


Comments by Colin Popplewell

I was there last night in Cardiff as I have for 30-odd other Dylan shows
over a long time and can't disagree with everyone's comments from previous
concerts about his voice being the best in years, the tempo of the songs
and the quality of HIS band. But..... I was underwhelmed with the amount
of Sinatra songs and just wished he'd applied the same style to say "Love
Minus Zero", "Love In Vain", "Oh Sister" "Every Grain Of Sand" etc. Bob
can do an album of Sinatra covers because he can but most fans want to
hear him singing Bob songs.

Colin Popplewell


Review by Kirk McElhearn

It’s weird that being such a fan of Bob Dylan, I’d never seen him live before. 
Having grown up in New York City, I was never able to get tickets to his 
concerts in the mid-1970s. Later, when he was in his born-again phase, I really
didn’t want to see him live. I left New York in 1984 for France, and was never 
anywhere I could see him all those years. Finally, now that I’m in the UK, I 
had an opportunity to see him in Cardiff, Wales, about a two-hour drive from 
where I live. To celebrate the occasion, I splurged and bought front-row 
VIP tickets.

Bob’s show in Cardiff was not very different from the rest of the concerts on 
this leg of his tour. The setlist was the same as in most of the concerts in the 
past few months:

Set 1:
Things Have Changed
She Belongs to Me
Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
What’ll I Do (Irving Berlin cover)
Duquesne Whistle
Melancholy Mood (Frank Sinatra cover)
Pay in Blood
I’m a Fool to Want You (Frank Sinatra cover)
Tangled Up in Blue

Set 2:
High Water (For Charley Patton)
Why Try to Change Me Now (Cy Coleman cover)
Early Roman Kings
The Night We Called It a Day (Frank Sinatra cover)
Spirit on the Water
Scarlet Town
All or Nothing at All (Frank Sinatra cover)
Long and Wasted Years
Autumn Leaves (Yves Montand cover)

Blowin’ in the Wind
Love Sick

The band was all dressed in scarlet suits, making a vivid contrast against the dark 
stage. Dylan didn’t play guitar at all, and played piano on around a half dozen 
songs. To the right of the piano (from the audience’s point of view), there were 
two small statues on a box, lit so they were clearly visible. One was a bust of 
Pallas Athena, similar to the one used on the cover of his album Tempest, and 
the other was either the original or a replica of the oscar he won for his song 
Things Have Changed, which was featured in the movie Wonder Boys. Behind 
the piano was a bust of Beethoven. 

The lighting was subtle, featuring old-style movie spotlights behind the band that 
pointed forward, and some subtle lights at the front of the stage. There were 
no flashing, colored lights, just a nice atmosphere. 

As you can see from the setlist, Dylan performed a combination of his own songs 
and covers of songs such as those on the 2014 Shadows in the Night. He sang 
two songs that have not yet been released: Melancholy Mood and All or Nothing 
at All; I would think there will be a follow-up to Shadows in the Night, containing 
these and other songs he recorded in the same sessions. He also sang three 
“classics,” She Belongs to Me, Tangled Up in Blue, and Blowin’ in the Wind. The 
rest of the concert featured more recent songs, from albums released in the past 
twenty years.

The whole concert had a decidedly old-timey feel. Not only because of the 
Sinatra-esque songs and the subtle lighting, but also because of songs like Beyond 
Here Lies Nothing, Duquesne Whistle, and Spirit on the Water, which all have an 
old-fashioned sound. Dylan crooned, sang, and he even smiled a few times, and 
did a couple of shuffle steps on stage. He seemed to be really enjoying himself.

Of course, Bob Dylan, at 74, does not have the voice he used to, and it’s likely 
that a lot of the songs he chooses to sing these days are those that fit his voice 
now. The only song that really didn’t sound good, as far as his voice was 
concerned, was Pay in Blood, which I also think doesn’t sound very good in the 
studio version on Tempest. But all the other songs, whether the rockers such as 
Things Have Changed and Love Sick, or the Sinatra songs, sounded excellent. 
I think the best performances of the night were Tangled Up in Blue and Blowin’ 
in the Wind, but that’s probably my bias toward the older songs. All of the covers 
were performed very well, and I would pay to hear Dylan do an entire concert of 
just those songs, perhaps in a smaller, more intimate venue.

As for the venue, Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena is a 5,000-seat box. The sound wasn’t 
great; the vocals and the piano weren’t ideal. But this may in part be because I 
was in the front row. The drums were very strong from that location, and the
guitars as well, since I could hear the onstage amps. The vocals were coming from
 a speaker array above the stage at the center, and the poor sound may have 
 simply been its location compared to where I was sitting. 

All in all, it was a great concert. It’s not cheap to get front-row seats, but for my 
first – and, perhaps, only – Dylan concert, I’m glad I spent the money.

Kirk McElhearn


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