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BOB WATCHING

BY CHRIS COOPER

 

Another month gone and another tour over. How was it for you?

I will attempt in the next few pages to give my opinion of what it was like to go to every show on the UK Tour. Was it worth the effort and is there any validity these days in doing them all? Well to answer that permit me to go back over the past a little.

During more than 30 years (GOD!) of Bob shows I have witnessed a lot of changes in not only the man, but myself and the environment that we both find ourselves in, and obviously this colours my opinion and I would guess Bob’s too. When I went to my first show, back in 1966 I was the 16 year old youth, at recent shows I see the current youths who by and large are behaving pretty much the way I did then. Though I guess they are more aware than I was of Dylan’s history back then.

You know how it was. In 1966 I thought he must have all the answers, and that all I had to do was listen and it would all become clear. Well I listened, and I think over the years it has become less clear. No longer can I believe in a “black and white” life as Dylan once warned me.

Back then seeing Bob was an experience that you might never repeat. Like everyone else I “grew up” got married had the kids the mortgage and went on with life. Like a lot of the sixties generation that I still know however music remained a constant in my life and continues to so. So when Bob came back a married man with a family that was how I went to see him also. The magical 1978 shows. After these the Conventions started and you suddenly became aware that you were not the only afflicted loony after all. I formed friends at those early conventions, and of course when he came back again we all went together. The family had extended and Dylan was now not a single event but a lifestyle we could be part of. I made more friends and started the life long habit of Bob collecting. Now for me things seemed to go on like that for quite a long time. Thanks to my wife being a music fan herself my interests blossomed over the years. Bob’s wife wasn’t a music fan. Well we know what had happened to at least one of his marriages……

Of course as life became more settled I found we had more disposable income so I started going to more shows, some abroad but mainly in the UK. Whole tours became the norm, I knew a lot of people that did them all. I went with quite a few and we fuelled each others enthusiasm. I still thought he was that important that I had to get everything, hear everything, see everything and contribute to the legend anyway that I could. Wherever he was I was there, in spirit if not in person.

But Times do indeed change, for me, for us all. I am getting older almost as fast as Bob, and like Bob my friends have started to diminish in these areas. NO there's no need for sympathy, it is a natural process to us all, and I imagine is the same for me that it is for others. You start to become more philosophical In your outlook on life, in your assessments of what is important and what isn’t. You ask yourself why you do this and not that. I am sure Bob has done the same, and made his decisions. We now see the results, he tours a lot revisited and reviews his past and does not give a toss what we think of the results. He lives his life his way. But once his way was my way, and now my way isn’t always the Bob way.

My friends too have diminished in recent years and many have fallen John B & G to name but 2,000. There have been many more. Collecting has become easy and I have got complacent no longer wondering, simply expecting everything to arrive. I used to sit back in my seats and say “impress me” but no more, I look for highspots and ask myself “am I impressed?” there's quite a difference.

The really big difference for me now is that the excitement of doing the tour is really not so easy to locate now. I find the racing from city to city a bit of a drag now, never used too. Of course the mates still make it worth while and I meet / met dozens of ‘em as usual. Stayed with a few, missed a lot.

I have looked back over other tour logs I have written and they are often littered with “Met **** had a great time” kind of thing. The social aspect is and always was a big thing. But it is becoming much more haphazard as less and less of the tour regulars are there. I first realized this was happening in 2000 when I spent a lot of time talking to fans at shows who were younger then my own children asking me if I thought he might play Like A Rolling Stone. Its good for Dylan and therefore good for music history that he is finding this new audience. It’s just a shame that his old one is beginning to disappear. An this year was no exception. In fact I think this year the arrival of so many new fans had a real effect on both Dylan and the crowd. More of that soon. So this time I will concentrate more on the music and less on the event. Because after all that’s what it is all about. After the tour, I mentioned to JRS that I thought this might be my last full tour and he told me that was what I always say. He was probably right. Guess I might be there again…. If I have nothing better to do, but first what about this tour.. The drama, the excitement… Well lets see. Where were we?

