Sunday, July 15, 2007

Nurse the Hate: Bob Dylan Concert

On Saturday we had started the night at Lago in Tremont for some pre show dinner before going to see Bob Dylan. I strongly recommend going to eat there immediately. I’ve been there twice and both meals have been superb. In fact, I might have had the best salad I’ve eaten in a couple years with their pear salad. The special that night was a papparadelle and scallops with spicy red pepper cream sauce. It was a terrific meal, and the ambiance on the patio was just what you are looking for on a lazy Saturday early evening.

Shortly after leaving the restaurant, a solid wall of blue gray clouds approached that set the perfect backdrop for the horrific task of parking on the west bank of the Flats. The term “clusterfuck” must have been invented to describe the situation that unfolded. Vehicles were all being funneled into a dead end street that ended into a parking lot that had been long since filled up. Making the grid lock even worse was people’s inability to recognize the situation, and then turn their vehicles around in the limited space. Dust that had been kicked up by the oncoming cloud line cast a film on everything. In short, just another delightful evening here in the Lord’s Paradise that is Cleveland, OH.

While turning around in the Christie’s parking lot, we got unbelievably lucky and stumbled onto a recently vacated space. Before the attendant got wise to our not paying, we abandoned the vehicle and made our way to the venue. The Nautica, Plain Dealer Pavilion, or whatever the hell the “Corporate Sponsored Mega Entertainment Tent” is now called is an OK venue. It sits backed up to the Cuyahoga River, and offers good sight lines from almost any seat. The down side is that the impossibly small plastic chairs on the floor are ratcheted impossibly close to each other. You drop $67 for your “gold circle” seat (with the $13 “convenience charge”), and you would believe that you would have more comfort than this. It’s like if you flew coach on an 18 seat across row on Wal Mart Airlines from Sydney to LA. My shoulders touched the person on either side of me. To my left was my girlfriend (no problem). To my right was a guy that looked like Paul Giamatti. Not as nice…However, our seats were close enough that I could have hit Bob Dylan with a beer bottle (if I were so inclined).

Bob started out on guitar with the full band for “Cat’s in the Well” to get a groove going. Things looked very promising as he appeared to be engaged and in strong voice (for him). Now, let’s have a frank discussion about Bob Dylan’s voice. In 1966, it was referred to as “an acquired taste” like scotch or truffles. Now it’s a bluesy croak with what may be the most limited range in the history of popular music performance. But, Bob is smart. Unlike a band like the Rolling Stones who continue to prance around in tight little outfits and try to be their version of “current”, Bob has played it right. He works with the cards he has been dealt, and has transformed himself into some kind of barnstorming 1930’s song and dance man. (Which is always what he jokingly referred to himself in early interviews.)

Since I am on the subject, it has always befuddled me why bands like the Stones don’t do what the blues greats they first emulated did in the early 1960s. When Howlin Wolf played with them in London, he didn’t step on stage in a mod outfit like some dandy. No way. He showed up in clothes that befit a man of his age and stature. He walked out on stage like I’m HowlinMotherfuckinWolf and did what he did. When Bob Dylan stepped out on stage last Saturday, he was dressed in a suit befitting a 1920s gangster complete with a fedora. Did it work? All I know is the Paul Giamatti guy said, “There he is! There he is! That’s Bob Dylan!”. (By the way, when I see Keith Richards, I think “That guy looks like a scarecrow that’s had a tough season out in the old punkin’ patch.” I think that he thinks he looks like a rough and tumble pirate.)

Dylan has once again shown his uncanny ability to redefine himself. He has actually turned that bullfrog croak of a voice into a strength. His current blues and Americana song book structures make his songs sound like they could be from 1918…or last week. By using what are really the only options open to him, Dylan has made himself “current” and relevant. Why don’t these other guys get it?

Dylan then went through four classic back catalogue songs, rearranged to fit his current strengths. “Watching the River Flow” was especially strong (and timely with the show on the riverside). The band really locked into a strong groove, and Bob’s vocal was of the moment. “It’s Alright Ma” suffered with the new arrangement though, as the melody (and hook) were lost in a rather tuneless reading of one of my favorites.

The band is different than the last time I saw him. Danny Freeman plays lead guitar, and Stu Kimball is almost invisible on rhythm. Freeman appears to be still finding his way in the band, and seems tentative at times. It’s as if he’s afraid of getting in trouble by stepping on Bob. On the more “rock” numbers, the band doesn’t kick nearly as well as his old band. It seems like they are all looking for Freeman to take charge, but Freeman is unwilling to do so. On the “Modern Times” and quieter “Love and Theft” material, this band really hits their stride. Bass player Tony Garnier acts like an onstage QB and lets the tasteful leads shine. These guys are all ringers, and I’m sure in time they’ll find their way with all the material.

Bob switched over to keyboards for the rest of the show from “The Levee’s Gonna Break”. It was a great start, as I thought that particular song was the high point of the show. Bob sang confidently and strong, and the band gave searing solos throughout. It was almost a revival like groove, as several otherwise placid audience members got up to shake their asses. The material slowed down as they ran though a really nice “My Back Pages” and some “Modern Times”/“Love and Theft” material. Especially well played was “Spirit on the Water”, as the delicate changes were handled playfully. Bob’s organ playing veered from tasteful to “hockey rink”, but through this part of the show he was right on.

The only real clunker of the night came on a turgid “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” that suffered from Dylan’s primitive organ in place of the classic “Blonde on Blonde” lines. The sluggish tempo, inability to drive the changes, and a horrible vocal chorus by Bob doomed this from the start. I think they even bailed out on it early as even the band realized it was awful.

A nice “Nattie Moore” got them back on track for a pretty strong “Highway 61” set closer. As with most of the tour, they encored with “Thunder on the Mountain” coupled with a Dylan war horse (in this case “Blowin in the Wind”). At that, we hit the exits to try and avoid the traffic situation and catch the Arturo Gatti fight. In the 10 times I’ve seen him since 1986, this was a top 3 show. The set list was strong, and it was really a great representation of where he is right now as an artist. A night very well spent…

Set List

Cat’s in the Well
Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright
Watching the River Flow
It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)
To Ramona
(Bob on guitar)
----------------------------
The Levee’s Gonna Break
My Back Pages
Honest With Me
Spirit on the Water
Things Have Changed
When the Deal Goes Down
Stuck Inside of Mobile
Nettie Moore
Highway 61

Encore:

Thunder on the Mountain
Blowin in the Wind

2 Comments:

At July 18, 2007 at 11:32:00 PM EDT , Blogger AZ said...

Thought about this show, but it was too much, both strategically and monetarily. Headed up from the Nati for the Police show Monday and Gogol Bordello Tuesday. Both were great in their own ways, some of which you have pointed out.

The logistics came from the travel as I am half past dead trying to work out a strategy for surviving work then next two days and planning how I can catch you guys at the Northside, then make it to Lebowskifest in Louisville on Sat.

 
At July 18, 2007 at 11:34:00 PM EDT , Blogger AZ said...

The Jays consistently infuriatingly predictable bullpen let you down yesterday. Tough to take an L with those odds on a balk of all things. Well, I'll have some crap as a parting gift to you, from the Jays bullshitpen.

 

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