This month, we undertake a fairly mammoth trawl through Bob's very mammoth spring tour of the US of A. For a bit of light relief along the way, there are a few Live 1964 reviews to include, and there will be many more of those next month. I'm primarily concentrating on the tour this time around, however, because next month will also be dominated by the critical shock afforded Bob's recent trip to Venice, where he cavorted around the streets with a model wearing a pair of angel wings and very little else, all to help Victoria's Secret sell a few more pairs of frilly undies. My views on this whole affair, especially the over-the-top reaction from a bunch of hacks who seemingly think that (a) they own Bob Dylan and that (b) Bob has never "sold out" before were pretty thoroughly aired in Freewheelin1 a few months ago so I shall refrain from commenting (ranting!) too much here, at the risk of repeating myself, and more or less simply concentrate on the tour (however, when I re-read the articles next month prior to typing up 20 Pounds, I can't promise that it won't start me off all over again!). O-kay, ready? Let's get started on those pesky old concert reviews, then.
Daniel Durcholz of the St Louis Post-Dispatch caught the opening night at the Pageant and was relatively impressed with what he saw, though he thought that Dylan's "sing-song" voice somewhat marred Hattie Carroll and the encores, whilst still exciting, were somewhat predictable. Even so, it was a show with many highlights and "if his next two concerts are as good as the first, St. Louisans will be talking about this trio of shows for a long time to come."
The Chicago Sun-Times' Jim Derogatis similarly enjoyed Bob's first Chicago show at the Aragon Ballroom, though he too had reservations. He felt that Dylan's position behind the keyboards robbed him of his usual stage presence and "when he occasionally ventured out from behind his keyboard to play harmonica at center stage, Dylan seemed stiff and awkward, and the band followed suit, much less in his control than it has been in recent years."
A couple of days later, also writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, Dave Hoekstra found Dylan's Park West show to be pretty fine, even if he does insist on likening Bob to a carnival stripper (not an image I care to dwell upon for any length of time, I don't mind admitting);"... His vocals are full of bumps and grinds. He uses mystery to entice an audience and he finds clarity in the middle of mayhem." Whatever. Still, Dylan seemed to enjoy the show as much as Hoekstra and the audience; "...he shuffled around the stage in the shadow of his white cowboy hat. He pointed his fingers toward the audience and he seemed to smile, but I'm not sure. This old room knows that imagery can be more powerful than reality. And Bob Dylan knew he had created a magical night."
Reviewing the Park West show for the Chicago Daily Herald, Mark Guarino had a similarly enjoyable time, though he notes that Dylan "held back interacting with the crowd until Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35, where he sang through a smile and turned to the crowd for its' famous refrain; "everybody must get stoned"." All's well that ends well and "by night's end he faced the crowd, swaggering and jabbing his fingers left and right, as if saying just because he's called a legend, don't think he's still not restless."
Heading home for a concert at St. Paul's Roy Wilkins Auditorium brought forth a favourable review from Rob Hubbard of the Twin Cities Pages, calling it "the best Twin Cities show he's presented in many a year" and claiming that "Dylan sang with conviction all evening, leaning into his low-slung microphone in the stance of a sprinter in mid-stride." At the same show (one of a diminishing number of Twin Cities venues that Bob hasn't played), Drew Lyon of The MSU Reporter also had a thoroughly good time, deciding that Bob was finally living out his childhood fantasy of wanting to be Little Richard (even if the keyboards were often inaudible) and declaring Bob's voice to be "unpredictable". "Bottom line:", he concludes, is that Bob is "one of music's true living legends...Don't miss him before it's too late." (I think I know what he means!).
Getting somewhat greedy, Joshua Klein of Billboard went along to three of the four Chicago shows (only missing out the Vie Theatre) but was relatively unimpressed with the first two, finding Dylan to be distant and uncommitted. By the time he reached the Park West, however, "he sounded downright fiery. He laced his lines with barbed inflections, hit at least a few of his notes and generally reincorporated his ever more imposing voice into the music, rather than randomly injecting lines like an afterthought. But most of all, Dylan looked like he was having fun, and the smiles of his band reflected that enthusiasm." Also reviewing the Park West show was Martin Bandyke of the Detroit Free Press, who was equally impressed with Bob's energy and refusal to become a nostagia merchant, peddling out tired carbon-copies of his best-loved songs; "...The artist is taking to heart the words of his assumed namesake, the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas: "Do not go gentle into that good night"."
Onto Milwaukee, where the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Nick Carter was relatively impressed with the Eagles Ballroom show, even if he felt it was - as with many Dylan shows -a concert of peaks and troughs, with the encores lifting the energy level a notch or two above the main set.
