Worthless Foam From The Mouth



My only place of pilgrimage this May was back at the Birmingham NEC Ė the scene of my last Dylan concert way back in September 2000. That particular gig was, in my opinion a spirited and particularly lively one with many highlights, one surprising highlight being, as I wrote at the time, the best Like A Rolling Stone I have ever seen him perform. Afterwards it was voted by those who claim to know such things as one of the least impressive of the tour.

How the May 10th 2002 show will shape up once all of the UK votes are in is uncertain at the moment but, as I havenít attended a Dylan gig since 1990 (or possibly 1995) that has been considered one of his best, my expectations are not high. However, my expectations were certainly high during the early afternoon of May 10th as we set out on what turned out to be a pleasant and leisurely drive down to Brum. Unlike 1993, 1997 and 2000, we didnít have to chase lost tickets at the box office and even had time for a couple of pre show drinks at the bar. In fact, everything went so smoothly that, when I come to update my Take Me On A Trip cartoon, Iíll have no amusing-with-hindsight material to use at all!

I was surprised to see a programme on sale for the first time since 1993 and felt obliged to get one, even if the asking price worked out to about £1 a page. Still, at least it provided , oh, at least five minutes worth of reading. On the way down, my mate Kins predicted that Bob would play Maggieís Farm because he always does at Birmingham. I havenít checked whether this is true or not but neither of us expected him to open the show with it instead of the expected bluegrass opener. It was a very laid-back, countrified version and it seemed to set the tone for much of what followed.

This was, I think, a very tired Bob Dylan who seemed at times strangely disconnected from both the audience and his own songs. Having said that, we were pretty close to the front and the audience around us seemed equally subdued. He seemed to find it difficult to get into fourth gear, and whenever he did, unable to stay there. For me, the highlight was a spectacular Wicked Messenger which finally allowed the band the chance to slip the leash and, with Dylan singing and playing harp like a demon and the stage bathed in eerie shadowy light, provided me with five minutes of amazing music and atmosphere that I would not swap for any previous Dylan experience. A shame, then, that he followed it with a limp Rainy Day Women (hardly my favourite song anyway) and lost all the previous momentum.

Still, we got six Love And Theft numbers including a simply marvellous Sugar Baby that lived up to all the promise of the audios and a gloriously garbled Cry A While that made the Grammy version sound positively well enunciated by comparison. Add to that lovely unexpected versions of Fourth Time Around, Youíre A Big Girl Now with a slight (off the cuff??) rewrite and Tomorrow Is A Long Time with welcome, if somewhat hesitant harmony from Larry, and I went home more than satisfied. I was indoors by 1:30 (one or two hours earlier than anticipated) and the show almost lived up to my admittedly somewhat lofty expectations.

Go on, now tell me how much better the London, Manchester and Brighton shows were.

Dylan and band