This month we’ll wrap up the reviews for the 2002 Fall tour of America and then look at the first batch of “Live 1975” reviews, of which there are many. Onwards then, ever onwards.
We’ll begin with the first Madison Square concert and the usually reliable Dan Aquilante of the New York Post. This time around, however, he has no words of comfort for us Dylan fans, calling the show a mistake, claiming that the numerous covers were unsuitable for such a prestigious venue and bemoaning the fact that it was far from a sell-out. Even the revamped It’s Alright Ma – a breath of fresh air to my ears – is dismissed as “a disservice to the original”.
The New York Daily News’ David Hinckley had no such problems at the same venue on the same night. He reckoned that the cover of Mutineer was the highlight of the evening and probably correctly summed up the show with his concluding paragraph; “…For reasons having nothing to do with Dylan or his performance, this show didn’t have the crackle of the one he gave here last November in the shadow of 9/11. It was no less a showcase of the art of fine song.”
Jay Lustig of the New Jersey Star-Ledger also enjoyed the gig and was the only critic to comment on the live debut of Yea! Heavy And A Bottle Of bread.
The Boston Herald’s Brett Milano was fairly impressed with the FleetCenter show: “…(It) offered roughly equal portions of Dylan’s perversity and his enduring brilliance”. Though he was pleased that the Newport wig had been left in Dylan’s suitcase.
The Hartford Courant’s Eric Danton found the Hartford Civic Center show to be similarly up and down in terms of quality, with a “dire” Things Have Changed presumably being one of the downs. Still, the band “more than redeemed any vocal difficulties” and the encore of ancient chestnuts went down well in the Danton camp.
Tom Moon of the Philadelphia Inquirer was more than happy with the First Union Center show, especially Bob’s version of the End Of Innocence, during which “Dylan teased out the details of the narrative that Henley glossed over, and he brought all the adult woe he could muster to the choruses. “If Moon had one complaint it was that Bob dropped his cover of Old Man from the set for that night.
The Rhode Island Ryan Center gig was equally favourably received by the Newport Daily News’ James Gillis, who felt that it was even better than Dylan’s performance at the Newport Folk Festival back in August (not that that’s saying much). He laughs at those people who consider Dylan’s refusal to talk to his audience as contempt for those poor paying customers; “….Dylan’s rocking these days with the energy of a guy 30 years younger, trotting an incendiary band across the globe night after night. If that’s contempt, find him guilty.”
Al Choman of The Citizen’s Voice was amongst the 3,500 at the First Union Arena show and was ecstatic with what he saw; “…If you haven’t logged this musical pilgrimage in your diary yet, Dylan is someone you must see. This version of Rolling Bob’s Revue now makes it more important than ever. The Bob Dylan that showed up Thursday evening was great. Truly great!”
The final concert of the tour in Virginia’ Patriot Center was greeted with satisfaction by the Washington Post’s Dave McKenna (“He didn’t talk much, but it sure looked and sounded as though he was enjoying his work”) and indifference by the National Reviews Michael Long, who, at best, found it “good” and, at worst, mourned the sight of Dylan merely going through the motions. “Much of the time, “ he elaborates, “Bob Dylan and his musicians sounded like a prom band: tight and adequate, but just slugging through it one more time for yet another bunch of kids.”
And there, on that downbeat note we must leave the tour and instead concentrate on an officially released document of a year and a tour when Dylan was uniformly great and, however good the late 2002 shows were, knocked anything he has done over the past 20-odd years into the proverbial cocked hat. Yes folks, it’s time to peruse the “Live 1975” reviews and let’s see if anyone has the gall to criticise it, shall we?
Beginning with the UK press, a three-star review in the Sunday Times rightly puts the Revue up there with the “wild mercury sound” of 1966 and the Observers Kitty Empire succinctly summed it up as “mighty”. The Daily Mirrors Gavin Martin awarded it four stars and concluded that, “with Bob hollering like a possessed pub singer and the band at full tilt the results are sometimes macabre, always uninhibited and often thrilling.”
A traditionally stroppy Ian Anderson of Folk Roots reluctantly sang it’s praises, though couldn’t resist saying that it would have been better if it was pruned down to a single disc and that, “Since Dylan doesn’t make records like this anymore, Live 1975 is a welcome present for nostalgists.” Tosser.
Q’s John Harris delivered a four star review, again claiming that Dylan’s mid-70s were every bit as important and impressive as his mid-60s and declaring that Dylan’s vocals and Rolling Thunder band “creates a molten, gloriously loose sound that pumps new magic into even the hoariest songs.”
