Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Bob Dylan In Concert, 2018

 "Go on. THAT was Like A Rolling Stone? Stop it."
-Me, About 90 minutes from now

That was the cheap shot I took on social media last night about 15 minutes until showtime, accompanied by a photo of the Beacon Theatre marquee, all for a quick laugh, which of course, I got. It was a red carpet for more of the same and I regretted posting it by the second song of Bob Dylan's set.

"Go melt back into the night, babe
Everything inside is made of stone
There’s nothing in here moving
An’ anyway I’m not alone
You say you’re lookin' for someone
Who’ll pick you up each time you fall
To gather flowers constantly
An’ to come each time you call
A lover for your life an’ nothing more
But it ain’t me, babe
No, no, no, it ain’t me, babe
It ain’t me you’re lookin’ for, babe"

It sounded like "It Ain't Me, Babe" and if the concert ended there, I would have seen Bob Dylan and his band perform "It Ain't Me, Babe," and each time I take a breath and think about that in 2018, something happens inside of me. It's a wave of emotion, almost disbelief. Definitely happiness. I feel very lucky, and even a bit unworthy.

Do all of the songs sound the same? No, of course they don't, no more than all reggae or all blues music sounds the same. It's another cheap shot. Remove Bob Dylan from the stage and you have four amazing musicians who have arranged some of Dylan's best loved work and play it nightly with a spark that is rare among daily grind musicians. Don't forget, this is a "never ending tour." There was no snare drum smack and organ intro to "Like A Rolling Stone," but the arrangement was nothing short of genius and I got to hear Bob Dylan sing, "How does it FEEL" all eight times, just like he does on "Highway 61 Revisited," for the most part. I knew what I was listening to and if I had smiled any harder, my face would have cracked into a million pieces. If you have a problem with Bob's voice, still, now in 2018, I can't help you.

Unlike most of the audience, who sat on their hands for the first minute of every song, waiting for old Zimmy to sing the title so they could clap in recognition, I knew every song played. I am a Dylan fan and I felt each song, though it took most of "Cry A While" for me to think, "OH! Cry A While." I cried a number of times. "It Ain't Me, Babe" was the first.

"People tell me it’s a sin
To know and feel too much within
I still believe she was my twin, but I lost the ring
She was born in spring, but I was born too late
Blame it on a simple twist of fate"

The man who wrote that verse sat a piano and played it. I knew what it was the second he began, "They sat together in the park." This was the second time I welled up. If the concert ended there, I would have seen Bob Dylan and his band perform "Simple Twist Of Fate," and each time I take a breath and think about that in 2018, something happens inside of me. It's a wave of emotion, almost disbelief. Definitely happiness. I feel very lucky, and even a bit unworthy. But if the concert had ended there, I would not have been able to shed tears of joy at the conclusion of "When I Paint My Masterpiece." I saw and heard Bob Dylan sing "When I Paint My Masterpiece." Sorry, but that is fucking something else!


Bill said...

Wow, Sal--sounds like a great night. It's amazing how deeply songs drill into our brains and take everlasting root there. These days I usually well up at least once during a show--from joy, or melancholy, or recognition, or thinking of people who are gone, or something I can even put my finger on.

Thanks for sharing your experience!

Charlie Messing said...

Thank you, Sal. A great review, a suitable review, and you bring a tear to my eye, thinking about your tears. Indeed. "Never-ending tour" perhaps, but we know it will. Thanks for going, and returning. "The streets of Rome are filled with rubble."

Anonymous said...

Nice post, Sal. Do you know who's in his band?


Sal Nunziato said...

Randy, same band now for at least 20 years. Maybe more.

Tony Garnier - bass
George Recile - drums
Charlie Sexton on lead guitar
Donnie Herron - violin, banjo, electric mandolin, pedal steel, lap steel

Mr. Baez said...

Sal, I know that smile that you had on last night. I've smiled that way at many Bob Dylan shows. Seeing Dylan can be such an overwhelming emotional experience. I've been feeling that way listening to the "More Blood, More Tracks" collection. Just such a gifted individual and I for one am blessed to have had his art throughout my entire lifetime. Thank you for your thoughts on him and the show.

Anonymous said...

If you still have a problem with Bob's voice now in 2018 I can't help you. Best line of the article. FYI Stu Kimball is no longer with the band, only change.

Patrick Dawdy said...

I just finished listening to the opening night show. I have been blessed to be at 4 Dylan shows, yes blessed. I feel your “joy filled tears” Sal.

Dusty said...

Epic review, Sal. Can't wait to see Sir Bob and the lads tonight.

Unknown said...

You are the definition of a true fan, Sal.

Paul from Sunset Park said...

First time that I saw him on the Night of the Hurricane December 8th,1976 was almost 43 years to the day that I saw him this past Saturday. The arrangements are brilliant,he sounds like it's 1982 again.The stops in Like a Rolling Stone were genius.The show's highlight had to be Don't Think Twice It's Alright which was basically a solo piano piece. I have never heard him have his keyboard(and yes,this tour is an acoustic piano) so high in the mix.There were less solos this tour as it is more of a piano based band.We sat there smiling through the whole show as usual.NO Dylan caricature here, the real Bob.Tears in our eyes.After sitting through the More Blood,More Tracks box set twice what could be better? Live Bob!
I couldn't agree more Sal.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Sal for a great and emotionally review. To continue the conversation, here's Beth Orton and Kevin Morby talking about BOTTracks


Michael Giltz said...

