two-month "Chronicles" blitz,
we can finally catch up on Dylan's 2004 late autumn/early winter tour,
and see whether it was as universally favourably received as the summer
jaunt with Willie Nelson. Or, indeed, as his book was.
Okay, so we kick off with an appraisal of the intimate Grand show in San Francisco by The San Francisco Chronicle's old favourite Joel Selvin. In front of 1,200 people, Dylan delivered a show that seems to have soon been voted as one of the best (if not the best) of the year-end tour. With a nod towards his excellent band, Selvin notes that "with Bob Dylan, it's always real life - not show business - onstage. In his first nightclub appearance in San Francisco - and probably the smallest room he's worked around these parts since he played the College of San Mateo 40 years ago - he gave his most fevered fans a rare treat."
At Santa Clara University's Leavey Center, Santa Cruz Style's Don Miller afforded high praise for Dylan's keyboard playing ("strong and prominent"), as well as the band ("....Campbell, in particular, is invaluable to the Bob Band. Not only is he a wonderful guitarist, but his pedal-steel is so distinctive to the Sound of Bob that has become such a focused and flexible musical force"). Dylan himself, "appeared to be having fun, at one point leaving the keyboard to prance about in front of Recile, using that funny Bob-and weave he adopted throughout last year's film, "Masked And Anonymous". The bulk of the 4,500 audience are described as "polite", which, I assume, means that they were pretty inanimate. Indeed, at one point Miller claims that they "were somewhat puzzled by the intensity of the music, though at least students got a lesson in rock history and relevance from Dylan, while the obligatory aging boomers got a few moments to wallow in "remember whens" when he resurrected some '60s chestnuts."
went along to the Haas Pavilion show and wished she hadn't. "Do I have
the guts," she wonders, "To say that Bob Dylan's concert wasn't
incredible? The acoustics were mediocre, the set was only an hour and a
half long, and not only were Dylan's mutterings incomprehensible, his
melodies were barely recognisable."
Rocky Mountain News
was also less than impressed with the opening section of
the University of Colorado show, feeling that Dylan's presence behind
mostly inaudible keyboards created a barrier between him and the band.
"......It made for a very slow, midtempo opening set," he says, "With
plodding songs such as "Lay Lady Lay" being nearly indistinguishable
from "God Knows". Dylan is best with his up-tempo material and when he's
performing material better suited to his current vocal style." Still, it
wasn't all bad; Brown enjoyed the band and thought that the second half
of the show was a marked improvement once "he tore into "Highway 61
impressed with the newer numbers at the UCSB Event Centre show, and, in
Santa Barbara Independent
review, he writes that "The music from his 1997 release
"Time Out Of Mind" has done something wonderful for his live shows,
lending a much-needed unity to the band's sound and approach. The
current bands rocks like a more focused version of the early Dylan rock
ensembles, and the groove on the more recently composed numbers tends to
spill over and animate the classics."
thought that the show at Iowa's Carver Hawkeye Arena showed Dylan to be
stuck in something of a rut. He notes that almost half of the set was
comprised of "Time Out Of Mind" and "Love And Theft" material, and,
while "that's sterling source material, it's curious that Dylan would be
so stingy with his rich and vast back catalogue after a few years of
flogging the same "new" songs." While he admits that "Dylan, fiddling
around with his songs in new and dynamic ways, can still make them sound
timeless and malleable", Munson also notes that "getting stuck in the
recent past is not necessarily any better than getting stuck in the
went along to DeKalb's Northern Illinois University
Convocation Centre to see Dylan's show, admitting that he doesn't own
one of the man's albums and has no real idea of what he's about, save
that one of his songs has a chorus that goes "everybody must get
stoned". He enjoyed what he saw, especially when his Dylan-veteran
companion reassured him that no song is played exactly the same way from
one show to the next.
The Davis Spectrum's Daniel Dullum similarly enjoyed the show at the UC Davis Activities and Recreation Centre Pavilion, and found "Highway 61 Revisited" to be a highlight amongst "an evening full of highlights". Dylan, he claims, was enjoying himself as much as the audience; "....It was apparent that Dylan was having fun onstage and clearly enjoyed every musical aspect of the show....With a little dash of showmanship (pulling up his sleeves like a carnival magician), he offered a simple "Thank you", grabbed a bouquet of roses, and lead the band off the stage as quietly as they entered. Bob Dylan's performance left many in the crowd mesmerised, some confused, others amused, and nearly everyone pleasantly entertained. Just another unorthodox night at the office."
