Paris, France

Le Grand Rex

November 12, 2013

[Derek Mankelow], [Scott Lithgow]

Review by Derek Mankelow

Paris is just a short ride from London these days and the Eurostar runs
right on time without the hint of any whistle blowing.  Only able to catch
the first of a three night residency, we put in a couple of days
sightseeing before seeing if Bob Dylan could justify Tuesday's headline
billing in France's major daily newspaper 'Le Figaro'. Le Metro has us
arrive in plenty good time and we take the short walk to the venue.

The Grand Rex Theatre is a beauty with seats you can sink right into (they
don't stand here until the encore), but it all comes with a price that
extends beyond the 108 Euros printed on the ticket. With only two small
entrances, and despite joining the queue a good thirty minutes before the
8.30 pm show time, we are at a standstill tonight inside the rain with
impatient crowds lining the pavement a good 300 yards down Boulevard Bonne
Nouvelle and growing by the second. Walking to the end of this
interminable queue, which is moving at l'escargot pace, is somewhat
disconcerting. A '65 recording of "Tambourine Man" is wafting through some
speakers. Meanwhile at the head of the line French security are
methodically seeking cameras and other large recording devices. Mobile
phones, meanwhile, pass right on through defying this new French 'Age of
Reason'. At 8.30 we are only halfway towards the entrance looking like we
are going to have to settle for the busker Dylan soundalike now performing
a reassuring "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright...". With the real Dylan
notoriously prompt on stage these days some more enlightened officials at
the sharp end seem to be speeding up the process and we make our seats at
8.40...around 5 minutes before Stu Kimball's acoustic guitar signals the
entrance of France's latest recipient of the Legion D'Honneur. 

According to 'Le Figaro' Dylan received this prestigious award today,
Wednesday. There was also the three page career retrospective on Tuesday
focusing on his ever-changing persona whose headline argued (roughly
translated) that One Dylan Can Hide Another..(P.S. Today's review applauds
a singer who is the 'enemy of nostalgia' playing so many new songs rather
than relying on his back catalogue.

The actual set-list, all too familiar now from previous shows, (excluding
Rome of course !!) and thus of no surprise to a Dylan-follower, was still
very interesting on this first hearing. Although familiar with the new
Tempest material and the re-written stanzas from the Blood On The Tracks
songs, some lines even I lost to the backing musicians. I know this is
live music, and is often the case even in an intimate venue such as the
Rex, but the best songs for me were those with minimalist backing.
"Forgetful Heart" "Simple Twist..." "Scarlet Town" all spring to mind here
where Dylan's fine words, great phrasing and emotional performance  were
most evident. "Love Sick" was a tour de force, as I expected it would be,
but in contrast, "Long And Wasted Years" ensnared the artist's finest
endeavours behind a wall of sound which could not be scaled. That is not
to say the band weren't great, and Dylan's vocals were certainly moving.
It's just that on this and some other songs I would have balanced the
sound differently. Maybe in another part of the venue it was indeed
clearer.....? C'est ne fait rien...anyway, I was assured by all the
french, young and old, that it was a 'nice show'. 

It has to be said that Dylan, dressed in a striking outfit, attacked songs
with an energy that belies his years and, whether stood out front at the
mike, or behind the grand piano, he consistently delivered as no other
can....except for 'another Dylan' of course.


Review by Scott Lithgow

First of all, the Rex theatre is a special place, with the fantasy
twilight skyline and the cushy seats. A recital atmosphere, and everyone
would stay respectfully seated until the end. Babette and I were at the
Bilbao show last year, and that was the most fun I'd had at a Dylan show,
a block party feel where you'd go for a beer between songs or hang out on
a wall. Bad sound, uncomfortable space, but a blast all the same. This
Paris place was rich, cozy, breathless. But I live in Paris.

I had heard the program was reduced to 20 songs or so. Was Bob tired,
spent, burnt out? 

I guess not.

This was a tight show, the band was there on every note and Bob was
hitting pretty much everything. I have never seen a Dylan show like this,
so rehearsed and ready. I have to say I was conquered. 

A lot of dark songs. Things Have Changed, Beyond Here Lies Nothing, Pay In
Blood, Love Sick, all the way to Watchtower. I found the songs from the
latest record just great - Duquesne Whistle, Scarlet Town, Early Roman
Kings...Long and Wasted Years is, I think, the most beautiful song of his
I've heard in ages. But it's a dark one, too. 

I don't know about you, but when I heard Blowin in the Wind, the way Bob
sang it and all, I was ready to end my night. We screamed and shouted, but
for me that was an apotheotic ending. It was a different show from what
I've seen over the past 15 years, but what a show! And what a song! 

And here I am singing Tangled up in Blue to myself three days later ...


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