Stop crying, Sal or I'LL start crying!

Great review that made me jealous of and happy for you all at once. Sorry I won't be able to catch this tour since I've seen Dylan only two times but neither was a really great concert, just moments of greatness. (It's been a long time!)

Thanks again for the Blood On The Tracks NY Demos offering, which I've had to physically restrain myself from playing over and over again in case I wear out its welcome. I think Dylan makes me feel Buddhist -- whenever I listen to his music, I feel very present and in the moment. He always stops me dead in my tracks. Nothing else is happening when I hear Dylan. Plus, it feels so eternal (you know people will be listening to it 200 years from now, assuming there is a 200 years from now). I can't go through a comparison track by track yet but I am loving the NY Demos -- it feels so beautiful and mature and perhaps a little more generous of spirit than the classic album version. I haven't gone back and forth yet but at the moment -- and perhaps just because it's "new" and fresh and allowing me to feel like I am hearing BOTT again for the first time -- I would choose this version over the original. But I don't want to choose. Check in with me ten years from now.

Finally, I was driving down to Nashville to spend Thanksgiving with friends. I just love listening to music while driving; it's my absolute favorite way to listen to music old or new. When I'm driving up and down the east coast, it's a great chance to catch up on new music and give them the best possible shot while revisiting classics. (Joni Mitchell's "For The Roses"? Every bit as good as Blue and Court and Spark! So damn good.)

So it's the Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving. I woke up at a rest area after sleeping in my car for six or seven hours and got back on the highway. Just three or so hours to go until I reach my married friends from college in Nashville with their kids and our pal from school coming from Atlanta and lots of pie. All of us get together every year. It's maybe 9 or 10 am and I've filled up the tank and I'm driving with pleasure through the rolling hills of Tennessee and it's an absolutely gorgeous day and I've allowed myself to play the Dylan BOTT demos again (only once a day!) and the view is so gorgeous and the music is so transcendent and the buttons on Dylan's shirt are hitting the mike and creating a nutty sort of percussion during "Tangled Up In Blue" and I feel at peace with the universe, honestly knowing I'm far from a success in any part of my life but oh so happy at that moment I can't imagine anything better. It's a perfect moment, the sort celebrated by Spalding Gray in his film/monologue Swimming To Cambodia and at that perfect moment I think "Thanks, Dylan!" and also "Thanks Sal!"

whattawino said...

I was THRILLED reading this review and so happy for you. You are such a lucky guy in so many real ways. (And your Reasons for being Thankful post reflected just that!) I guess that a lot of the readers wish they'd had a ticket to that show. I sure do! Thanks, Sal.

Gene Oberto said...

Maybe Shakespeare is the only artist to be quoted more than Bob Dylan. Every passing year makes the Nobel for Literature so deserving. Take away the instruments and the stories still resonate.

I saw him in Stockholm in hall smaller than the Beacon and was amazed. It was such a pleasure to see the creativity, talent, and enthusiasm these players showed. Bob looked positively into this performance.

And to his voice...I can still remember vividly listening to him during his "Freewheelin'"days my mother calling up to my room, "Do you have to play him so loud?" The Sears Silvertone record player would get a workout.

I cannot imagine how different my life would be without Bob Dylan.

Alexi said...

Thanks for your take, Sal. I was at the Monday show too, with my wife and the flu, and I had a somewhat different experience.

I'm a Dylan fan, but not a huge Dylan fan. I love his classic records through the mid-70's. Later on, I've enjoyed high spots- Infidels, the Wilburies, a string of records beginning with Time Out of Mind. I had seen him once- with the Band on the 1974 tour, which was of course amazing. I felt like I didn't need to see him again after that- I have the records, and I know he's a mercurial performer. But somewhat impulsively, especially as my wife had never seen him, and I know the Never Ending tour will end at some point, I said let's go. Using your yardstick of when I recognized a song, I wouldn't necessarily get it on the first line, but I'd get it a few lines in, before he sang the title and people cheered. (My wife is more of a Greatest Hits level fan). I guess I'm a medium level fan.

So, the show. He did quite a few classics- yes! None of then sounded close to the original, though- I'd say the arrangements were pretty radically different. Tempos, rhythms, instrumentation, riffs, melodies- all altered to a significant degree. As you noted, to many fans, it became a guessing game- what song IS this? The band was a crack unit, yes- but I found their sound repetitive and boring after a while. A number of the later up tempo songs made me think they were playing Highway 61 again. Vamp, Bob talk- sings a line, band vamps some more, another line. The alterations, to me, never came close to the seared-in pleasures of the original riffs. Like A Rolling Stone: I found it interesting, and thrilling to hear him sing those lines, but frustrating too. The only revamped classic that I found deeply moving and beautiful without being partly jarring as well was "Don't Think Twice". I thought his piano playing was surprisingly good throughout the show, and his harmonica playing. But not one acoustic guitar song?