Elizabeth Chorney-Booth, who sounds as though she'd be more at home in a Bronte novel but actually writes for Canada's Chart Attack magazine, went along to the first of Dylan's three Toronto shows but was very unimpressed; "...the ticket price was a wager that the audience pretty much lost...While Dylan has been putting on some pretty hot performances since beginning his seemingly ever-lasting Love And Theft tour nearly three years ago, this Ricoh Coliseum show was weak." She does at least realise that his next show may have been everything that this one wasn't.
And, indeed, that may have been the case. The Toronto Sun's Jane Stevenson trooped along to the smallest of the three Toronto venues (The Phoenix) and had a wonderful time; "...it was two hours of pure Bob. Fantastic musicianship, lengthy jams, classic songs and almost undecipherable vocals in that crazy, nasal delivery of his." Also reviewing The Phoenix was James Adams of The Toronto Globe And Mail, who was not quite so impressed as Stevenson, but pretty impressed nonetheless; "...The concensus Saturday was that Dylan gave "good Bob"..The crowd got a good, at times brilliant evening of entertainment from an artist who can still summon the energy and the desire to be that icon called Bob Dylan."
And what of the Toronto Star's Vit Wagnert Well, he also saw all three Phoenix shows and was knocked out by every one. Even the encores left him moved; "...From now on, when I hear All Along The Watchtower, I'll be transported back to the three glorious nights in March of 2004. And I'll be thinking of Bob."
When Bob hit Detroit's State Theater, The Michigan Daily's Andrew M Gaerig hussled along to all three shows and was, overall, happy enough, though the opening night left him fairly cold; "...Dylan was barely present...He didn't look at the audience once...he was a slave to the piano - not much more to look at than a cowboy hat and a black suit." From there it picked up and, set lists "plagued by new material" notwithstanding, "for the most part, Dylan was amazing...his three nights in Detroit proved that he is as relevant, revered and enthralling as ever."
The Boston Globe's Joan Anderman caught the first of the three Avalon shows and, despite Bob's "detachment having grown into cosmic-grade remoteness", found him to be in good spirits and very much "on" for the whole set, including Summer Days, during which he "laughed so hard he couldn't get through the final verse" and a version of Like A Rolling Stone that was - "like the rest of this energised, engaged performance - thoroughly gratifying."
And Larry Kate of The Boston Herald equally enjoyed the opening night, proclaiming that "even without saying a word to the crowd except to introduce the band, Dylan was audibly and visibly playful."
The Berkshire Eagle's Seth Rogovoy threw caution to the wind and went along to the second Avalon gig, probably because there'd be fewer critics in attendance and he'd get a better view of the stage. He was impressed with the emphasis on rock 'n' roll ("...this was a night for Dylan to rock as hard as ever, and his band... was fully up to the task") but especially enjoyed Girl Of The North Country, which was transformed into "a dusty old jewelin a polished, new chamber-folk setting".
Jon Garelick of The Boston Phoenix caught one of the three shows and was also impressed, commenting that Dylan's voice was connected to the lyrics and a marked improvement on his 2002 Newport gig, where his vocal mannerisms were "so unsatisfying".
Onto Philadelphia, where a three-gig stint opened at the Tower Theater. The Morning Call's Marc Rosenberg penned a brief but positive review, but unfortunately didn't write anything quotable. An anonymous hack writing for sparkweekly.com had no such problems. His main beef was with the elderly portions of the audience who told him off for clapping too loudly and then yelled at another nearby young fan who had the audacity to get up and dance. He enjoyed the actual concert, even Bob's latest attempt at humour ("George (Recile) never lies - unless he's in bed") and was already looking forward to the more intimate Trocadero show, especially because, "since it's general admission, all the fogies will be sitting upstairs, leaving the floor to the people who actually like to have a good time at shows". Tom Moon of the Portsmouth Herald Local News seems to have made it to all three of the Philadelphia shows and appears to have enjoyed himself at all of them. He is reminded of the 1994 Unplugged show - indeed, he managed to attend one day's recording - in that, then as now, Dylan is "dedicated to making his songbook a living entity...his approach mirrors that of the great legends, such as bluesman Muddy Waters, who made listeners believe he found new delights in Hoochie Coochie Man nightly."