By far the best review (that is “best” as if for all the wrong reasons) appeared in Classic Rock by Mick Wall. Usually reserving praise for Def Leppard and Motorhead, Wall dishes out five stars and then begins to relate his recollections of when he owned the vinyl version back in 1976. He is puzzled as to what has happened to the versions of I Threw It All Away and You’re A Big Girl Now that he remembers so well and - this is where it gets really good – also wonders where the electric version of Tangled Up In Blue has got to. Now, given that Dylan did play an electric Tangled Up In Blue ata couple of the 1976 gigs, I could say that Wall is/was a pretty staunch Dylan fan and is getting a little confused but, in view of what I’ve just written, I shall refrain from being that generous. I think this is the first time I’ve seen such a glowing review of entirely the wrong album.
And now onto the American reviews, where at least everyone seems to know what year they’re talking about (It’s called “Live 1975” – the clue is in the title). David Browne of Entertainment Weekly is probably unique in finding the Rolling Thunder Revue “the beginning of a dark, unpleasant phase of Dylan’s career that would engulf his next decade. “ Despite awarding the album a “B” rating, Browne is also at pains to point out that this is the “least essential of the “Bootleg Series” albums”.
Kmsb.com’s Thor Christensen was considerably more upbeat, giving it an A-Minus rating and exclaiming; “…Live 1975 sets the time machine back to one of his strongest concert eras – both musically and vocally. Hearing him in a clear voice swagger angrily through A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall and Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll makes you yearn for the days before he disintegrated in wheezy Mr. Mumbles.”
Arya Imig of crazewire.com earns my respect straight away by stating that Live 1975 is far superior to recent live albums by Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney and concludes, a few hundred words later with; “Lightning has been captured in a bottle. Live 1975 is a wonderful document of amazing music.” Similarly, Ben Wener of the Orange County Register also reckoned it towered head and shoulders above other recent live releases: “…Back in 1975 it was as if he were rewriting history, proving that his protest chestnuts and surreal set pieces could fit any modern interpretation.”
The Buffalo News’ Jeff Simon handed out another four-star review and summed up, “…No passionate music-loving home should be without this three-disc set.” Popmatters.cam’s Ronnie D. Lankford Jr reckoned that the music represented here is as good as any live music Dylan has ever produced and that, though his last studio album was good, this is his best release since “Live 1966”.
The Phoenix New Times’ Jeff Hinkle places the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue as Dylan’s last great gasp; “…After the Northeast shows, the tours got bigger, but not the myth. A few years later, Dylan found Jesus, and nothing has been the same since. Rolling thunder marked perhaps the last real surprise in a career that was once full of them. “ Meanwhile, our old mate Ed Bumgardner, reviewing for journalnow.com, had nothing but praise, “…The 1975 tour of the Rolling Thunder revue was one of those flashes of spontaneous combustion that make rock ‘n’ roll so special. How lucky that this marvelous set exists to share these moments with those of us not lucky enough to savour the fun the first time around.
City Pages.com’s Michaelangelo Matos spends much of his prissy review arguing about whether Dylan and Baez could actually be truthfully described as “singing together” or “harmonizing”, while the New York Observer’s entranced David Means enthusiastically concludes; “…Mr. Dylan has released a masterwork. It’s like one of those Hubbell photographs of deep space nebulas: light arriving after 9,000 years, unmarred by all that distance. And wondrously beautiful.”
Briefly on to other matters. Dana Bartholomew of the Los Angeles Daily News interviewed Mickey Jones to celebrate the release of his 1966 home movies: “…Boy, I tell you what, when I slammed that snare drum to kick off Tell Me Mama, the place went crazy. It was a reckoning – there was such fury, anger. And now we consider it the greatest rock ‘n’ roll tour in history.
Neil Corcoran’s Do You Mr Jones? Book was favourably received by none less than Andrew Motion in UK’s Play magazine; “…No one could end this book without thinking (even) better of Dylan. Well done, Mister Jones.” And the Times’ James Eve enjoyed Larry Sloman’s reprinted On The Road With Bob Dylan; “….Sloman was lucky – and cunning – enough to cosy up to the stars and in doing so get as close to Dylan as anyone in print has ever been.”
Phew, reviewing Bob Dylan reviews – it’s a Goddamn impossible way of life. But I’ll be back to do it all again next month.
In the meantime, thanks to GRAHAM A and GRAHAM W for keeping it going this month. Now, let’s all burst into an all star finale of I Shall Be Released.
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