The University of Wisconsin sent along
Jared Blohm to review the UW-Oshkosh's Kolf Sports Centre show for their
campus newspaper. His piece concentrates mainly on the
post-gig reactions of the audience, which ranged from "I thought it was
awesome" and "The show was amazing. I''m very thrilled. I loved it" to
"I was a little disappointed that he didn't play at least one or two of
his songs on the guitar" and "I thought it was way too much band and way
too little Dylan."
The OshKosh Northwestern's
Jeff Potts attended the same show and decided that the show was
so good that the only thing the audience should really have to complain
about was that they had to leave their cigarettes and lighters at the
door on the way in.
Tim Brouk, writing in Indianapolis' Journal And Courier, thought that the biggest surprise of the show at Purdue University's Elliot Hall of Music was that Bob remained firmly rooted behind his keyboards and didn't pick up the guitar all night (not been to a Dylan gig for a few years, Tim?). Even so, "Dylan was surprisingly the most animated on stage, as his rock-solid backing band kept a laid-back persona. It was fun to see Dylan jerk to piano hits like a member of Devo."
Kira L. Schlechter
was more than impressed with the Messiah College's
Brubaker Auditorium gig, perhaps because this was the smallest venue of
the tour and Dylan was feeding off the energy of the 1,600-strong
audience, appearing "loose and energised".
Similarly, The Pittsburgh Daily News carried an enthusiastic review of the University of Pittsburgh's Petersen Events Centre gig. Dave Fennessy preferred the rockers and only considered a "lacklustre" "Lay Lady Lay" to be less than perfect. For him, the highlights included a version of "Positively Fourth Street" that "turned the spurned friend/lover's enraged flip-off of 1965 into a tender, almost conciliatory lament" and an encore of "Like A Rolling Stone", transformed into "near-ballad tempo".
Equally as impressed with the same show was
Mervis of the
who considered that only "Sugar Baby" was below par, being "the victim
of too many sour notes." He was surprisingly impressed by the quality of
Dylan's voice, given that he didn't enjoy Dylan's last Pittsburgh
appearance during November 2002, when "his singing was terrible and he
was out of sync with the band, and the very notion of playing Rolling
Stones, Neil Young and two Warren Zevon covers - when he's written the
best songs on the planet - was absurd." Oh well, it takes all sorts, I
suppose. I think 99.9% of people reading this would gladly take any
autumn 2002 show over anything 2004 had to offer, or is that just me?
Perhaps, in two years time, we'll be harking back fondly to the glory
days of autumn 2004 (scary thought).
The Lansing State Journal's Chris Rietz decided, after viewing the MSU's Breslin Centre show, that "Dylan is a tireless performer and arguably the most successful of his rock-god peers at keeping the old songs as fresh and relevant as the new stuff". He won over the 3,400 crowd straight away, and, "with the crowd in his hand, he ramped up the energy early on with "Tweedle Dum And Tweedle Dee", an irresistable rocker and one of the evening's high points - and the notoriously taciturn Dylan was smiling."
The St. Bonaventure Reilly Centre show seemed to split the audience right down the middle, with many leaving well before the end and many more dancing at the front of the stage until the very last note had been played. According to the Olean Times Herald's Marisa Lampert, one attendee exclaimed, "He's having a good time, the band's having fun, the crowd is having fun, everyone is having fun!" while another reckoned that it was "one of the mellowest Dylan concerts" and that his mother was sleeping in the bleachers. Most said that it had not necessarily been a disappointing show, but neither was it on par with his last show in the area. As one woman observed, that's just par for the course; "He plays according to his mood, and some shows are slower than others."
In contrast, John Hanchette
attended the same show and thought it was "terrific", despite some of
the "wishy-washy" reviews he'd read. He states that Dylan played for
over two hours (not always the norm on this tour), did three encores and
was happy enough to treat the crowd to one of his corny jokes. In fact,
Hanchette's only gripe was with the $15 tour programme, which, although
it featured some interesting photographs, contained only very little
text, and that was a tired transcript of an old interview
concentrating solely on "Hearts Of Fire".
writing for Lehigh University's student newspaper
The Brown And
enjoyed the Stabler Arena show, though he reports that
the crowd was very laid-back; ".....few in the audience stood up during
the 100-minute, 16-song set, and even fewer danced."