BRIGHTON

Like any good Bobcat (yes I have done enough shows to qualify) I had done my research and checked out a few of the earlier shows, so I had some idea what to expect. An I had been to Brighton before so I knew what to expect there also. The controversy over just who the drummer would be was raging. Showtime was pretty prompt, Bobs onstage wearing a white Stetson hat and the usual black “river gambler” styled attire. He looked a lot older than I expected and seemed to have aged a lot since last year. The sound was pretty hot though, as they whipped thru “Thomas” very fast. The slowed and gave us an emotional “If Not For You” which I am sure was a nod to another lost mate. I thought the rest of the acoustic set was good but uninspired then my first Love & Theft track live , “Tweedle D”. They played it well, Sexton was being allowed a lot more freedom and I could see that it was Keltner on the drums and that he was really pushing the pace. Bob was constantly looking at him. This track signalled the start of the flashes. There were a lot of them all over the arena, something which is not that obvious at Bob shows usually. This is because we all know he does not like having his pic taken so we sneak the cameras in and take ‘em without flash, just to show how considerate we are. I am settled and enjoying the show now. Then the first real highlight passes before me. Can’t Wait. This is one of the stand out performances for me of the show. Taken as a much slower blues number. The pace enables Dylan to show his voice more in the lower register, he does not seem that ok in the upper part now. He milks it for everything it is worth. As it ends I point a finger “you’re the man” he can still cut it when he wants. Sextons moody guitar adds greatly to the piece. This one does impress me.

I am less certain of Subterranean as the country tune seems at odds with my memories of this ala Chuck Berry. I should have enjoyed Lonesome Day but it was spoiled for me by some poor videotaper nearby getting pulled from his seat. First time I am aware of the heightened security in the show. The usual game of being searched on the way in was very low key. The acoustic set that follows is very ordinary to my ear. Performed fine but unexceptional to me. But Sugar baby is all could have hoped for. One of those songs I wanted to hear. Then Summer Days and Bobs really lapping it up now, jogging about the stage in his affected way. Cold Irons Bound is atmospheric but lacking in subtlety and the set closer “Rainy Day” is simply a thrash. I expected the usual encores but was pleasantly surprised by “Man Of Constant Sorrow” and blinded by the lights during “Rolling Stone”. But the show had been a good one and the remaining encore songs had the crowd on their feet. It seemed short but looking at my watch we got over 135 minutes, not bad for an old guy. Filing out for the usual posy show reviews I meet many of my mates, David P with whom I am staying a few nights points out that if security remove you you don’t come back. This is soon confirmed by some hapless souls who were evicted for daring to take a picture. Apparently security has been increased at Dylan’s request after an incident in Milan where the show was “almost stopped because of all the video cameras down front.” I don’t know exactly what happened there (there were certainly odd things going on) but from my position as documenter of this side of collector I am certain that Milan was not “plagued” by lots of videotapers. We all agree that was a good show though and that Bob is on form. With that David and I drive back to his place for some sleep before the next days journey to...

