March 23, 2010
Review by Bob Edwards
My wife Kate and I just got back to San Diego after spending two weeks in Japan where
we had the pleasure of seeing Dylan do a couple shows in Tokyo. We had planned a visit
there for later this year hoping to indulge in our several travel passions: hiking, food, and
live music. We were just waiting for one of the artists we like to announce a Japan tour
and Lo and Behold, our favorite performer, Mr. Dylan, announced that heĎd be playing there.
Scoring concert tickets was the biggest challenge. Memories of the time I ordered
Amsterdam tix online in 2003 and ended up purchasing twice as many as I needed came
back to me. Then there was the Buenos Aires incident of two years ago. Show was
announced, I found the promoter and nearly fell to the floor: They wouldnít accept my
brand of credit card. Having to apply for and receive the correct credit card delayed my
ticket purchase by 10 days, putting me many rows further back than I would have liked.
With our Japan trip, we decided to see only two or three shows as the tickets were
expensive (12,000 yen or $126 dollars US each for general admission floor tickets). We also
didnít want to spend too much of our vacation time in any of the cities Zimmy was playing.
Been to Nagoya and Osaka and seen enough. Tokyo is interesting but I wanted to see
other parts of the country. I ended up contacting Ed, a jam band/jazz fan who I had met
while seeing moe. play in Japan in 2005. Even though he had no interest in seeing Dylan,
Ed was kind enough to get us tickets for a couple of the Tokyo shows, Tuesday and
Wednesday, March 23rd and 24th,
We flew in on Saturday and after a few hours at Ueno Park and the Tokyo National Museum
and a quick dinner of some great sushi, went to check out one of the re-sale shops near
Shimbashi Station to see if we could get tickets for the next nightís show. They had tickets
for dozens of concerts, the sumo tournament, baseball games, etc. The actual tickets were
individually displayed on glass shelves inside rows and rows of display cases with handwritten
descriptions and price tags. Dylan tickets were going for 2 to 4 times face value, depending
on the ticket number, which determined entry time to the general admission show. It was
hard, but we passed.
Killed a couple days with a local hike to a mountain called Mt. Takao with a great view of
Fuji-san, a long walk, and some unbelievable meals.
Went to the Shinjuku Pit Inn on Monday night. This is a popular jazz club near Shinjuku
Station, the busiest train station in the world. There was a sax player scheduled for there
named Umetzu Kazutoki. I had seen him on YouTube playing some funky blues-based jazz
with wailing sax and electric guitar and that sounded fun. The Pit Inn is a jazz connoisseur
hangout. No talking at all during the music, all seats face the stage to discourage conversation
and optimize the listening experience. It seats maybe fifty people. Out comes Kazutoki-san
with his saxes and his band: a violinist, tuba player, accordion player, and drummer. They
proceed to lay down a set of authentic sounding Klezmer music including Japanese-accented
Yiddish vocals. Oh mein papa! I dug it but Kate did not.
Tuesday, March 23: After a killer tempura lunch (perfectly breaded and fried lotus root and
other vegetables, fish and shrimp with sides of rice and Japanese pickles), we packed up and
headed to LaLa Port, a bayside restaurant/bar/shop complex near Odaiba, the "entertainment
island" where the Dylan show was scheduled. Found Steve who I had met online at
rec.music.gdead. Steve is an expatriate American journalist working for a Japanese paper, who
is a Dylan fan and Deadhead who put together a small pre-show meet up. Joining us was
Andrew, also an ex-pat journalist, though from the UK, not the US. We met at a Belgian brew
pub and had some interesting conversation about Japan, cultural differences between the
West and Japan, politics, our kids, and, of course, Bob Dylan. Steveís last show was at Wolf
Trap in Virginia, about 1997. Andrew went to several shows in Japan in 2001, the last time
Dylan played there, and was seeing much of the current tour. Andrew said there were only
about 400 people at the Sendai show back in 2001 and that afterwards he and his wife met
Dylan on the street. Dylan was wearing his classic pulled up hoodie. Dylan was friendly and
said that he was traveling solo on the bullet train between shows. I donít think that was the
case this time as there was a big tour bus outside the venue when we got there.