The Morning Call's
also enjoyed the same show, describing Dylan's phrasing
as "bizarre and brilliant". "Positively Fourth Street" was performed
"with all the passion of someone smoking a cigarette at breakfast",
whatever that's supposed to mean, and, though his voice rarely veered
from a "grizzled gargle" (apparently, "sometimes he imitated a
grandfatherly oracle, sometimes the witch in "Hansel And Gretel"), "on a
stabbing-blues take on "Masters Of War", he was crystal-clear and
similarly enjoyed Bob's gig at the Gordon Track, claiming
that the song selection "became opportunities to prove his vitality".
His favourite song, "Forever Young", came early in the set; ".....From
the wistful prayer of its album version came the harsh edge of Dylan's
voice against the backdrop of the 4-piece band." And, perhaps because
that voice "sounded like it was losing its battle with emphysema, Dylan
was the old gypsy grandfather, mixing a strain of tenderness in a tone
as hard as a knife's edge."
The Boston Globe's
was also at Harvard, though he was decidedly less impressed than Liu.
The sound, he eloquently reports, was "sludge city" and Dylan was
definitely having an off-night.
that the show was
a great success as far as the organisers were concerned. It was sold
out, there were no backstage or onstage problems and Dylan was only
fifteen minutes late taking to the stage (as compared to an earlier
Busta Rhymes gig which ran two hours late).
went to Bob's show at the University of Massachusetts'
Mullins Centre and declared; "Despite anything you might hear, when
Dylan wants to, he can sing. Really sing. His voice was pushed way up in
the sound mix, and when he started the night with an energised "Maggie's
Farm", he delivered a borderline beautiful voice."
At the same show, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian's Brian Duffey reports that "Like A Rolling Stone" was the best song of the night, and quotes various audience members, some of who felt that this show was "mellow and relaxing" and a far cry from his greatest onstage successes. Then again, others considered him to be "incredible" and "so professional", and, as Teal Maxwell exclaimed; "He's a legend, you gotta see him!"
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Away from the tour, Dylan's much-lauded interview on "60 Minutes" earned him a few more column inches and helped to promote "Chronicles", which, presumably, was the whole point in the first place. However, one can safely conclude that his fifteen minutes of prime-time American TV did him little favours, and, if it wasn't quite a catastrophe of Live Aid proportions, it was still a catastrophe all the same.
Previewing it in
The Buffalo News,
admits that he's never loved Bob Dylan, but he loves the
him. "Some celebrity in modern America has to be the perfect
anti-celebrity," he writes, "And Dylan is it. No one else simultaneously
offers his fans so much and so little. Dylanologists, it seems, can
spend a lifetime pondering the sublimities, miasmas and banalities that
comprise Bob Dylan and yet get absolutely nowhere. They can know every
song, know every woman he ever shmoozed and every joint he ever rolled;
they can even know how many Dove Bar wrappers are in his garbage. And
the more they know, the less they seem sure of."
Dana Stevens found the interview to have been ultimately as
worthless as Jeff Simon predicted it would be, claiming that neither
interviewer or interviewee showed the slightest interest in the
proceedings; ".......Dylan displayed the flat affect of the clinically
depressed, avoiding eye contact, mumbling evasively and sometimes
visibly wincing at Ed Bradley's questions, which were not just toothless
but gumless. Not that there's any need to put the 63-year-old artist
through the wringer, but for God's sake, at least ask him something that
rises to the level of mildly interesting cocktail chatter."
In a lengthy review for
The New Republic,
also blames Bradley for asking the wrong questions and not pushing Dylan
to get his arse into gear.
reckoned that the thing was a "disaster" and that a more
coherent Bob Dylan could be found on the Fox channel, where a mumbling
cartoon Bob was being interviewed in the latest "Simpsons" episode (or
did they get the real thing and CBS' "60 Minutes" got the mumbling
cartoon? These days it's pretty difficult to tell the difference).
takes a similar
stance on the
website, claiming that "Chronicles" is a fine book, but
that the interviews arranged to promote it were "shit". Ed Bradley and
"60 Minutes" return to take their share of the flack, but Newsweek's
David Gates also comes under attack for failing to address Bob's bike
accident, his conversion to Christianity, his divorce(s) or the
Victoria's Secret advert and for generally treating Dylan like a member
of can-do-no-wrong royalty.
And there we must leave it for this month, just as the post-"Chronicles"
backlash kicks in with a vengeance.
THANKS TO THE EXPECTING RAIN WEBSITE FOR MOST OF THIS LOT.
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