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20lbs of Headlines

by MARK CARTER

This month’s glut of press cuttings will deal primarily with the reaction of Dylan’s August 2002 swing through North America and into deepest Canada. Before we begin, however, there was an interesting little item in the 13/8/02 edition  of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by Tony Norman, who complained that the American media had concentrated far too much on Dylan’s appearance at the 2002 Newport Folk Festival and not enough on the music; “…What coverage there was of the music felt perfunctory, as if speculation about his scraggly “new” beard and whether it was real, trumped every other consideration….Why dwell on the mystery of Dylan’s decision to dress like an extra from Fiddler On The roof instead of reporting on what must have  been an incredible show?” Indeed, except of course, it may have been what Dylan had in mind all along. 

Onto the tour,  begining with a review of the Molson Centre show in the Montreal Gazette by T’cha Dunleavy, who enjoyed seeing Dylan getting down to the business of music for music’s sake; “…Throwing his lyrics about with gruff irreverence, Dylan was having fun, as were his musicians. That, apparently, is what it’s still all about. Cool.” 

From there, it’s a brief hop, skip and a jump to Ottawa’s Corel Centre, where, in his Ottawa Sun review, Denis Armstrong pondered Dylan’s latest triumph; “…Ageless Bob Dylan. His longevity is a logical puzzle worthy of  Stephen Hawking. How is it that one of music’s true dinosaurs, and I’m only using that in the kindest historical context, performs like the latest thing?” Bruce Ward of the Ottawa Citizen was equally impressed; “…Once his chain-saw voice warmed up, Dylan was equal to his red-hot band…If you want dusty relics, there’s plenty of museums to visit in Ottawa. But if you saw Dylan last night, you saw an artist in top form performing his works in progress. That’s all any fan can ask.” 

Jeff Miers of the Buffalo News penned a brief – but positive – review of the Erie County Fair gig, singling out some old chestnuts and newer material as highlights: “…Dylan and his impeccable band offered  Western New Yorkers a show that, while it might have been just one more stop on the never ending tour, was one that they’ll not soon forget.” 

The Globe And Mail’s Bill Reynolds  considered the inclusion of six Love And Theft songs at Toronto’s Molson Amphitheatre as a good indication of Dylan’s renewed confidence and concludes – though Dylan would probably hate this – that he has progressed from mere rock artist or even legend; “…With back-to-back excellent albums of original material and numerous accolades, Dylan is now the fountainhead of American song. He’s the Hank Williams who rolls along in the limousine from town to town, rather than the Hank Williams who died in the back seat from an overdose.” 

Newsday.com’s Glenn Gamboa trekked along the Southampton College show and was mightily glad that he did. Not only did he witness the 2002 revamp of The Mighty Quinn, but he also got witness several Bob Dylans on stage into the bargain; “…In his current set, each song showcases a portion of his persona – Rocker Bob, Country Bob, Bluesy Bob, Political Bob. Few artists  could compete with any of these incarnations. Only a great such as Dylan could master them all simultaneously.” 

Onto Omaha’s Civic Auditorium, where a crowd of 4,000 contained many younger fans who were turned onto Bob because their parents were fans (Jamie, are you reading this?). They weren’t disappointed, as the World-Herald’s  Christine Laue describes; “…Dylan with a guitar, stoic yet soulful. Dusty lilac sunset behind gray fuzzy clouds. Four bandmates  who perfectly ebb and flow with just a look or nod from Bob. Two hours of favourite songs. An encore that includes, fittingly, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door… It was heaven all over again.” 

Heath McCoy of the Calgary Herald enjoyed the Saddledome show, though he felt it was more suited to a smoky saloon than an arena. Even so, the Love And Theft material and a reworked I Want You (“…during this song Dylan’s voice croaked away weakly, which some might interpret as brilliant – it effectively conveys the song’s sense of hurt, longing and vulnerability – while others might just call it bad singing”) were among the highlights of another well received  gig.  Similarly, Lisa Wilton of the Calgary Sun was also impressed, perhaps even more so: “…For those, like myself, who had never seen Dylan before, the show was a wonderful opportunity to see one of music’s most enduring figures. For others, it may go down as his best Calgary performance.” 

