My Photo

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

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]

Follow 1michaelgray1 on Twitter

Monday, August 22, 2011


Bob finished the first US leg of this year's touring last night at the House of Blues in Boston, Massachusetts. His set introduced no song previously unplayed on the tour, and it began as follows:

1. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
2. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right
3. Things Have Changed.

Clearly they haven't lately.


Blogger Pope Leo said...

But the set lists did change considerably more than those of the the famous 1966 tour. So, don't think twice: it's all right.

11:05 am  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Yes, but he was utterly focussed then, utterly committed to his material and he delivered it in incomparably finer voice which was on top of every syllable of song-performance, however stoned he may have been; his work was challenging and radical, none of it was more than five years old and much of it so new we'd never heard it before; his creative harmonica playing was lightyears beyond what he bothers to play (even if he could) now; and his band was vastly better and vastly more exciting.

2:56 pm  
Blogger Pope Leo said...

Agree with all that (but it would have been odd if his work was more than 5 years old at the time!). What a terrible thing age is. I wish he had retired after his three London concerts in 2003. They would have been a good swan song.

4:06 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Ah, Leo, you'll have a fatwah issued against you if you're not careful, from the mob of people who say the concert they've just been to is the best he's ever been, and who seethe with hatred for anyone who says different. Still, you're better off than me: they don't know where you live. Yet.

4:40 pm  
Anonymous McHenry Boatride said...

Good gracious, Michael. Whatever is wrong with you nowadays? "Curmudgeonly" comes to mind (and I thought I was grumpy).

4:50 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Ah, McHenry: how nice to hear from you! You, grumpy? Maybe you are from time to time at home - yet on this blog you usually represent sweetness itself. Anyway, I think "curmudgeonly" a lovely word. Much more so than "polyanna".

5:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

McHenry, Go easy on Michael. For him looking at Dylan is like his ancestor Dorian looking at his self-portrait.
To this day I'm always surprised to see The Band described as a good backing band. The excitement of Dylan's shows with them were seeing Dylan struggle through all that barbed-wire. Of course it could have been worse I shudder to think of Led Zeppelin backing Dylan. God what an ironic name for a band.
Dylan has always been best served by people who can really play, and who have the ability to follow his shifts in tempo. That's why the "Nashville Cats" were the perfect band for him, too bad they never went on tour.

Patrick Ford

4:26 am  
Blogger Seth said...

Michael, there is a middle ground between your harsh comparison of now to 1966, and saying that "the concert they've just been to is the best he's ever been, and who seethe with hatred for anyone who says different."

I just saw the show in Philadelphia, and no, it's not 1966, and his voice is shot, and he's not "on top of every syllable of song-performance". However, it was the first Dylan show in quite a while (since about 2000), where I walked out thinking, "I need to get a recording of that", in order to hear some (although not all) of the show. There was an utterly gorgeous Simple Twist of Fate, an engaged Like a Rolling Stone, of all things, and quite a few other highlights. And no, it's not The Band, the the band is good, and the arrangement of Blind Willie McTell is really quite wonderful. Most shockingly of all, I actually enjoyed Bob's (few) guitar solos.

I don't really understand such overwhelming negativity from you. Somewhat ironically, I think your comments can be equally (actually more so) addressed to the 1978 tour, which was mostly a bunch of oldies more than five years old, with mostly boring singing, and a boring band. And please don't even compare the harmonica playing in 1978 to that in 1966. It's just beyond me how you can say such nice things about 1978 in your books and then such harsh things about the shows now.

3:32 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Patrick, you never fail to offer ingeniously wrong-headed arguments. I can't know what you mean by Bob "struggling through all that barbed-wire" - but if you don't rate Bob's 1966 tour band, or The Band as a "backing band", and claim they're not "people who can really play", there's no point my saying anything.

Seth: I'm no more "harsh" in my comparison of now and '66 than you are about 1978 - about which we must agree to disagree. I went to all the Earls Court concerts, the Paris concerts, the Rotterdam concert and to Blackbushe, and all those performances were thrilling. 1978 is not to be judged by the Budokan release. Just listen to some of the Paris song performances, for instance. That 'Tangled Up In Blue'! The whole thing tingles and scintillates, and his voice is strong, generous and bursting to communicate.

But I'd like to add that it's by no means only 1966 or 1978 that I look back to when I hear him with sadness now. He was tremendous in Paris, London and Newcastle in 1984. I loved those Hammersmith 1990 concerts. My heart soared at Portsmouth in 2000. I thought he was pretty splendid at Docklands Arena a couple of years after that.

And as for concerts heard but not attended, well of course there's not only more or less everything pre-electric but also the greatness of some of the Rolling Thunder concerts, the utter exhilaration of his singing in 1981, and many many individual sublime song performances, from 'Just Like A Woman' at the Concert for Bangla Desh way back in 1971 to 'When I Paint My Masterpiece' in Hamburg 1990 to 'Tears of Rage' at Besançon later that decade. And I agree, on the most recent tour, 'Simple Twist Of Fate' has never been less than OK and has sometimes been convincing, admirable and inventive (eg from Tel Aviv). But if & when you do get a recording of the concert you just enjoyed so much, you know that it's going to disappoint you. It'll be a case of "you had to be there". Whereas back when he was on top of his live game, we never had to say that. The incontestable genius was right there on the recording.

4:37 pm  
Anonymous Kieran said...

