Review by Graham Cole
We've got everything we need, he's an artist, we don't look back …or do we?
Four down and one to go, and I'm sure my daytime teaching must be beginning to suffer?
Friday could be a case of one too many mornings, but we'll wait and see what tomorrow
brings! At any rate an early morning call could be in order for if you tune in to BBC World
Service and are lucky enough to catch their financial news bulletins, where a fine gentleman
by the name of Duncan Bartlett, who is also spending his evenings this week at Brixton, is
finding it hard to avoid discussing European sugar policies (?) without reference to the
good man from Minnesota! And following tonight's fabulous show, Duncan will have much
to talk about early tomorrow if he gets his way.
In his usual wonderful and enigmatic manner, Bobby offered a whole raft of different tunes
tonight, with something, indeed much, to send everyone home more than a little delighted.
The boys had reverted to their light brown outfits again, whilst Bob looked immaculate in
black suit and sharply white shirt with scarf at the twinkling collar, and a great cream-coloured
flat-brimmed Stetson. Link Wray's signature tune opened proceedings pretty well bang on
the dot of 7.45, and we then had a total rollercoaster of a musical ride through a tremendous
set, starting, as he has done these past two nights with a rollicking Maggie's Farm. I had
hoped we might get something different as openers, but we at least then had a lovely pedal
steel drift into one of my long-time favourite Dylan songs She Belongs to Me. I guess one of
the reasons I am enjoying so much of this week, and in particular tonight's show, is the clarity
with which Bob's vocals are coming through, and the effort he puts into the enunciation of
the lyrics. It seems to me that because the band operates so differently from the various
days of Messrs Sexton, Campbell, etc, the sound leaves so much more opportunity for us to
hear and listen to the words, and the delivery of them, by Bob. Indeed there were times
tonight when you could almost hear a pin drop, such was the majestic silence into which he
was able to cast his lyrical pearls, and I would venture to suggest that this second tune of
the night, along with Hattie Carroll later on, were the cleanest and clearest vocal performances
heard from the singer in a long time. I have always loved the sound of the pedal steel so
Donnie Herron's playing, pure country at this point, made this performance one of the
standouts of the night for me.
But Bob's band is nothing if not versatile as we have seen all this week, and from country they
veered straight into a solid blues band version of Cry Awhile, with Bob leaning into and away
from his keyboards as he urged the song along with great energy and enjoyment. He seems
to be partial to alternating rockier numbers with the softer tunes, so next up was a really
fabulous Shelter From the Storm. Bob's voice, it is generally agreed by many I have spoken to,
is in good shape right now, and I even felt that in this performance of the song he was trying
hard to emulate the gentle tones of his original (released) take of the song. Donnie was again
at his best on this number while Denny Freeman played an appropriately subdued solo in the
lower register on his guitar, again allowing Bob's vocals to shine through wonderfully. From
there Down Along the Cove followed, in close, but certainly not identical fashion to Monday
night, and then a really great Positively 4th Street, embellished beautifully by simple little guitar
trills here and there.
Bob has always looked to the blues and country music for his muse, and the records put out
by Harry Smith and much adored by Bob are testament to this, so it was no surprise to hear
Donnie's plucked banjo introducing High Water in the most plaintive of ways, underpinning the
entire song, and then returning to prominence at the end of the song to battle it out with
the guitars and drums. Hearing the instrument, live in 2005, made me reflect on the
consternation in Dylan fan circles when Nashville Skyline came out, with all its country
overtones, but time has inevitably proved him right in his eclectic choice of musical styles.
After You Go Your Way came a sweetly subdued version of Million Miles which I really enjoyed.
To back up Bob's vocals, the instrumentation was sparse, and at times positively slinky, the short
solos emerging as if from nowhere and then creeping back into the undergrowth in a most
mysterious way. Lovely! Mobile was an efficient workout, which gave way to Hard Rain, a
performance I positively loved. Both Bob and the band seemed to be playing with this tune, to
see what they could get out of it, the singer in particular trying all possible ways to squeeze
something new out of every "it's a hard rain", and the whole song building to a magnificent
crescendo on the last verse, to be greeted with a very strong reception from the crowd.