The Edmonton Sun’s questionably named Fish Griwowsky found the Skyreach Centre show to be marred only by the fact that Dylan didn’t talk to the audience. He didn’t recognise any of the Love And Theft songs and felt that Mr. Tambourine Man was a pale shadow of it’s former self. These are not complaints as such; he recognises that, if nothing else, Dylan has earned the right to do whatever he wants, and there was one sublime and personal moment for him during Not Dark Yet; “…It reminded me of waiting at home in Asahi, Japan for my girlfriend to come home, and especially how someone else does that now.” Despite the “No  photographs, purleeze!” requests, the Sun managed to get a very respectable onstage shot and he looks o-kay, though as skinny as a match with all the wood shaved off. 

Sandra Sperounes of the Edmonton Journal also enjoyed the Skyreach Centre concert, especially the reworking of the oldies (“…Mr. Tambourine Man became a stripped-down acoustic number with a prominent bass and a William Shatner-style rap…Rainy Day Women was transformed into a smoky, bluesy romp by his jaw-droppingly amazing player”), even it, as usual, the lyrics are buried in the mix and in Dylan’s nose; “…A lot of shoulders tilted constantly as the confused asked their friends; “What did he say? “In fact, to the untrained ear, one of the verses in It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) probably sounded like “Fusha, fusha fush HUH”.” Oh, come on, Sandra, that’s a little unfair. Only a little, mind. 

Scott Iwasaki of the Deseret News turned in a brief but enthusiastic review of the Deer Amphitheatre show and manages to take ten years off Dylan’s age into the bargain; “…He had trouble reaching some of the higher notes, but it didn’t stop him trying. And though at times he sounded out of breath (could have been the altitude), he still managed some emotional deliveries.” 

Finally, another positive review of the Jazz Aspen’s Labor Day gig by Stewart Oksenhorn for the Aspen Times; “…In his first Aspen appearance, Dylan offered up, as he does most every night, an energised look back at his four-decade career. Dylan’s enthusiasm and his affection for his band made for a memorable performance.” 

Briefly onto other August / September 2002 matters. Julie Felix gave an interview to the Scotsman to promote her tour and new album Starry Eyed And Laughing. Of the latter, she says ;”It’s something I’ve always wanted to do – I have always absolutely loved his songs. They just seem to be the right kind of material for me, I feel in my element. He knows about the album, but he hasn’t heard it yet.” 

Mick McCuistion – of Rolling Tomes fame – was interviewed by Michael Roberts for Westworld and reveals the genesis of his little empire as well as another  new book he’s helped to get off the ground, namely Bert Cartwright’s The Dylan Song Companion: A Commentary With Annotations, Volume One.  The book, which promises to discuss every song on every album, was only partly completed at the time of Cartwright’s death, but McCuistion gathered up all of Cartwright’s  computer files and presented them to Dylan scholar Johnathan Lauer to complete; “The files were completely messed up. It’s unbelievable how much work went into this book. It was probably just as hard for Johnathan to complete as it was for Bert to write it in the first place.” 

And that’s it, really. Several German newspapers featured the same photos and comments from the Newport show. My favourite is from Bild, which says that the wig looks like it was made from “unwashed, wire haired dachshund skin…The photo is not intended for use by the anti-smoking campaign.” Oh and his fingernails were dirty also. Blimey, it ain’t easy being a sex symbol. 

Guess I’ll see ya next month unless Mars invades us.

THANKS TO GRAHAM ASHOTON, AND JENS WINTER, WITHOUT WHOM THIS WOULD HAVE  JUST BEEN THREE SHEETS OF BLANK PAPER.

 
 
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