I guess it leads to a bigger question than Dylan: what is an artist's relationship to his audience? Bob seemed passionate about his performing- for sure. He's doing what he wants, and he's earned that ten times over. But does he care about his audience, and in what way? Here's a paraphrased exchange from a British awards show a few years back where McCartney was honored:

Q from Paul Weller: Paul, why don't you play more of your newer work, like Memory Almost Full, which I think is brilliant?
PM: I think about it like I did as a teen: it was hard to afford a ticket to a show, so I think what would I want to hear as a fan? If I'm going to see the Stones, I want to hear Honky Tonk Women! So that's how I approach it.

Now Paul is probably at the other end of the spectrum on this- even within the Beatles, he was most concerned with pleasing the crowd. That can be boring and cloying at times. But there is a generosity of spirit about it which I respect. Dylan seems more like the never ending rebel- this is what I want to do, this is what you're gonna get, if you don't like it, tough.(He also didn't say a word to the audience). What about something in between? A few acoustic songs, or more familiar arrangements? Where do the less intense fans fit in - they're buying tickets too. I don't have an answer, and I see the rationale in each approach, but as a fan of varying grades for different performers, I guess I want to know that in some small way the performer is trying to connect with me by recognizing my perspective.

I enjoyed the show overall. My wife : "I never want to see him again!" Well, we don't have to, and that's OK. Anyway, I wanted to share my two cents from a slightly different perspective. Thanks for the stimulating musings, as always, Sal.

Sal Nunziato said...

"Dylan seems more like the never ending rebel"

Alexi, if I replace the word "seems" with "is," it all makes sense to me. I hear what you're saying, but I think many of your negatives are positives for me.

I've loved the Stones for years, but I think the last twenty years have poisoned the well. I don't want to hear Honky Tonk Woman or Brown Sugar anymore. I don't want Sheryl Crow or Christina Aguilera as special guests to appeal to the "less intense" fans. I want to hear "I Am Waiting." I'd even appreciate all of "Bridges To Babylon" if I felt the performance was sincere. I don't feel that at all with the Stones. I do with Dylan. $350 to see the Stones in a stadium play the obvious at half the speed of the originals versus Dylan's rebellion in a theater for $100. I'll take Dylan every year.

I'm with Paul Weller. I'd trade Live & Let Die and Let It Be for 5 songs from Memory Almost Full, or Chaos & Creation, in a heartbeat. And please Paul, stop trying to be relevant. The Kanye/Rhianna track was painful. But, Sir Paul has mixed it up. He has changed the set quite a bit over the years, appealing to boomers and younger fans. He has done it right. But Dylan is not Paul McCartney.

I feel the frustration. Who wouldn't want to experience the opening snare and organ of "Like A Rolling Stone?" It's too late. Dylan is not playing Branson. Last year, Dylan sang Sinatra tunes. Would I have traded three standards for three songs off Blood On The Tracks? Sure! But I knew what I was getting into when I bought the ticket, so I took it in stride and I loved his presentation.

Again, I hear what you're saying and it's a tough point to argue. My mom read my review of the show and she said, "I would have loved to have been there." I told her she would have hated it.

A walk in the woods said...

Yeah! Yeah!

Todd Rundgren is one of my very fave artists, so I enthusiastically chip in here when the convo turns to him.

But Dylan's the top of my mountain, always. So this was fun to read.

I've seen Dylan in concert 18 times, including a month ago in Macon, Georgia - some friends and I road-tripped from the ATL. What a show! His singing - and more importantly to his art, his phrasing - was amazing. The band is great. The crowd in Macon ate it up.

Only problem these days for me is the overall set list. I don't need to hear "Pay In Blood" or "Early Roman Kings" again - but, I do appreciate him so assiduously sticking to mostly recent songs. It takes guts to do that!!!

But when the setlist hits a great note, it knocks it out of the park. All the songs you mentioned. Plus the rearrangement of "Thunder On The Mountain" and "Gotta Serve Somebody" are gold to me.

Dylan has carved out an amazing path not replicated by anyone - on the road almost 100 nights a year, at age 77-1/2, playing mostly newer songs with some classics mixed in. Epic!!

Sal Nunziato said...

“Todd Rundgren is one of my very fave artists, so I enthusiastically chip in here when the convo turns to him.”

It didn’t but ALL RIGHT!!

A walk in the woods said...

Ha - I didn't write that very well :) What I meant was, I gladly chip in on other convo's (Todd and otherwise, love it all), but I could talk about DYLAN all day!

Max Maxwell said...

Dylan's band is terrific of course, but he still connects directly with the audience on so many songs, old and new. First saw him with the Band in 1974 and most recently in October 2017. A lot of the crowd, as you noted, is slow to react to some of the songs, but there's so much put into each performance. There are no throwaways, nothing tossed off. Yes, the arrangement is completely different, but the song is the same. A strong impact every time, at least with me. Sounds like we are on the same wavelength.