BOURNEMOUTH

Same mates but this time a different driver who gets us parked very near the sea and the venue. We are a little later than planned so we race in to get to our seats. Bob maybe on time tonight also, and indeed he is. He looks dressed very similar the previous night and the hat is again in place. But most else is et to change. “Wait For the Light” is great, the Harrison tribute tonight though seems to have Dylan in poorer vocal condition. For me this is bore out in “Row” and “Mama You Bin On My Mind” both of which Dylan seems to struggle thru,. These days the struggle is not as interesting as it was long ago. Remember that amazing “Visions” from the Albert hall in 66 where you hold your breath in case the mere act of your breathing might stop him reaching the climax? These days its down to failing physique more than anything else. But as he picks up the electric guitar he redeems himself. “Marie” is one of my favourite live Dylan tracks. I even used to have a theory that any show that featured this cannot be a bad show. I am smiling as they deliver “Floater” and again Dylan lifts the delivery. Can it be that he finds the new songs more stimulating. Sure enough the flashes are popping again. I look around and I can see groups of security people again yanking people from the crowds. There seem to be even more security tonight. Again we get Subterranean but now I am more accustomed to the country hoedown delivery and find it much more enjoyable. Not as much as I enjoy “Cry A While” which I think cannot be beat (I will later be proven wrong again ) Its time for the acoustic set and to be honest I expect to sit back during this, but Bob, as always does the unexpected. He produces an awesome “Boots” which the crowd recognize as wonderful and applaud accordingly. He quickly propels into “Hard Rain” a fairly spirited version that is saved from disaster at the end by the crowd picking up the chorus when Bobs vocal mike suddenly fails. It was a very affecting moment that I can see pleases him. In fact he is so pleased that he immediately goes into Don’t Think Twice. I did not see any movement but somehow is mike is magically fixed and everything is fine, Larry and Charlie shine and this is another fine version. I thought Summer Days was better tonight but Not Dark Yet remains a magical experience, Bob at his best with very sensitive support, especially from Keltner who has had no time to rehearse this stuff. Drifters escape and Pill Box hat draw the set to the anticipated frenzied climax. Good crowd pleasing if rather predictable stuff. Tonight the opening encore is Not Fade Away, certainly not a favourite of mine but quite well executed. Rolling Stone hits you like a sledgehammer, a huge, powerful version that has everyone jumping. I thought after that that Forever Young brought the crowd down to earth nicely. “Honest” is fast paced but lacking in real power (especially so soon after Stone” , but Blowin In the Wind and Highway 61 bring the second show to a fine rousing conclusion.

For me , overall this was a better show than Brighton, even if it did start off a bit ragged.

CARDIFF

Was my last day at David's and the end of the easy run of shows for me. I was also pretty keen to go as Bob always seems to have a great time there. Musts ay it seemed to me that the venue had been altered quite a lot, most of the seating was gone for starters. Met the usual crowds outside and in and waited patiently for Bob to start on time. I was not disappointed.

They where on stage pretty much to time and tore into a healthy version of “Hummingbird” 3 nights and 3 different opening tracks, how much better can you get? Then oh dear “Times” and then “Bleeding” with I thought far less than brilliant delivery. I had not heard many of the earlier tour version at this point, If I had I would have been even more disappointed as Dylan seemed it higher vocal abilities then. “Baby Blue” was equally average but then we got that rousing version of “Solid Rock” funny now it hardly sounds any different than it did in 1980-81. Positively was next and Dylan seemed to let Charlie go a bit on this, warming up at last they really pounded through “Lonesome Day” and things now seemed on course again. Even “Mobile” that followed was pretty keen. Back to acoustic for one of the better second acoustic sets of the tour. “Masters” full of passion, “Visions” full of poignancy and “Tangled” in all its majesty, A great trio. I am sure Bob new so as too by the huge smile he sported as the lights came up and they started “Moonlight” of of my favourite concerts tracks from L & R, then “Summer Days” now a set standard, and a joyous version here. For me the main set could most nights be better served stopping here, tonight he gets the crowd up with “Messenger” and “Rainy Day” both with no invention and delivered in a fairly controlled manner. Course the crowd loved ‘em! A long wait for the encores to start and then “Things Have Changed” again starting the encores with a different song. They were well on form now and Dylan let go on “Stone” which went down a storm. But I thought we got more invention with “Knockin” the chorus’ were really well performed and he gave this (lets face it) rather mundane lyric his best efforts. “Honest” raced along, helped mainly by Sexton’s racing guitar and Keltners driving pace. Then “Wind” of course” and closed with “Watchtower” which I thought was becoming a show highlight again, thanks mainly to the two guitar players. So was it a great success night? Well it was not the worst (what was?) but it sure wasn’t the best. Was Dylan tired? Or me? Well we both had a night off now so maybe Newcastle was to be a whole new bag.

