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20 Pounds Of Headlines

by MARK CARTER

AUGUST 2002

Plenty more album and tour reviews dominating our look at the Oct/Nov 2001 press this month so, as is by now traditional, we’ll start with the 8,646th review of Love And Theft (not that I’m counting).

In his review for thedailypage.com, Stuart Levitan reckoned that Bob was making the best music of his career and that, after a “four-year wave of renewed artistic and commercial success….Love And Theft, a majestic romp through the swamps and alleys of American history, is the first great rock album by a senior citizen”. In a lengthy and wordy appreciation on the amazingly named website dancing about architecture.com, Peter Gorman also rated it as amongst his very best; “…Dylan’s confidence is evident throughout /// He loves his music, loves it so much that he’s going to take it away and make something of it himself. Let others stand in awe of the tradition and offer up there practiced renditions, making timeless songs sound immediately dated. Dylan’s not smashing idols, he’s dressing them up back at his place, bringing it all back home. Again.”

On the First Church of Holy Rock n Roll website, Dr. Filth and the Reverend Coomers was lyrical about the merits of the album, tying it in with the events of September 11th (“…You need this album right now to help you through this mess”) and how it differs from Time Out Of Mind and much of what has gone before, “…I think it’s about an equal split between having a load of renewed confidence and being half past give a shit”. A nice readable article and a brief glimpse into the post-September 11th American psyche.

Sean Wilentz also produced a thoughtful and well written essay called On Love And Theft and the Minstrel Boy, which appeared on bobdylan.com and is well worth reading;”…Dylan, remember has been out there a very long time. He spent time with the Rev. Gary Davis, and Robert Johnson’s buddy Son House, and Doc Boggs, and Clarence Ashley, and all those fellows, he played for Woody Guthrie, and he played for and with Victoria Spivey, and Buddy Holly looked right at him at the Duluth Armory less than three days before Holly plane-crashed to his death, and there isn’t an inch of American song that he cannot call his own. He steals what he loves and loves what he steals.”

Mary Dickie, on eye.net, awarded it four stars in a brief review that concluded….”it actually sounds like Bob’s having fun. Who knew?” and a 4 ½ star review in the UK’s Making Music (this one actually appearing in ye olde magazine, rather than on a computer screen.) concluded that Bob was having so much fun because he narrowly escaped death in 1997 and that the album goes to show that “the true greats can never be written off.”

In the Minnesota Star Tribune, Jonn Bream and Chris Riemenschneider asked various Minnesota musicians to give their verdict. Here’s just a sample; Thea Ennen; “…It feels like classic Bob to me.”, Paul Metsa; “..It is a grand record among great ones..Mississippi and Sugar baby are as good as he’s ever written.”, Lauren MacLeash; “… It’s fresh, fun and thoughtful … This one’s for his fans.”, Mark Trehus; “…Maybe the best album he’s ever done – and easily the funniest.”, Tony Glover; “…It’s fun to hear him being so playful…There’s no deadwood on it. Even Time Out Of mind has that Make You Feel my love, which is like a bad Garth Brooks song.”

Onto the concert reviews, beginning with two on the Cincinnati Xavier University Cintas Center. Chris Varias, for the Cincinnati Enquirer, claimed that the stage show had improved tremendously, spurred on by Love And Theft, and that Dylan, Campbell and Sexton have become “the best guitar trio on the road”. The Cincinnati Post’s Keith Herrell also rated the show as an improvement and simply expressed the wish that “We don’t know how long Bob Dylan’s current neverending tour will go on. All we can do is hope that it truly never does end, and sit back – or stand up – and enjoy it while we can.”

Kate Vukelic of the Indiana Statesman was so impressed with Dylan’s Hulman Center show that she exclaimed; “Dylan performed like he just got a record deal and he was playing his first show at the Roxy, in L.A. His sincere effort showered fans and brought shame to the hackneyed contemporary acts currently on tour.”

An unknown reviewer for the Grand Rapids Press was less than excited by the main set of Dylan’s Van Andel Arena show but felt that the encores “cranked up the volume, the intensity and the fun-meter to turn what had been a mostly ordinary, sometimes plodding evening of classics-mixed-with-new-stuff into a rare treat for the 6,500 people on hand.”

