April 16, 2007
Review by Vernon Briscoe
KILL ME A SON.
By the time Dylan and the band struck up on this second of two nights at
the cavernous Wembley Arena the death toll from the Virginia campus
massacre had reached 33 with many others still critical. It is probably
unwise to speculate on Dylan's pre-show mood and thoughts but it seemed to
me that the show he played took great account of what had just taken place
in his homeland.
'God said to Abraham: "Kill me a son"' from Highway 61, 'And the cops were
called in and his weapon took from him' from Hattie Carroll,
'Disillusioned words like bullets bark as human gods aim for their mark,'
from It's Alright Ma, 'Oh son, you look so fine, I'm glad you're a son on
mine, you make me proud to know you hold a gun,' from John Brown: all the
kind of things you don't expect the leader of a cowboy band to warn you
about ... and yet he did.
Even the dark as pitch rendition of Ain't Talkin' (London's first) seemed
filled with violence, death and foreboding. It was an ugly, clunking
thing, utterly different from the one I saw at Amsterdam but no less
thrilling in its way. 'Someone hit me from behind' indeed.
In truth, though, this was not Dylan at the top of his game tonight. The
voice, a thing of rich melody the previous evening had become a dry,
parched husk and it was hard to engage fully with the songs when they were
presented in such a stark and unforgiving manner. That said - and things
are never quite straightforward with Dylan - the version of Don't Think
Twice was both tender and moving and Spirit on the Water hit the mark as
it has done with pleasing regularity on this tour. Generally, though, I
felt that he never quite nailed what he was going for in this set . This
felt uncomfortable to witness in direct contrast to the elation and joy of
the night before. But when so many lie dead in Virginia and there is a
show to play perhaps 'feeling comfortable' is not really on the top of
anyone's priority list.
The version of John Brown was as good as I have heard but other highlights
were a little thin on the ground tonight. Birmingham next: England, not
Alabama. Let's hope guns stay firmly tucked in holsters and we can find a
way to celebrate the teeming variety of emotions locked inside these
Modern Times songs once more.
Review by Paul Gill
It's 2.30am, and just got back to Somerset after seeing Bob at Wembley.
Am on such a high I just had to write this before going to bed. Drove up
early. It was a warm sunny day. Asked a wembley worker the best place to
park, and was directed to the only free parking street in the area. It
was literally about 150yds. from entrance. Saved me £15. Nice start. This
is the 4th time I've seen Bob , all in the last 12 years. I saw him at
this venue in 1995. I was close to 40 at the time, and about the youngest
person in the room. This time I found the vast spread of ages here very
uplifting. There were lots of single people, lots of couples young and
old, lots of groups of mates, and lots of fathers and sons. Didn't think
to ask my son, maybe I should have. The atmosphere wasn't as charged
before kick-off as before. I think this was because the venue, having
been re-vamped, seemed a bit too clinical. And no smoking anywhere! All
the other Dylan gigs I've been to have been filled with the aroma of
nicotine and cannabis! My seat was about as far away from the stage as
you can get. But I have learned that that's where the sound is usually
best. Surprisingly, it was only about 2/3 full, so I was able to move a
bit closer. Bob started at 8pm sharp. And sharp it was. They nailed the
first number - "Cats in the well" right from the off. It rocked. In fact
that really describes the whole gig in a nutshell - it ROCKED ! Next up
was "don't think twice". This was the track that first turned me on to
Dylan in about 1971. This version is the best I've heard yet. "Watching
the river flow" followed. This was worth the ticket price on it's own.
Enough said. "It's alright ma" came next. Very good, very dramatic,
vocals clear. He really was in good voice tonight. For me though, the
tune got lost in this arrangement. Still enjoyed it though. Bob then put
down the guitar and from then on played organ. This made me think of a
parallel event in 1966 when for the second half of gigs he put down the
accoustic guitar and picked up an electric one. He's moving into a new
era. Modern Times in fact. The next song was bound to be from this album.