More workaday stuff on Honest With Me as we have seen already this week, before some
gorgeous new lighting (and so not quite following the fixed lighting pattern of previous
nights) - deep cerise to the curtains, and light blue stars picked out in a deep blue sky - for
an exquisite reading of Hattie Carroll. This was a regular feature two years ago for a while if I
remember, so it was good to hear this version, which was perhaps the most tender singing and
playing of the night, including some clear piano work from Bob's busy fingers. Indeed, it was my
favourite of the night, even if its quality still didn't quite match that of Monday's Johanna.
And so to the final trio, with a busy Summer Days leading into the two, no let's change things
around and really worry them and make it three, encores! Yes we were to get LARS and the
immoveable Watchtower, but Bob had decided to offer us Blue Monday, a standard from the
Fats Domino catalogue. Only short it may have been, but certainly not a throwaway, and one
that puzzled many on the night and will be for the lists in years to come.
So one more evening to come, and who knows what we will get on the finale night? Already
we should feel satisfied with what Bob and the band have given us so far, but we will
undoubtedly want more, and will want those surprises and rarities that only Bob has an uncanny
knack of producing just when we weren't looking. The kids at school may be suffering a bit this
week (apologies to them all!), but me, I can't wait. Thanks again for another really great show
Bob - be seeing you in town again tomorrow!
Review by Mr. Jinx
'BLACKNESS WAS A VIRTUE'
"I love blackjack, but I'm not addicted to gambling. I'm addicted to
in a semi-circle."
The hat turned from black to white tonight and Bob Dylan - gambler, loving
thief and conjurer - stood squarely beneath it doing the (double) shuffle
with his mighty musical deck.
The addicted - many of whom looked suspiciously like me - came to sit in
that metaphorical semi-circle once more but how did the dealer cut the
pack this time? The answer is with a steady hand and much aplomb.
Tears … rain … water. The songs spoke eloquently to each other as well
as to us. The effect was positively oceanic. We were asked to Cry A While
for poor Hattie Carroll, commanded to weep like a Hard Rain until the High
Water rose to six inches above our heads and we frantically sought Shelter
From The Storm. So many tears for this world: a world where a white man
walks a black dog, Dylan's hat changes from black (in all of the previous show's
I'd seen) to white, and the artist from She Belongs To Me paints the daytime
Positively 4th Street, played for the second night in succession, was odd
in as much as its tone was conciliatory rather than stern. Odd because the
general pitch of the evening was of darkest anger and vengeance and
Positively 4th Street appears to be the ideal vehicle for carrying that mood.
Bob, though, does not deal in the obvious (unless he happens to have five
believers to hand). I counted nearly 3,000 tonight.
He emphasised the beginning of each line of Positively 4th Street.
'YOU'VE got a lot of nerve …' and 'YOU see me on the street …' This
emphasis felt like a very deliberate move. Bob seemed to be extending a hand
to us amidst all of the blackness. 'A helping hand to lend,' perhaps?
High Water terrified me. With the lights rendering Bob's white hat black
in shadow across the backdrop and Donnie's mesmeric banjo a-pluckin' black
Southern-style, the coffins dropped, the word of God was preached and our
eyes were duly put out. I couldn't help but think of New Orleans. I stared at
the white hat and its black shadow as everything turned monochrome, even
the 'rag' or newspaper we were told to take away from our faces in Hattie
Carroll (song of a black maid in a white man's kitchen) was black and white
and - as the joke would have it - read / red all over: poor Hattie's blood.
Hard Rain was marred by a little 'down-singing' but it built … and built …
and built … and BUILT until it simply engulfed us all. 'Black is the colour!'
yelled Bob. Grown men around me decided that now was the time
for their tears - although to be fair that could have had something to do
with the price of the tour program!
I don't normally like 'You Go Your Way' much but it was transcendent
tonight. The judge held his grudge as he would later pound his gavel. He
walked on stilts, too. Presumably to help him reach the ladder of law.
At the encores Bob the gambler drew a wildcard. Fats Domino's Blue
Monday was an inspired choice. After all, hadn't everything just turned
High Water? It was a total gas and obviously a huge surprise for the
This really was a great show. I know it was great because I still feel
shaken and unsure how to define what I have just witnessed. All I know is
that it was an extremely high order. Bob Dylan was emanating some kind of
kinetic energy throughout the performance. It went right through me like
radiation. I had goose-bumps on six different occasions and at the line-up
after the encores I felt so elevated I wanted to explode. Instead I just
stood and clapped until my hands hurt.