The Toronto Sun’s Jane Stevenson had no such complaints about the Toronto Air Canada Centre gig, praising the band and especially Bob for simply .. well, let her tell you; “… whatever Dylan lacked in terms odd elocution – words were often undecipherable – the folk rock Buddha more than made up for in his guitar playing and frankly, just by being Bob.” Reviewing the same show for the Toronto Star, Vit Wagner decided that, although he didn’t mention the events of September 11th, they were on Dylan’s mind anyway in the songs that he chose to play: “…If we didn’t already know it, the old sage in the white suit and guitar had come to warn us that war is hell and danger lurks. Or maybe he planned to play those songs anyway. Who can say for sure ?”

Joel Selvin, a fan from way back, was just as impressed with the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium show. His San Francisco Chronicle Review not only informed us that Dylan “seems to have grown into his mythic stature with grace and authority” but that Wait For The Light To Shine was the theme song for Town Hall Party, an old country and western television show. The 3,800-seat hall has played host to gigs by the Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix, all “historic concerts” and is “one of the great rock n roll rooms in California. Add to the list the Dylan show on his Love And Theft Tour.”

The Rocky Mountain News’ Mark Brown felt that the Denver Coliseum show was littered with so few Greatest Hits that it was geared towards the hardcore fans but was an exceptional performance nonetheless; “…he held the room full of thousands of fans rapt with a tender, warm version of Sugar Baby off his new album. The boomy Coliseum was dead quiet as Dylan crooned the pained verses in a rich, resonant voice, topping even the version off Love And Theft. When the last note faded away, the place nearly exploded.”

Onto other Autumn items and there was the small matter of Dylan’s first major Rolling Stone interview – and front cover – since 1986. To Mikal Gilmore he again discusses the 1987 Switzerland show when he realised that he had to rededicate himself to his songs once again and how he considers himself lucky to have completed Time Out Of Mind, ”I didn’t go into it with the idea that this was going to be a finished album. It got off the tracks more than a few times, and people got frustrated. I know I did. I know Lanois did … (the musicians) had the right soulful kind of attitude for those songs. But we just couldn’t… I felt extremely frustrated because I couldn’t get any of the up-tempo songs that I wanted.” Naturally, the conversation turns to Love And Theft, though not so much as you might expect; “…The album deals with power, wealth, knowledge and salvation – the way I look at it. If it’s a great album – which I hope it is – it’s a great album because it deals with great themes. It speaks in a noble language. It speaks of the issues or the ideals of an age in some nation, and hopefully, it would also speak across the ages.” There’s also a neat anecdote on the 1991 Grammy nightmare, where he claims that he was so disgusted with the attitude of his fellow stars and the music business itself (plus he was ill) that he turned in the kind of performance that would make him irrelevant in the eyes of the media so that they would leave him alone. He had decided to give up recording and instead solely concentrate on playing live; “…I thought, “I’ll make a couple more records and just have them be folk songs, in a really simplified way – no big production or anything.” Beyond that I don’t want to record anymore.” Amusingly, he insists that his drinking habits have never adversely affected his live performances; “That’s completely inaccurate. I can drink or not drink. I don’t know why people would associate drinking with anything that I do, really.”

Anyone want to lend him some February 1991 videos? This is easily the most revealing interview he’s given since at least 1997 and is decorated with some splendid colour 2001 on-the-road shots as well as two fantastic black and white Herb Ritts shots. But why am I telling you all this; if you’re a Dylan fan then you will have bought it, right?

Speaking of interviews, there was one with ex-Rolling Stone scribe Ben Fong-Torres on journalismjobs.com in which he is asked what was the most memorable rock concert he has covered; “…I suppose I have to say Bob Dylan in Chicago. It was his first tour since his motorcycle accident in Woodstock. It was a great show. He was sounding strong, playing his classic music, and the music meant a lot to me…Just to be surrounded by that crowd who were all there to do the same thing basically, to hear the message from bob Dylan.”

Finally, lengthy and positive reviews of Down The Highway and Positively 4th Street appeared in Novembers Reason Magazine by Brian Doherty. It’s a long review, sure enough, but rally, we’ve seen it all before. Best bit is when Doherty accuses Hajdu of making “Joan Baez look about as ridiculous as possible, and shows Dylan escaping her folkie-leftist orbit to become an artist of greater power and breadth than the scene could accommodate.” I’m not sure if this is supposed to be criticism or praise, but I know what one I’d like to believe it is.

Th-th-th-th-th-that’s all, folks.

THANKS THIS MONTH TO: GRAHAM A (As always but even more so) and BRYAN G


 

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