"The levee's gonna break" it was. Excellent it was too. Apart from, that
is, an awful guitar solofrom Donnie. Made them sound like a raw young
band. I wonder if that's deliberate? Next came a complete surprise. "The
lonesome death of Hattie Carrol". I wasn't sure what it was until the
words "you who philosophise..." It was also worth the ticket price on
its' own. His voice was magnificent, and there was also a great harp
solo. "Rollin' and tumblin'" was next. This rocked to high heaven.
Another terrible guitar solo from Donny though. "Spirit on the water" to
begin with seemed very weak. A nice tune but a bit out of sync with the
rest of the show. There was a great pedal steel solo in the middle
though. Then Bob sang "you think I'm over the hill?" with so much feeling
we all got the message - he ain't! a sublime harp solo to end turned it
into a highlight. "Highway 61" also rocked. By this time I was really
wondering why everyone wasn't up on their feet. Donny's guitar solo was
not too bad this time. Next came the absolute highlight of the whole
evening. "John Brown". Incredible. Even better than the "Unplugged"
version. "When the deal goes down" had another great pedal steel solo in
it. I think Bob was talking to all of us when he sang "an' I'll be with
you 'till the deal goes down". Maybe it was my imagination. "You go your
way and I'll go mine" I've heard twice before, but once again, this was
the best version yet. Another one that rocked big-time. Guitar solo not
bad again. The boy's improving! I was expecting and hoping for "Nettie
Moore" next but i didn't get it. While I'm on the subject "Desolation
row" and "Not dark yet" were also high on my wish list. Oh well - maybe
next time. I wasn't disappointed with what I got though. An atmospheric
rendition of "Ain't talkin'", with a great violin sound and yet another
reasonable guitar solo. "Summer days" finally got some people behind me
up dancing. "Like a rolling stone" just gets better and better.
1st encore number was "Thunder on the mountain". Another one that
ROCKED. We then had the band intros in a very pleasant and
understandable way. First time I've ever been able to understand what
he's said at this point. To finish we had the expected "All along the
watchtower", but I hadn't heard this version, and I thought it was
fabulous. We then got a very long wave and bow from the whole band. The
way Bob did this made me think he's not going to return to this venue.
Maybe I'm wrong. All-in-all this was the best gig I've ever been to.
Just had to come home and share it with you all. This man just keeps
getting better and better. I'm even tempted to go to Birmingham
tomorrow. That's later today now of course. You know what? I'm going. I
don't have a ticket but I'm gonna go and try my luck. Surely I'll get at
least one played from my wish list.
Review by Martin Gayford
Bob was in excellent form tonight, his voice much stronger and his
delivery was passionate. Okay, he fucked up Rolling Stone by forgetting
the second verse but almost every other performance was better than last
night (last night's Rolling Stone was great). A lovely Don't Think Twice
came early on with some excellent electric guitar from Bob, It's Alright
Ma was a highlight as usual and the quiet Modern Times songs were very
nice. Hattie Carroll is one of my favourite recent arrangements and it
featured some fabulous singalong singing and a beautiful harp solo at the
end. Then came John Brown which caused an outbreak of goosebumps,
at last an audible instruments from little Donnie on banjo and an intense
vocal from Bob. Thunder On The Mountain was great too, but the entire
evening was shadowed (at least for me) by Ain't Talkin', which was possibly
the most impressive performance I've seen from Bob for years. The song was
considerably more intense than the album version, and verse after verse had
Bob singing like nobody's business. It was so good I even enjoyed Summer
Days which followed.
Review by Guy Sexty
It was with keen anticipation that I made the trek to Wembley to see
Dylan. Reports from the gigs so far on this leg of his tour were very
encouraging, and two years earlier, at Brixton, he had been in fine form.
Now I had the prospect of some numbers from Modern Times (I was hoping for
Nettie Moore, Ain’t Talking and When the Deal Goes Down) plus the
possibility of a curved ball (he’d played Masters of War and House of the
Rising Sun in Newcastle, and Blind Willie McTell the previous evening).