Went home on my day off. So the wife would know who I was. Dizzy was going to London but for the next three I was on my own. Spoke to some of you out there and got these strange messages about announcements on the internet over bad things in Milan and a request from Mr Dylan to curb the photography. I never take pictures so I was not worried. Early night then up the motorway to … NEWCASTLE Now in my time I have seen some great Bob shows and some bad ones. Some I wanted to last forever and some I couldn’t wait to end. But THIS must rank as the strangest show of them all. First off let me say that this is not a very good venue anyways. It’s a bit of a barn, even though I know some very nice guys who live up there, many of who I met at the show. BUT. First the security was fierce, I saw people being dragged out everywhere for everything. There were lots of groups roving on patrol, I felt quite policed. The lighting was bizarre, Dylan was almost In the same lighting as the audience. It was like the Grammy Awards set lighting the whole show. Bob looked totally miserable and seldom looked down at the crowd but spent most time studying the floor or the ceiling. And of course as he was in such dejected state we could only expect him to run through the motions right? OK. Show started with “Wait For The Light” was that an accident or pun at the flashes? But then “Song To Woody” delivered with bitterness and hatred and I loved it! “Bleeding” was a natural for this show and Boy did he get it off his chest. He was leaning into the song with all the subtlety of an Irish labourer. I thought “Love Minus” that followed a bit out of place but it was a good place to revisit “Solid Rock”. Then “Just Like A Woman” and here Jim K really shines, for the start is straight off Blonde On Blonde and Dylan is right up there with him. I nod my admiration and see many more doing the same. Not just a show highlight, but a tour one. These days you cannot expect him to maintain that kind of momentum but he proved me wrong again as he belted through “SHB” and a ferocious “Cry Awhile”. The pace hardly stalled for the acoustic set “Mr T”, “Hard Rain” and “Tangled” the titles look far less impressive on the page than they did live. But oh my, if I had to pick my ten favourite songs this tour this version of “Standing In The Doorway” would be there. It was wonderful, Bob rang evry drop of emotion from it. If I had met the woman he sings to after this song I would have killed her for him. It was just……breathtaking. It was gonna be down hill after this and I was for once correct as the remainder of the set passed by rather uneventfully. The mood he looked in I was really surprised that we got encores at all ! But he was back for “Love Sick” and “Stone” during which he actually almost smiled ! But “Dogs” was again magic, Dylan took that huge arena and with temper flaring he reduced it down to him and me and he was staring straight into my eyes and my soul when he sang “why not me” beautiful stuff, that only Dylan has ever managed for me. Then it back to the more usual crowd pleasers to close. Its soon over and the guy next to me looks at his watch (he was local) and invites me to join him in a drink. I do so and end up joining up with other mates. It turns into a late night before I reach my bed. Still wondering what I had witnessed, why the mood?? And then why the show we got. I don’t wish him pain but this was a helluva memorable show for me. One of the best.