I agree with Michael. Bob sounds like an old fogey who's wandering the world thinking everything he does every day is fresh, while those around him grimace and know better.

It isn't fresh. It's like a television repeat. same old intros into the same old songs in the same old encore. You can set your watch by it. It makes me wonder what to expect if you go see him, except maybe more of the same?

But not done differently...

5:30 pm  
Blogger Seth said...

Michael, I don't mind harsh comments about Bob's performances. I just find it odd to be so harsh on the shows now while saying such favorable things about the 78 tour. The same way I found it odd that you criticized Together Through Life so harshly while not being nearly so hard on, say, Self Portrait.

"The whole thing tingles and scintillates, and his voice is strong, generous and bursting to communicate." I've listened to many 1978 shows. I don't hear that at all. But to each his own, of course. I think that may be a case of "you had to be there".

I do agree with many of your references to other shows - particularly the great 1981 tour (also the Nov/Dec 1980 shows, I would add.)

"But if & when you do get a recording of the concert you just enjoyed so much, you know that it's going to disappoint you. It'll be a case of "you had to be there" "

Sometimes, not always. Sometimes it's the opposite. For example, I saw several shows in summer 1989, and loved them. I was excited about seeing some fall 1989 shows after Oh Mercy came out, but I was disappointed in them. However, when I got some recordings, I changed my mind. The summer shows were fairly unexciting on "tape", while the fall 1989 shows are wonderful - some of the best NET shows, I think. So one never knows.

5:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael, The Band doesn't swing, they just plow forward like a man rolling a push-cart down the sidewalk. It's up to everyone else to get out of they way. They never sound flexibly in sync with Dylan to me. The excitement is in the way Dylan's own rhythm demolishes the one they are playing. The cacophony at times works like a whole towns church bells ringing at once, but it's a brittle sound which doesn't work for many things, and for me is tiring to listen to.
I prefer the sound from a pond with bullfrogs croaking late at night.

patrick ford

6:03 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

2011 has so far been a good year for the NET. Yes the setlist variety is nearly as poor as 66 but it's pretty obvious that his vocal has improved somewhat over the last couple of years and there is more focus to his performance with the lyric flub rate significantly down and the band's playing tighter (although I do wish he'd let Charlie off the leash more just as I did when he last played in 99-02). I'm hoping he can keep it up for the Autumn when I'm going to see him in Dublin and Glasgow (twice). It's been an above average year for recordings too. Tel Aviv (Soomlos), Hamburg (Schubert with additional sound mastering) and Memphis (Scomlos again) are all recordings to cherish with Sursee (Schubert +ASM) and Hong Kong (Hide) not far behind. Performance wise, I'd rate Taipai, Shanghai and memphis amongst the year's finest.

Judas Priest

11:51 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was never an admirer of the 1978 tour - opening night Earls Court was a huge disappoinment for me (my first Dylan concert )and the Budokan album was good but not great. However, a few years ago I acquired the 1978 World Tour Anthology SIX cd set. It is simply stunning....the Budokan performances included are tremendous. Seth, I do not usually agree with Michael in relation to Dylan's live performances but you have got to hear this six cd set.

Ah...Led Zeppelin backing Dylan, that would have been something. The greatest hard rock band backing the greatest performer. Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones have probably produced, arranged and played on more hit records through their early session careers than any other musicians and Robert Plant as well as being a huge Dylan fan is a great singer as his recent Band Of Joy performances demonstrate.

Journalist: "What do you think of Bob Dylan's 70th birthday ?"

Jimmy Page: "Bob Dylan...phew...he changed it all. His early songs and even now. He is just head and shoulders above so many people".

That is a great,great compliment.

Speaking of great performers...the greatest living guitarist - second only to Hendrix - Eric Clapton , you can now buy the 'Derek and the Dominoes Live at the Fillmore' double cd for £3.99 ( the 'In Concert' album cd sells for £99.00 and it is essentially the same album ). This album clearly demonstrates why he has no equal in the same way that ,say, any of the Dylan Live Bootleg Series, the 78 tour anthology and the 2004'Gone To The Finest Schools ' SIX cd set clearly demonstrates that Dylan has no equal as a live performer.


1:08 pm  
Anonymous Tpm said...

If Dylan wants to continue touring, that's entirly up to him - of course. If he's having fun, then great... he deserves it.

But, seriously, Dylan is terrible live these days. It's weird not to go and see him every time he is in town, but I really can't face going again. He's not going to get much better is he?! I just wish he would stick to studio stuff and maybe one off gigs here and there. But hey, his choice.

Keep up the good work Michael.

PS: I remember you once mentioning the film titled 'Paradise Cove' that apparently features Dylan. Has anyone ever found any extra info about it? It seems it was never released. I've been asking about it for years and years! ha

5:12 pm  
Anonymous seema said...


10:31 am  
Blogger Seth said...

Paul, I'd be happy to listen to the 78 anthology with open ears and mind. Thanks for the suggestion. I took a look on two of the major sites for acquiring such material, and unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a torrent for it at the present. I will keep checking, however.

Speaking of such sites, it is frustrating that the Philly show I said such nice things about seems to be the one recent show that has not been posted!

3:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I would be more than happy to give to you the wonderful 1978 Tour Anthology six cd set.

I love sharing great Dylan performances.


12:38 pm  
Blogger Seth said...

Paul, my email should now be available by clicking on my name (sorry, I thought it was before.) Please send an email. I'd like to hear the 78 anthology. thanks.

4:03 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home