April 14, 2009
Review by Rex Schenk
The news bulletin of Swiss Radio DRS mentions the Dylan show in Basel,
much to your surprise, as you are driving home from Basel around midnight.
But there it is, on the car radio. Right, a Dylan show is a major event,
something to make the news right there along with North Korea's latest
variation on political maneuvering in another of the world's never-ending
tours. Right there along with the weather. The news bulletin says that
the Dylan show was about two hours long, that he didn't address the
audience in any way, that he "let the music speak for itself". All of which
is true and by now about as unexpected as news gets, if your cynicism
will be pardoned.
If a Dylan show is a setoff of the predictable against the unpredictable,
as you may venture for the sake of argument, then St. Jakobshalle is
predictably this: An unalluring multifunctional concrete affair that makes
any notion of sound virtually impossible, no matter what the people on
the soundboard podium may attempt. The ultimate bummer when
Heineken Music Hall is still in your ears.
The audience on this serene, almost summerish spring evening in Basel
is the dream team of sixties veterans of Southern Germany and
Northwestern Switzerland put together for the occasion. This was
predictable but you avoided the thought. Now you're there and you're
strangely amused until you realize you probably look just like them. There
are youngish people of unknown descriptions, too, and before the show
everyone is drinking beer outside in the sun.
If the audience is a Dylan audience in some historical way, dylanically it's
not. Predictably enough, the show starts at 8 p.m. sharp with something
like "Cat's In The Well" - in fact, as it turns out, with "Cat's In The Well"
itself -, but the audience is not yet there, because they know that rock
concerts always start three hours late. They rush in during "Don't Think
Twice, It's All Right". Looking for their seats. Once they have found
them, there is a constant flux in and out of people carrying plastic
beercups. The multifunctional concrete affair is really a pub with
reverberating background music from the never-ending tour. Eventually,
like a dime well placed in a jukebox, "Like A Rolling Stone" saves worn-out
marriages in Basel. At least one couple's, right there in front of me.
What goes on between "Cat's In the Well" and the predictable apogee
from "Highway 61 Revisited" on is probably just as good as Amsterdam.
You can kind of tell that things are spot on onstage, watching Bob and
the band through the binoculars. You can't actually hear it, because
whatever sound there is booms back from the sides and the back and
the ceiling and drops dead in the middle. At some stage Bob's organ
sound repeats itself about four times and it becomes something like an
air hammer that you might retain as a creative idea for studio work.
You hope that Romeo or another luminary with directional microphones is
down there near the soundboard podium. Your educated guess is that
"John Brown", "Masters Of War", "Visions Of Johanna", and "Girl Of The
North Country" were vocally remarkable tonight, and you trust that you
will get to hear them, so as to measure the unpredictable, in which the
music speaks for itself.
You stay until the bitter end and you remember a recent German reviewer
writing something like this: "Am Ende stehen die Musiker reglos. Das
Publikum verbeugt sich." That, too, is true.
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