MANCHESTER

Is not that far from Newcastle so I figure on an easy ride, just a few things go wrong. First the roadworks, then I get lost! Then I cannot find my hotel before I discover it was actually behind a Tesco car park ! I kid you not. I decide that I cannot face driving to the show so I leave my car there and take a cab to the gig.”Only a short ride” turns into a half hour journey and a large bill so a poorer but wiser Bobfan arrives at another large barn of an arena. I am not late but not early either, and as I was determined not to join that irritating throng that spend half the night getting in your way whilst they find their seat, I rush in. An boy was it the right thing to do. The acoustic set! “Maggies Farm” “Senor” fucking hell !!!!! Thing is they really were just barely acoustic but boy was it interesting. After that “Bleeding” was a big let down. There were hundreds of people getting in the way and it was so irritating. (am I repeating myself here?) But “One Too Many Mornings” was delightful. “Mobile” followed and to my delight the lights were back where they should be and so were Bobs eyes, out front. “Moonlight” again but this time a little rushed I thought, this needs to be a slow one Bob. But “I Don’t Believe You” was bang on as was “Lonesome Day”. By now the second acoustic set should shine but “Masters “ showed Dylan’s voice cracking and it took most of “Visions” to get back into shape, he was fully recovered by “Don’t Think” which the band supported well. I have heard better “Summer Days” but “Drifters” was a good romp, then of course a “Rainy Day” thrash and its call them back for the encores. Tonight the encore part looked pretty ordinary and by and large I think it was, though the crowd certainly enjoyed it. It is good to see the reaction of the younger members. Earlier on in the tour David had brought one of his children “Chrissy” who seemed truly high after the event, I could see here this was not an accident but a general feeling. I can forgive Bob for running through the same stuff here. He needs to encourage this new and blossoming audience. Of course he will encourage them all the more if he stops chucking them out for taking an instamatic momento, something which well lessened tonight was still in evidence. Come on man. WE know you look your age. Hell you were never an oil painting anyways. You may be a great poet and an event greater performer but I would sooner look at Britney Spears any day. (she dances better too.) Speaking to some of these youngsters it is amazing how much of your history they know, indeed I think it is one of your attractions. Hey a song once went “In this world of fibre glass I’m searching for a gem” I think that sums up a bit of what was going on. And I for one would like to see it encouraged.

Off the soapbox and off to the pub. Outside I walk into a Swedish pal who keeps me talking so long and then drags me towards a pub. ON the way I meet a Cambridge regular John D who was so late he only caught the encores !! All those roadworks again. We spend a long time in a pub then I realize I have to get a cab. This takes me quite a long time and I end up waiting in the street. I don’t find this a very pleasant experience, guess I am getting too old for standing on street corners. I get offered a room by two different “ladies” whilst I am standing there and I must be honest and say I breathed a sigh of relief when I was back in the safe haven of Tesco’s Car Park. It was late in the afternoon when I get to...

BIRMINGHAM

The NEC is another barn but it one I know well as it is not too far from me. Plan is to go home straight afterwards so I get some rest in the car park. Mind you not for long as people are soon arriving and so many seem to know me and want to know how its going. It’s going OK but some of the other trekkers feel the same way I hear. That yes, the shows are good, but something is often not quite as there as it can be. That indefinable greatness that you get at a Bobshow is often either missing or only there some of the time. But hell we are here again! In we go and I can see straight away that security is slacking again. In the arena the lighting is pretty much back to normal and after last nights openers I am making sure I don’t miss the start. “Maggies” again and a more organized take on last night, this is a highspot for this usually over-performed song. Bob seems playful with a lot of the songs. Mind you this is pale compared to some nights. You should seek out a cdr of Leipzig April12Th wild!!!! But “Big Girl” is just gorgeous and somehow “Bleeding” is pretty impressive too. But of course THAT version of “Tomorrow is a long Time” is just too wonderful for words. One of those moments when you pinch yourself for real. Awesome. Then “Tom Thumb” with Sexton stalking the stage looking for victims and Keltner pushing so hard. I didn’t expect a medley of L & T songs so of course that is what we get. “Tweedle” is a bit lame but “Moonlight” and “Cry” are very suitably impressive. And a great acoustic set to follow. I mean a very fragile “4th Time” followed by a robust “Masters” was a great move. Non wonder we got “Tangled” as well, he needed time to catch his breath. Except of course we were getting harmonica breaks one after the other. Then Summer Days and “Sugar Baby” played like his life was being assessed here. Amazing, I could only smile as the crowd pleasing set closers went on. Encores run true to form, I was surprised no “Watchtower” at such a memorable show, though “Forever Young” was an impressive performance and “Stone” gave everyone a chance to strut there stuff. Tonight seemed over so fast, at the time I thought it was good but in hindsight I might be tempted to call it the best I saw. I spend half my time telling you how average some things were becoming then the old bugger does a gig like this. He can still surprise me and I guess that’s at least part of the reason I am here. There were many people outside. Sorry if I was brief but I was going home and I gotta say I did not hang about. Once I had got past the usual scramble from the car park. Life on the road is not for me any more it seems. Woke up the next morning refreshed and ready to tackle the...