Tomorrow is my last show. I have been to six in quick succession. I
don't want this to end. Every minute seems to energise and change me in
some mysterious way. It feels magical. I look for explanations … Maybe it
was the white hat. Perhaps it had something to do with that. Yes, that's it!
That's as good as any other explanation. It was sort of like a conjuror's hat,
really. A universe beneath its brim.
Oh, and before I forget, the line from Hard Rain 'Ten thousand whisperin'
and nobody listenin' echoed beautifully the line 'Voices in the night,
trying to be heard' from the stupendous rendition of Million Miles. Talking,
talking, talking: those damn songs. Those damn, damned, damnably
beautiful songs. Ah, let them talk. Let them speak to and for us FOREVER.
Thank you, Bobby. Thank you for the etchings and the light.
Review by Grant Scott
Last night I went to the showground, the poker room, the late night
cabaret, the Pentecostal meeting hall, the all night saloon. The
showground barker led the show and I willingly let go and entered his
world. I saw gunslingers beneath a velvet coat of twinkling stars. I was
uplifted, charmed and enriched. The sound was clear and deep with an
interplay of instruments, powerful and delicate. I had been here many
times before but never achieved such intimacy. Within a setting as if
created by David Lynch they performed a balancing act of blues, jazz and
words. The history of America made real. The brilliant lights were turned
on us, the gunslingers faced us off, a nod from the barker and they were
Review by Daniel Marchant
A really strong performance by Bob and his band. His performance was aided by Brixton
Accademy which is simply the best live venue for music in London, the atmosphere, the
sound, the closeness of the artist. Taking my six month pregnant girlfriend who to be
honest is not the biggest of fans, meant we went for the seating option however we had
a really good view being on Bobs side of the arena and about 3 rows back from the front
of the balcony. The thing i will take away most from the evening is the strength of his
voice, and at one or two moments this much discussed voice was reaching great heights.
Okay the songs Maggies Farm, a storming starter, which even had my disbeliever of a
girlfriend tapping her toe with enjoyment at what she was listening to. Next came a nice
performance of She Belongs to me, which was nicely paced and sung. We then had Cry
A While the first of three Love & Theft songs, which were good but none were stand
outs of the evening. Out of the three, i found High Water the stand out, being sung
with passion, and the band playing in an authentic style. When Cry A While came to an
end, the crowd anticipating, excited... expectant where introduced to one of the
highlights of the evening Shelter from the Storm. It was played quitely, and the words
were given depth and meaning. Down Along the Cove was standard and never a song i
have a particular liking to, Positively 4th Street such a strong song was good, given a
slower pace to the original version. It was at about this point that for me the night went
to another level, up to this point it had been good but then came Most Likely You go Your
Way, which was without doubt his best vocal of the night, at times his voice recalled the
thin mercury sound of days gone by, it really was that good. Almost as good was a chilling
version of Million Miles, Dylan has a knack of knowing which songs sit well together. Stuck
inside, which has been getting good reviews all week was delivered with charm and another
one which had my girlfriend smiling. Then another highlight A Hard Rain, delivered brilliantly
the lighting turning to an almost purple glow on the band. After a work-about Honest with
Me, came if push comes to shove the memory i will take with me from the show, that being
the lonesome death of hattie carrol. This song was played acoustically had each word
carefully and quietly sung, the resonance was almost deafening. The obligatory Summer
Days rocked, though not quite as much as it did a few years ago. Then there was the
encore , LARS fantastic, how does it feel i will tell you it felt great. Then the last song,
howled Along the Watchtower and left the crowd feeling great. My girlfriend said
afterwards there is something about Bob Dylan, you know what i think she is right.
