Lots more German reviews from the Autumn 2003 tour to get through this month, so let’s not hang about.
Kicking off with Leipzig, where Evelyn Schwarz of the Thuringische Landeszeitung particularly enjoyed a “striking”, if “off-beat”, Mr Tambourine Man and where Susann Leutritz of Sachsischezeitung fame found herself agreeing with one member of the audience who shouted out that Dylan had never been better than on that day. Utter tripe, of course, but it's good to know that the “He's never been better” brigade are still out there.
Still with Leipzig, Freie Presse’s Matthias Zwarg worried that perhaps Dylan was playing keyboards because the real keyboard player was on holiday (yes, and he has been since 1987) and singled out a “beautiful” Senor as a highlight.
Meanwhile, Wolfgang Greiner, owner of the Hotel Furtenhof in Leipzig was expressing his astonishment to the Leipziger Volkszeitung that Dylan didn’t speak to him during his brief stay or, indeed, sign his copy of the Greatest Hits album. “We have had many superstars here,” he gasps, “Herbert Gronemeyer, AC/DC, the Rolling Stones, but I’ve never experienced anything like this.” Dylan's entourage booked 14 rooms, 3 of them for Dylan himself. “But,” reveals Greiner, “We never knew for sure exactly where our guest was.” That was a bit careless, wasn’t it?
Onto Graz, where Austria’s Kleine Zeitung revealed that Dylan attended the soundcheck, but wore a hood throughout, played with his back to the hall and didn’t sing at all (if you would believe some British newspapers, this is how Dylan plays all of his shows nowadays). The show itself didn’t disappoint Kleine Zeitung’s Walter Titz, though he felt - not unreasonably, methinks - that the emphasis on a rockier, heavier sound this time around meant that some of the subtler numbers such as Bye And Bye and Tweedle Dee And Tweedle Dum were lost in the onslaught.
Der Standard’s Christian Schachinger enjoyed Graz overall, though you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell by reading his review: “ ...He barks in front of old people, who he has already seen too often in his life in the front rows of his concerts and who know the lyrics better than he does; ‘I’ve had too much of your company’.” Having dealt with Dylan’s interaction with his faithful audience, Schachinger turns his attention to that other old reliable; his voice; “...His singing was charmingly flat, somewhere between a chronic smoker’s cough and the barking of a street dog.” Despite all of this - or, perhaps, because of it, Graz is voted “concert of the year”. Similarly, Michael Anheier of the Neues Volksblatt titles his so-so review of Graz “A spider-legged, grey-faced old goblin” which is, you must admit, a bit of a change from all of those tired old “spokesman for a generation” monikers. “Bob doesn't sit,” he informs us, “But he doesn’t stand either. Like a hunchbacked vulture, he hangs at the inaudible piano and doesn’t care for the audience in the hall...What he did to All Along The Watchtower is hard to describe: something comes up ominous and evil, taking hold of the people in the audience and finally the guys onstage. In the end they’re growing together in a monstrous, steaming, infernal act.”
Staying with Graz, Bernhard Flieher of the Salzburger Nachrichten enjoyed the concert but felt that Dylan was beginning to look - and show - his age and only during the encores did “the age fade away and the wrinkles smooth away”.
By the time we got to Vienna we were half a million strong. Well, not quite, but, however many were in the audience doesn’t really matter, since, by all accounts, they were a very unreceptive and unresponsive bunch. Die Presse’s Samir H. Kock reckoned that Dylan played a tremendous show and that even his voice was top-notch, but “rarely has such an enthralling concert received such a limp reception”. Wiener Zeitung’s Francesco Campagner and Gerald Jatzek agreed, but reckoned that the band's “lively blues-rock” brought them out of their shells.
At Berlin, Frankfurter Allgemeine’s Wolfgang Hilbig admitted that he is the same age as Dylan and saw his first Bob concert many moons ago, but, this time around, Dylan sang as though he were thirty years younger; “...If there is still something like rock ‘n’ roll and blues in the world, this man is the personification of it”.
Munchen Merkur’s Zoran Gojic enjoyed Munich just as much, especially Hattie Carroll, which he felt Dylan sang with so much passion it seemed as though his own lyrics would overwhelm him. At the same venue, Donaukurier’s Philipp Schmatloch began the concert doubtful whether the “magic moments” at Dylan concerts that he’d heard about actually existed, but “I can't tell when and where, but somewhere between the opener To Be Alone With You and the brilliant All Along The Watchtower all doubts have vanished and have changed into indescribable enthusiasm”.
Marco Schmidt of t.z. didn't enjoy Munich quite as much, judging by these comments; “...His singing is terrible, he's a miserable harmonica player and his guitar playing is amateurish. But he didn't play guitar at all at the Olympiahalle; he mistreated an electric piano instead.” Still not convinced? Try this then; “...He garbles his classics beyond recognition and reinvents them night after night like a painter overpainting his paintings again and again. He stretches the syllables, croaks, speaks through his nose and mumbles like Daffy Duck on dope”. For all of that, he admits that Bob is a “marvelous storyteller” and Hattie Carroll was a “heartrending ballad” that had the power to move the listener to tears.
Suddentche Zeitung's Oliver Hochkeppel certainly had no problems with Dylan’s Daffy Duck impersonations at Munich, concluding that “this concert was a revelation, even for those who didn't know what to do with the whining guitar player of the early years”.
The German edition of Rolling Stone dispatched Maik Bruggemeyer along to Hamburg, and he was very impressed; “...His illness a few years ago forced him to abstain from playing harmonica for a while, now he plays piano instead of guitar because of other disabilities. Now, with nothing hanging in front of his breast, he sings better than he has in a long time.” Interestingly, this is one of the few reviews that suggests that Dylan’s preference of the piano over the guitar may be due to old age or medical problems, rather than a whimsical fancy.