Next stop Washington for another three-dater in three different venues, beginning with a last-minute addition at the tiny 9:30 Club, where Scott Galupo of The Washington Times barely managed to catch sight of Dylan through the full-to-bursting crowd, and found his lack of stage banter and current preference of making every song sound the same ("roughly, the sound of a lawn mower engine at the first tug of it's pull-cord") to be somewhat depressing. Ultimately, Galupo realises that this is just one more stop on Dylan's "mission to play under every public roof from Reno to Rio" and that the gig represented "no special occasion this time - just the ferocity of a guy who hopes to leave a ticket-refund fiasco in the wake of his death." I think that last phrase succinctly sums Dylan up better than any of the dozens of essays that I have read on the man and the NET during this past decade or so. At Washington's Bender Arena, The Eagle's Dan Zak caught a decent set, and, afterwards, managed to interview Jason Geisinger, the assistant director of the Student Union Board; the campus organisation that brought Dylan to Bender. He learned that Dylan had requested that the air conditioning vents backstage be taped over and, indeed, even wanted the air conditioning for the entire building to be turned off. There were also, of course, the usual demands that no cameras were to be allowed into the venue and that anyone found with a camera was to be shot and their head be mounted atop a wooden spike outside the main door (o-kay, so I made the last bit up). Whether Bob was ultimately satisfied with the arrangements will always remain a mystery because he buggered off after the show without even saying, 'Thanks for the money". Geisinger was decidedly unimpressed with Bob's warm and cuddly attitude; "He's an arrogant a-hole. He immediately left for his hotel after the show...He didn't want to see us, he didn't want to acknowledge (SUB's) presence." Hmmm...I shouldn't bank on a repeat booking at that particular venue any time soon, Bob.
Bob seems to have delivered another solid show at Norfolk's The NorVa, if Sam Macdonald of The Daily Press is anything to go by, even airing a version of the semi-rare This Wheel's On Fire. The older fans in the audience knew what to expect and pretty much got it, but, Macdonald suggests, the newer and younger elements of the crowd seemed a little unsure of what they were getting and Dylan seemed a little unsure of them; "...There were moments when Dylan and his audience looked at each other with equal bewilderment. At the end of the encore...he nodded slightly and moved his fist in a half-hearted, ambiguous gesture. It was as if Dylan was thinking: Thanks a lot. But you folks sure are weird1." You mean he's only just realised??!
The State's Mark Layman took in the Township gig at Columbia and enjoyed himself, though he seems somewhat concerned at Dylan's alleged failing health; "...Stick-thin, wearing a long black coat and cowboy hat, and walking with a limp, Dylan took to the stage shortly after 8 p.m....the talk is that he suffers from arthritis - which could explain the odor of Ben-Gay in the air a few minutes before the show began." Makes a change from wacky baccy, I suppose. Finally, James Mann of Amplifier Magazine sat in on one of the three shows at Atlanta's Tabernacle and even had time to ponder Bob's recent foray into selling ladies' smalls, deciding that, while he wouldn't like to see it become a habit, he cannot see what the problem is - Dylan earns loads of money, gets to hang out with young models in their skivvies and gets his name in every newspaper throughout the land, so he's doing o-kay and, Mann decides, any bona-fide fan of Bob should be used to these little side-trips into the surreal from him by now. Onto the show, which Mann enjoyed, though with a certain reservation or two; "...he stands behind a keyboard the entire night. It only takes a song or two to realise it's a prop...he never leaves the little niche he has fashioned for himself. Perched over his microphone, his words still lash and sting - but without being front and centre, eyeing the crowd and interacting with the band, there is no focus." Yet, for all of his failings - quite literally, as old age creeps up on him - Mann still considers him our hope - and commentator - in these troubled times; "...somehow, in his confusing and confounding way, Bob Dylan continues to provide some measure of hope. His rail-thin body hunched over a microphone defeats age, and his words cast light into our dark places. He is, as always, equal parts timely and timeless." Nice review.
Phew, after that little lot there's just time to cast a glance at a few Live 1964 reviews, as promised at the beginning of this marathon trek through the pages and the text. Adrian Begrand of popmatters.com concluded that "it sheds light on a crucial period in BobDylan's career, as one chapter of his illustrious career closed and another was just beginning, and is essential listening for Dylan fans and rock historians alike." The Word's Mark Ellen called it "in every regard a masterpiece" and seems to enjoy hearingthe evidence that Dylan and the still-hanging-on-his-shirt tails Baez were drawing apart; "...You can already sense his smirking disregard for her when he forgets his part of Mama, You Been On My Mind and leaves her hanging out to dry."
In a five-star review for Rolling Stone, Parks Puterbaugh also hears the first signs of departure during their four song set; "...The times they were a-changin', and you can hear Dylan coming and going, with one foot in each era, on Live 1964."
The Independentís Andy Gill also delivered a five-star review, again noting that it has a "valedictory air, a fond farewell to old friends...Listening to Live 1964 is like perching on thecusp of history."
And The Boston Herald's Larry Katz decided that Dylan reached "a peak of artistic freedom" during Don't Think Twice; "...he pushes his voice so hard it threatens to go out of control. You can hear the audience titter at his daring, unsure whether to react with laughter or awe." Dylan was, Katz concludes, unpredictable 40 years ago and he still is. Amen to that. May it never be any different.
That's all folks. If you want any more, you can sing it yourselves.
THANKS TO JENS WINTER AND EXPECTING RAIN
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