Review by Ron Ombudsman
Fourth night at Brixton, first for me. Just flew in from America. Upon
arrival, there's a magazine in the hotel room which advertises itself as
"London's Weekly Listings Bible." It has a 'Gigs' section listing Bob
Dylan, which says: "He's long since diminished in reputation as a
visionary live performer, but this won't stop him from attracting the
fervent support of a core following of fans and fellow musicians. Expect
ropey bastardisations of old songs plus a few sorry refugees from his
bedraggled recent efforts." I think of the interview in No Direction Home
where Bob asks the reporter, "Have you ever listened to my music?" It
seems apparent to me the scholar in the "Listing's Bible" had never been
to a show himself, perhaps never listened to a Dylan record. The kind of
kid that got beat up in elementary school. I can't think of too many
others who could sell out five-night stands in Los Angeles, Chicago,
Boston, New York, and London in the same year after playing those places
year after year. Anyway, as far as I could determine, nobody at the
capacity crowd at the Academy in Brixton last night walked away
disappointed. Strong show. Bob comes out with a flat-brimmed white hat
looking like Frank Lloyd Wright, a dignified visionary architect who died
in his 90's with about 125 current projects on his desk. Maybe that's how
Bob will eventually go. There was nothing "diminished" about last night.
Bob's vocals were focused and clear. Almost spoken word at times. We're
watching this thing being created. Its a work of art. A whole bunch of
times last night Bob took the walk to tell George or Tony or Stu about a
spur of the moment change of the set list. Bob was having a good time.
Knees rocking under the keyboards, playing one-handed sometimes with his
right hand clenched out there in space while his left banged unorthodox
chords. Five things in particular struck me about last night's show.
First, "Rumble" is great! What a compliment to another artist to have Bob
play your song, and as an opener no less. (Let's hear the whole song).
Second, Bob played "She Belongs To Me" and "Shelter From The Storm".
Third, perhaps the thing that mesmerized the crowd the most was "Hard
Rain" because of its subtlety, power of voice, and phraseology. This
crowd was full of youth who seemed to be finding Dylan, which was good to
see, but even nicer was their reaction to the slow songs, especially "Hard
Rain" and "Hattie Carroll", but also "Positively Fourth Street" and even
"Million Miles". The fourth thing I noted was that although Bob hasn't
changed the arrangements of some of the songs recently, I'm still not sick
of hearing "High Water" and "You Go Your Way" in concert. They rock. I
was also struck during these songs with the professionalism of the band.
George is an absolute master, sensitive one moment and flat-out Keith Moon
another. Tony's been in the band since before some of the youth in the
crowd were born. Donnie and Stu really working. What a joy to watch this
band. And the fifth thing was that Bob played 18 songs, including "Blue
Monday" as the first encore. After witnessing the crowd during the
applause and Bob standing with the harmonicas in hand in the "V", I
thought again about the post-industrial barbarian who wrote the "Gigs"
section. What a pedantic drone, this Tom Friend. The merchandise booths
were busy after the show and so were the guys hawking the bootleg T-shirts
and posters on the sidewalks. Looking forward to tonight, and then
Dublin. And for my buddy John in the states, its the morning after the
show and I have jet-lag, but here's a prediction: *B*efore I leave I'm
going to hear "Tough Mama" and "One More Cup of Coffee." One of them
Review by Gerry Mooney
Just back home from London to a stormy Northern Ireland.
It's a bitter sweet night for me -on Wednesday night I heard
the unique Bob Dylan perform at the height of his craft and
I'm still buzzing but I'm saddened by the news that the unique George
Best has slipped away. I dont know if these two men ever met but I bet
they would have enjoyed each others company-both have done it their way.
Wednesday night-a show sublime-its the best I have attended over the last
few years. Every song, the gentle and the ferocious delivered with
absolute conviction. The set-list worked to perfection, there wasnt a weak
moment and not a note of up-singing to be heard. The Love & Theft material
is now the glue of a Dylan show-they rock and they really suit his voice
so Cry a While, Honest with Me and Summer Days were rocky and strong. Down
Along the Cove, Million Miles, LARS and Watchtower followed suit in their
own place of course. Then the Pearls- I waited a long time for it but it
was worth it-High Water is what I refer to , it was out of this world and
I have no doubt he has Katrina in mind now when he does this song-this
version was so powerful it was frightening. Next pearl a Hard Rain that
was good enough to make grown men cry and the same for Hattie Carroll
delivered as well tonight as on Friday at Birmingham. I left the show with
a smile as wide as the proverbial Cheshire cat eagerly anticipating what
gems might be lined up for Londons final night. Thats one of the defects
of Dylan freaks, no matter how good it is we always expect more.
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