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20lbs of Headlines

by MARK CARTER

The press of April/May 2002 was predictably dominated by Dylan’s return to these shores for a largely successful tour of the UK during Jubilee Year. John Harris previewed it in May’s edition of Q with a  rundown of the best Bob Dylan urban legends, so it’s “Hello” once again to the tales of Dylan buying clogs in motorway service stations, getting the wrong house whilst visiting Dave Stewart, hiding a naked woman in his hotel wardrobe in 1965 and not really hurting himself when he fell off his motorbike. Gavin Martin’s Daily Mirror preview was more reverential, beginning with Dylan’s Churchill speech from a London stage in 2000, which proves, he claims, that Dylan loves the UK as much as the UK loves him.

The opening Brighton show was unanimously positively received. The Sunday Express awarded it four stars and concluded that, if Dylan has settled for entertainment value only these days, then he is well equipped to deliver. The Daily Telegraph’s Capar Llewellyn Smith delighted in Dylan’s fearless reinvention of his back catalogue but also noted that “the new material also shone: particularly a gorgeous Sugar Baby”.

Despite concluding that Tangled Up In Blue and Rainy Day Women are well past their sell-by date (can’t argue with that), The Independent’s Gavin Martin also enjoyed Brighton, especially the Love And Theft material and an encore of Man Of Constant Sorrow, where “Ferocious heavy metal blasts and searing three-part harmonies are alid over the ancient lament in a reminder that long after the expectation has passed Dylan still has the capacity to spring a brilliant shock.” Witnessing Dylan sing Masters Of War in a “husking death rattle” forces The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis to decide that “Watching Dylan battle his back catalogue is infinitely more entertaining than seeing another super-annuated star glide slickly through their hits.”

Neil Sowerby of the Manchester Evening News likened  the Manchester show to a butterfly; “…it’s fascinating to observe but you know there’s a thing of beauty trapped inside.” For Sowerby, the butterfly emerged during Don’t Think Twice, Blind Willie McTell and, in particular, a “simply radiant” Visions Of Johanna.

Writing for The Independent on Sunday, Simon Price reveals that his father once told him that he would understand Bob Dylan one day. Standing next to his father at Cardiff’s International Arena, Price is finally forced to realize he was right: “..when he sings Positively Fourth Street, even without Al Kooper’s Hammond Organ, if I had hairs on the back of my neck, they would be erect.” 

The Birmingham NEC gig had the local hacks out in force. The Birmingham Post’s Andrew Cowen concluding that “the chances of Dylan returning to the form of 1966 are pretty remote, but as a living, breathing , still-functioning cultural God, he’s still ina class of one.” The Sunday Mercury’s Bob Haywood agrees with me  when he selects the evening’s high point as being, “a stunningly extended and rearranged” Wicked Messenger. The Wolverhampton Express & Stars Peter Bate simply stated that Dylan didn’t disappoint whilst the Birmingham Evening Mail’s Jon Griffin realized that Dylan didn’t need to speak to his audience because “that material spoke eleoquent volumes for the enduring genius of an elder statesman of rock and roll who simply refuses to perform on anything other than his own terms” (or because he’s a miserable shit, depending on your theory). 

Whilst recognizing that the first London gig was not without faults, the Evening Standards David Smyth summed up that “the palpable pleasure of watching the real Bob Dylan, frustrations and all, was more than enough. In a world without Presley, Lennon and Hendrix, he’s the last legend standing, and we’re very lucky to have him.” 

Steve Chilton of the Coventry Evening Telegraph went along to interview Derek Barker, who, despite “being built like a rock stars roadie”, is actually quite a keen fan of Bob Dylan and even produces his own little magazine. He reveals that, when he shuffles off this mortal coil, he would like his final journey to be accompanied by Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door and that his 81st Dylan gig (Birmingham) was “better than many I have seen but not as good as some performances I have seen here in the UK in 1995 and 2000.” 

David Hannington of The Guardian traveled to Brighton with video bootlegger Tony Roberts (sic) and learns that, in order to get a camera past security you either need a very large loaf of bread,  a wife who will pretend to be pregnant, a mate who will pretend to be a hunchback or – the latest one – a large tartan .. oh hang on; that one’s still a secret. Robert is convinced that Dylan secretly views him and his comrades in arms as the true fans, preserving his legacy. Possibly, but all those comments about fans stealing from him and how we should all “get a life” tend to suggest otherwise. 

Meanwhile, away from the concert stage and hunchbacked Dylan fans, Q finally got around to reviewing the Isis Anthology in May, with Andy Gill concluding that “there’s plenty of interest to be found in this compilation of the most interesting Isis moments.” Barb Jungr’s Every Grain Of Sand CD got reviewed in Mojo, where Fred Dellar feared that it could have been awful but was mightily relieved to report that “Jungr approaches  the Dylan songbook with a rare degree of intelligence, relishing each line in the manner of a true chansonnier” and also in HMV Choice magazine, where we are informed that “this CD should satisfy both Jungr fans and surprise Dylan diehards, bringing a new twist to familiar melodies.

With the Last Waltz reissued in various formats, Robbie Robertson was dishing out interviews like confetti, down-playing the rift between himself and Levon Helm and occasionally mentioning the 1966 European battleground. The remastered cinema version received three stars from the Chicago Sun-Times’ Robert Ebert, who finds the assembled musicians on the whole, to be morose, tired and burnt out; “…At the end, Bob Dylan himself comes on. One senses little connection between Dylan and The Band, One also wonders what he was thinking of as he  chose that oversized white cowboy hat, a hat so absurd that during his entire performance I could scarcely think of anything else. It is the haberdashery equivalent of an uplifted middle finger.” Rarely I think you will agree, o loyal readers, has so much time and bullshit been wasted on one hat. And it’s not a cowboy hat. You want absurd oversized cowboy hats, Mt. Ebert? Check out Bob Dylan in 2002. 

The Washington Post’s Richard Harrington was somewhat more impressed: “…Like The Beatles farewell film Let It Be, The Last Waltz gave witness to a disintergrating band’s last poetic gesture…The Band still sounds powerful, vibrant, imaginative and adventurous almost three decades on.” 

Here in the UK, the 4-CD set received four stars from Q’s John Aizlewood; “…The Last Waltz moves most gracefully 26 years later….The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down is almost operatic in it’s grandeur, Acadian Driftwood has genuine lyrical depth and The Weight has a sense of doom that Nick Cave would understand.”  Mojo’s Barney Hoskyns found much to enjoy, though not  Clapton, Young or Dylan, whose “stuff is no less hot-airish than most of Before The Flood; Hazel is even more leaden.” 

Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers also interviewed Robertson, who comments on the reinstated  Hazel; “His (Dylan’s) passion on that thing is ridiculous.”  

Finally, Masked And Anonymous kept hitting the pages of the dailies as more actors and actresses were named as signing on the dotted line. Current Tom Cruise squeeze Penelope Cruz is onboard as the girlfriend of a journalist and Jessica Lange, John Goodman and Luke (The Royal Tennenbaums) Wilson have also all agreed to try and help bail Bob out of another spectacularly bad career move. 

And that’s it for another month. Knowing me, Mark Carter, knowing you, the 20 Pounds reader. Ah ha.

 
 
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