At Freiburg, Bettina Schulte of the Badische Zeitung recognised that Dylan had no intention of pandering to nostalgia, “and that’s what makes him one of the greatest. It’s phenomenal how fresh, lively, powerful, how rocking with brute force this version of Highway 61 Revisited sounds”. On the other hand, Oberbadisches Volksblatt’s Stefan Ummenhofer didn’t really enjoy the show, blaming a - in his view - rather unenthusiastic audience on the muddy sound and a listless Dylan. According to him, many attendees made do with “one close look at the legend and stayed for the rest of the concert near the beer stalls”. Whatever, Ummenhofer does single out three highlights; Don’t Think Twice, Highway 61 and an “endless” It's Alright Ma.
Onto Frankfurt, where Frankfurter Rundschau’s Harry Nutt considered the first third of the show to be marred by poor mixing and sound. This night’s version of All Along The Watchtower, he considers, may have been the best version ever performed, beating even Hendrix’s unique take on the song. Frankfurter Allgemeine’s Edo Reents was also somewhat disappointed with the concert, concluding that Dylan looked tired, though he was unsure whether this was the aftermath of an exhausting concert or signs of a general weariness in the man; “...to say it visually, Summer Days sounded more like autumn this time”.
Offenbach Post's Christian Riethmuller certainly did not witness a tired Dylan or performance, expressing a (forlorn) hope that a live album of the tour might be released before Christmas. Some hopes, Columbia are still having problems getting a 1964 concert into the shops. Still, I guess that’s what we have b**tleggers for. Allgemeine Zeitung’s Michael Jacobs also enjoyed the show, praising Dylan’s “unbelievable” band, especially the “fantastic lead guitar player Freddy Koella”. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.
Marcus Hladek of the Frankfurter Neue Presse found the combined sound of “whining guitar” and Dylan's piano to be “surprisingly dynamic”, and that, once the encores came around, the audience came alive and there was no holding them back. Similarly, Wiesbadener Kurier’s Herbert Heil found the encores to be exciting in the extreme, especially All Along TheWatchtower, “which can be called the highlight of a great concert”.
Hartmut Wilmes, writing for Kolnische Rundschau, waxed equally lyrical about the Dusseldorf concert, especially the encores, which he thought were worth the price of admission alone. Koln Stadt-Anzeiger’s Martin Oehlen also enjoyed Dusseldorf, reckoning that a “tender" Forever Young - as a fourth and final encore - was an appropriate sign-off for the show and the German tour; “...a song with all good wishes for a happy future.”
Neue Rhein Zeitung's Jorg Bartel discovered, at Dusseldorf, a Highway 61 Revisited turned into “a heavy rock inferno”. Furthermore, “Dylan played World War 3. Has he ever played louder?” Bernd Schuknecht of the Rheinische Post equally enjoyed the show, though concludes that Dylan's voice is now "a croaky mixture of Tom Waits, Willy Brand and a crow...(and is) a matter of taste”. Still, he was surprisingly lively, given that he already appears to have one foot in the grave. “I don't believe it!!” (note to overseas readers; this is a veiled reference to a now-defunct British t.v. show, featuring OAP grump Victor Meldrew - a person that, as I reach my early 40s, I am slowly but surely adopting as my role model).
Final Dusseldorf review is by Westdeutsche Zeitung’s Thomas Reuter, who found Dylan “brilliant, intoxicating and surprising”. His voice is “more cooing and gurgling than singing” and Reuter reckons he performed The Times They Are A-Changin’ especially gently. It must have been very gentle indeed, given that he didn’t actually play it at the show!
A few UK stragglers to catch up with now, beginning with Simmy Richman, writing for some newspaper or other, who went along to Brixton and didn't like what he saw; “...he delivered every indecipherable line in that sandpaper bark and his band played pub-rock R&B like the bastard offspring of an unholy union between Dire Straits and Status Quo. If you are a fan; he was OK, he played lesser songs, he seemed disengaged, he barely looked up, he stripped vocal melody down to a random sequence of howls, yelps, growls and snarls...This is the sound of a man who’s been going through the motions for so long he's forgotten how important a little “e” can be at the start of that word.” And there was me thinking that Brixton was supposed to have been one of the better gigs!
A couple of days earlier, David Smyth of the London Evening Standard made his pilgrimage to Shepherd’s Bush, where he seemed to witness an entirely different show; “...His singing was more expressive than it can sometimes be...the hint of a smile here and there, and one brief period of peculiar dancing, suggested he was enjoying himself almost as much as the lucky few revelling in the rare chance to see their hero at close quarters.”
Meanwhile The Independent’s Tim Cumming caught a rare viewing of Masked And Anonymous and, surprisingly enough, enjoyed it (with reservations, of course!); “...it is a flawed but fascinating success...None of it may make obvious sense, but the movie is brave enough not to deal in straight answers. Neither does Dylan.”
Bernhard Flieher of Austria’s Salzburger Nachrichten also saw the movie, but was somewhat less impressed; “...as a movie, it isn’t much good. But it’s a goldmine for Dylan experts.” He advises us to file it alongside Renaldo And Clara and Tarantula.
Finally, just time to mention that Arne Willander of Germany’s Rolling Stone gave the entire recent remasters series five stars (with special commendation to Bringing It All Back Home), before I switch the computer off (how things have changed; it doesn't seem five minutes since I used to switch the typewriter off, back in Ye Olden Days).
That’s yer lot. See you same time, same place next month.
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