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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Monday, April 16, 2007


Newcastle: marvellous seats, thanks to John Baldwin and his Desolation Row Information Line - right in the middle of the 2nd row, and right in front of Dylan. And it was the best Sarah & I have seen him in several years.

That may not be saying much (thinking back to gigs like Stockholm 2003, last time at Newcastle, and Wappingers Falls 2006), but this time he gave an honorable performance and offered some fine song choices. He played real lead guitar on at least two of the opening four songs, too, which was pleasing, and served as an early signal that he was in the mood to bother... and he did, all through the concert.

He also allowed Denny Freeman several lead guitar solos during the show, and rather touching and understatedly expressive they were too. On the other hand Stu Kimball, to whom Dylan now has his back throughout, seemed to have absolutely no function except to be a visual echo of Freeman at the opposite side of the stage. The effect, given that neither of them moves, is of two big dusty bookends on a shelf.

'House of the Rising Sun' in the hometown of the Animals was a nice touch as well as a surprise, and I was thrilled to hear 'I Don't Believe You' (always a favourite, and while not great vocally, it lolloped along beautifully, in the magnificent spirit of the song).

It was also a great pleasure to hear him sing so much of 'Desolation Row' (instead of only about four verses, as so often in recent years): and while it was the kind of performance which will sound nothing special on CD afterwards, there in the hall, and up close, watching him working through it (and taking us with him), line by line and verse by verse, was a thrill. I was reminded of someone reviewing him, I think in the 1990s, and writing of experiencing not just a concert but the process.

He did six (!) songs from Modern Times, and mostly to my ears they sounded better live than on the album. This didn't help 'Levee's Gonna Break' from sounding dull as ditchwater, and I think it's perverse to offer it in the same set as 'Summer Days', its more intelligent near-identical twin; but 'Deal Go Down' was good, and 'Nettie Moore' truly fine: I'd been worrying that he'd dropped it from the set lately but not only was it back but back very beautifully...

Too much 12-bar thrash, of course: the stuff that's too easy. But overall, heartening and authentic - and so good not to have to go anywhere near the vile Sheffield Arena.

FACTOID PS: In the last 45 years, Dylan has only performed 'House of the Rising Sun' five times before the Newcastle concert last Thursday night.

(There may well be other early 1960s performances but these are the logged ones online at the very useful site: St.Paul MN, 01-Jun-1960; NYC 04-Nov-1961; Sydney, 11-Feb-1986; Saratoga Springs, NY, 13-Jul-1986; NYC, 17-Jul-1986; Paris, 07-Oct-87; and George, WA, 18-Jun-2000.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting to read your thoughts on MODERN TIMES, but how about a critique/review of the album? One new response I've noted in my evaluation of a new Bob album is this: for a while I can't listen to the immediately previous record! So when "LOVE AND THEFT" came out I found TIME OUT OF MIND unlistenable - too slow, draggy rhythms . . . now having loved from the off the warmth of sound on MT (as much to do with that understated fiddle as J. Frost's improving production chops) I find "L&T"'s sound a little too stark - that ol' bare lightbulb sound.

9:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What was so bad about Wappinger Falls? I especially liked Not Dark Yet and Man in Me from that show.

I also love the casual atmosphere of the ballpark shows where the diehard Dylan fans can pretty much get as close as they want with the "night out on the town" folks relaxing in back of them.

I very much enjoyed your talk at the New School here in New York City last year. I am glad to see that you are still on the road with Bob.

6:34 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Dear Kingsley & Charlie
Thanks for your messages. Kinglsey, your point about a new Dylan album making the previous one temporarily unlistenable to is one that I recognise - but not in the case of "Love and Theft". As for Modern Times, not a single magazine or newspaper editor thought of asking me for a review of it at the time, so I haven't written any kind of sustained piece about it at all - and actually it felt good simply to be a punter responding to it rather than having to turn it into a professional gig...

... so anyway let's just say that I prefer "Love and Theft". Vastly. And that all this extravagant talk about Modern Times being his best since Blood On The Tracks and/or "better than Blonde On Blonde" is, in my considered opionion, deranged gibberish.

Charlie: "What was so bad about Wappinger Falls?" Where to start...

It began with nowhere to park except by paying a posse of adolescents what amounted to protection money to be allowed through their roadblock on a public street. Then when we reached the stadium walk-up, we were effectively mugged again, this time by dead-eyed jobsworths making people surrender dangerous weapons like umbrellas, which had to be thrown in a pile on the ground, along with drinks containers, all "for security reasons". This took post-9/11 paranoia to a new level of implausibility - and of course after the concert these Security Employees had all disappeared, along with everyone's surrendered possessions.

Meanwhile, though a plastic bottle of drink was too risky to be allowed, once people were inside the stadium itself, beer was on sale in glass bottles...

Then there was the grinding tedium of the several support acts, and then the tedium of Dylan's own performance, in the middle of which he sang attentively for about six minutes. A lovely 'Sugar Baby' - which just showed us how little he could be bothered all through the rest of it.

Oh, yes, and then there was the pudgy little bloke standing in front of me, who kept leaning back onto my chest and convincing himself that I was leaning forward onto him. There was very little space in which to shuffle backwards out of his way, but when I stood my ground he turned round and loudmouthed me a couple of times; the third time he suddenly jabbed his elbow into me just below the ribs as hard as he could. I have to confess this didn't add to my appreciation of the evening.

3:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Michael,

I am enjoying catching up on your blog after some time away. May I query one comment (well I am going to, obviously, but it seems polite to ask). You wrote: "As for Modern Times, not a single magazine or newspaper editor thought of asking me for a review of it at the time, so I haven't written any kind of sustained piece about it at all... "

I know of at least one editor who begged, nagged and hassled you for just such a review. And, yes, I consider JUDAS! to have been a magazine.

Best wishes
Homer the Slut

9:12 pm  

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