People lined up in order, based on the number printed on their tickets. Iíd heard that the
venue, Zepp Tokyo, has a capacity of about 3,000 and we had tix in the high 800s. Doors
opened at 6 PM and we were all inside by 6:30. We ended up about 30 feet from the stage,
dead center near Andrew and his wife Nobuko. The floor was divided by rails that ran parallel
to the stage every ten feet or so. A reserved seat balcony was at the rear of the venue.
People were packed in but body contact was pretty much avoided, so there was a little room
for dancing. While waiting for the show to start, people talked quietly. The pre-show "music"
was a tape of someone reading from the first few chapters of Kerouacís "On The Road". Every
time a roadie came out, there was applause. At 7:08 the full "voice of the counter culture"
intro started up. Band tuning over the intro was distracting. Opener was "Catís In The Well",
which I had called pre-show. It rocked. Sound was crisp and clear. The audience members
were all dancing or shaking it. Baby Blue was well-received. Great phrasing, jazz-like vocals that
played with melody and rhythm (as they did throughout the show). Forgetful Heart had Zimmy
making Sinatra-like hand/arm gestures. Bowed bass, exquisite ensemble playing during Forgetful
Heart. Stuck Inside of Mobile elicited the first whole-audience roar of song recognition. John
Brown was the showís high point for me. Best version Iíve ever heard. Some will listen to the
tapes and yawn and kvetch, probably, but to me itís about the performance and the historical
context. And the context here was Pearl Harbor/Hiroshima/ death marches/the rape of Nanking,
etc. Militarism here killed millions and ultimately ended up with the US bringing down atomic
hard rain. Thoughts of Hiroshima were inescapable for me: Japanese folks glorifying the warrior
code in WW II, marching proudly off to war and then ending up with maimed and emotionally
scarred soldiers, women, and children like the son and mom in John Brown. Then it was time for
Under The Red Sky, no thoughts of war, just family, children playing, bakiní pies, and no more
evil or destruction: Under the red rising sun sky, peaceful Japan, no nukes for war here. Then
surrender to good natured lust--Honest With Me. Tossing a baseball bat into the air, indeed, in
the land of the Tokyo Giants and Hiroshima Carps. Masters Of War returned to the theme of
war, this time not the intimate portrayal of a woman getting smacked with the folly of her
romanticism of war but instead the hatred of the already converted peacenik for corporate
war-profiting slime. Hope my country and the world are able to abandon the warrior path some
day, too. The audience loved MOW. Highway 61 had people shaking their booties big time.
Interesting to think about what a country where less than Ĺ per cent of the population is
Christian makes of the biblical references. They like a rocker though! I love the new Shelter
From The Storm arrangement. Iíd read it was a "rap version" and had avoided listening to it
before this show. It was a pleasant surprise; not a rap song but funky music and dramatic
recitation and cool solos.
Fans seemed quite knowledgeable and familiar with the whole range of Zimmyís catalogue. The
classics were welcomed with cheers, but so were the new songs. People around me were
particularly stoked with Thin Man and the encore numbers. Those of us who see a few or many
shows a year sometimes get jaded and lose appreciation for songs like LARS and Watchtower.
Old fans in Japan, who havenít seen Dylan for many years, and the younger fans whoíve never
seen him, really appreciated hearing the classics. Itís all fresh and exciting to them.
Japan is a great place to hear live music. The audience was attentive and quiet, but enthusiastic.
No yelling out song requests except by some of the westerners in the crowd. No talking during
the new or unfamiliar songs. No bores or obnoxious drunks around where I was standing. Brief
applause after each song and then near silence waiting for the next song to start. An, on-average,
shorter crowd than in the West which makes for better lines of sight for gringos like me and Kate.
After the encore and the lights came up, everyone I saw had a big smile. We filed out past the
orderly lineup at the merch table. Strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hands. A
wonderful scene, a wonderful time.
If youíve read this far, thanks. Iím going to take a nap now to recover from my jet lag and will
try to post my review of the next nightĎs show, March 24th, as well as a report on a couple of
visits we made to Polka Dots, the Tokyo Dylan-themed bar, tomorrow.
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