FIRST LONDON

Show. Keith Agar was taking me and Dizzy and it was a later start so we had plenty of time. Keith A is a wiz and driving and we seemed to just arrive. Bit of time locating parking but then we arrive at the concrete barn that is Docklands. I have seen more welcoming rooms in a mortuary frankly. Why ever did he pick this over Wembley? Oh well. Again I meet other Fwleers. We chat before we go in and then go to our seats. Keith is sitting not far away and is waiting for Julie Felix to arrive. I see her turn up but only just before the show so there is no time to talk to her. I am hoping these will go well Dizzy sits quietly as they run thru “Thomas” then a familiar but competent “Times” and “Bleeding” before she tells me that he looks very tired and old. “Baby Blue” should have helped change her opinion but “Solid Rock” is even more impressive. Tonight we get “Floater” which Dylan plays with fro a while before he lets it go. But “Sub” is great, punchy with strong vocals as is “Lonesome Day”. This is now warming nicely Garnier is bouncing with anticipation and Campbell smiles benevolently as they deliver excellent versions of “Mr T” “Visions” and a rabble rousing “Don’t Think”. Dizzy is now clapping along as are many of the crowd. She seemed especially impressed to get to see a live Visions at last. She was not aware how frequent it was cropping up and I was not going to spoil it yet. Then “McTell” as the blues it is and followed by a totally contrasting “Summer Days”. The set closes with “Cold Irons” and “Leopardskin” both of which show how well this band can play. A long break before the encores which mysteriously tonight are shorter Straight into “Stone” though is a great idea, it becomes the encore hightlight, which I guess is as it should be. “Honest” is good “wind” emotional and “Watchtower” has the band jamming and stretching out. It leaves me wanting more, and well that’s maybe not the best for me it certainly encourages his audience. Lights up and we go over to meet Julie, a delightful lady who seems impressed with Bobs performance. We talk awhile and I am sounded out a bit. I think I passed the test. Dizzy was impressed anyways. With Both Bobs and my performance !

Going home is easy with my chauffer there. So I feel ready for just one more?

SECOND LONDON

And the end of the road for me and for Dylan. In the past we used to get lots of oddities on the last night. I am wiser now and I am afraid right also. This proves to be a pretty much standard set. Things start off fast enough, Bob takes “Thomas” and “Ramona” to get a head of steam but he is spot on for one more version of “Bleeding” and then a nice surprise a lyrically altered “If You See Her” which fits the country sound nicely. Pretty much ok versions of “Mobile” , “Moonlight” and “Subterranean” follow but he lifts things that important extra bit for “Cry A While” and the acoustic set where the band really stretch out again, especially on “Hard Rain”. This may be because we were prepared by a delightful “Mama You Bin” . Then back to electric as Dylans swings along with “Summer Days”and chills me with “Sugar Baby”. Even “Messenger” and “Rainy Day” are powerful tonight. Dylans harp playing assists Messenger quite a lot too. Again we get short encores. Again though “Stone” is magnificent, it is no small accolade that he can still make it sound so fresh and youthful. “Honest” is also very listenable and “Knocking” and “Watchtower” are good tour closers. The lights go on and we all file out. There seems to be the usual post mortems outside, most seem happy with what the have witnessed. I eventually get home and say once again to myself "Never again!”

By and large I thought the shows were varied and interesting. But going to so many I have to say that his voice is not what it was and at times it does show. Uniquely Dylan seems to have changed into a more country based artists who now often delivers the songs at a more sedate pace. He often states the lyrics rather than sings them. A good or bad thing? I would assume to say, but I do wonder if he seriously will go on at this pace much longer. Maybe it is time that he cut down (50 a year Bob?) He looks much older to my eye but he certainly likes to take chances still and no song I safe from re-invention. I guess that is why I go. I cannot believe we will see another upturn in performance if it was going to happen then I think the new songs would have made it so. But.

 
 
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