He kicked of with Cat’s in the Well, which was a fine opener, warming the
band and audience up nicely. It was good to see Dylan take centre stage,
wielding an electric guitar. This was followed by an almost faithful
rendering of Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright. I was struck pretty quickly
at how surprising good the sound was. Wembley is normally a nightmare
venue, but the sound engineers had done a tremendous job in generating
good instrument separation and general balance (from where I was standing,
at any rate). On the quieter numbers the band really pulled the dynamic
down, allowing Dylan’s voice to rise above. Everything was audible. Even
the words. Watching the River Flow followed, which they’ve been playing
frequently over the past few years and therefore sounded pretty tight.
Then it was It’s Alright Ma, with the three note riff arrangement which
calls for all the verses to be sung in half the time of the original. It’s
not a bad arrangement, but doesn’t really do the song justice.
Dylan unstrapped his guitar and got behind his keyboard for the rest of
the night. We had The Levee’s Gonna Break, very faithful to the album
version, and the first opportunity for the band to really open up. Then
came the first curved ball. A sparse melody on harmonica and mandolin was
struck up, and Dylan sang “William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll/
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger”. It was a
beautiful rendering, and as he sang “Take the rag away from your face/Now
ain’t the time for your tears” my throat was very lumpy indeed.
Two more Modern Times numbers followed, Rollin’ and Tumblin’ and Spirit on
the Water (a huge roar greeted the line “you think I’m over the hill?..,),
and then we had a raucous version of Highway 61. Then followed the second
curved ball: a sparse arrangement of keys and banjo heralded the anti-war
John Brown, a very moving rendition where even the banjo (one of my least
favourite instruments) sounded good. The emotion was pushed to another
level with a beautiful reading of When the Deal Goes Down. The steel
guitar was superb, Dylan's voice was just right, and even his decision to
underpin the instrumentation with staccato organ couldn’t stop this from
being a wonderful song. Again, it was hard to keep back the tears as the
atmosphere grew thick with emotion. It’s astonishing that 6,000 people can
be reduced to awed silence, followed by a howling roar of release and
gratitude at the close.
He lifted the mood with a ramshackle version of Most Likely You’ll Go Your
Way (and I’ll Go Mine), where each refrain seemed to be made up on the
spot. Then we had the magnificent Ain’t Talking. He finished off the night
with Summer Days and three verses of Like a Rolling Stone before returning
to encore with a swift version of Thunder on the Mountain and a final,
rousing All Along the Watchtower, where the hard guitar lines nodded in
homage to the Hendrix version.
All in all it was a tremendous gig: a few surprises, some excellent
readings of great songs, a competent, if unspectacular, band and proof
that Dylan can still deliver the goods as a live act. It was amazing that
in this aircraft hanger of a venue in the outskirts of Middlesex, a man in
his mid-sixties could produce moments of transcendent beauty. Wonderful.
Review by Mick Nixon
The view from my central 2nd row seat gave me a fresh insight to Bob
Dylan’s live performance: jerking, reacting to the music – rocking as the
Dylan was consistently deeply intense on the reading of his words: at
times tender – sometimes spitting out the rhyme – occasionally grinning -
appearing to amuse himself at his vocal delivery or a personal favourite
Being so close I could pick out the instruments from the stage amps –
which was particularly helpful with Bob’s impressive guitar work at the
beginning – the band supplied solid rhythm as he played his blue notes,
picking and strumming.
Personal highlights were Ain’t Talking and Hattie Carroll – although I have
to say the band clearly enjoyed the up tempo songs – particularly
Highway 61 and Summer Days.
Being so close to the action made me feel that I was watching a pub
rock blues band in a smoky club, and, believe me, I could pay no higher
Review by Chris Hoade
Still a terrible venue. Having seen Bob as a tiny figure in the far
distance on Sunday, this evening we were about half a mile closer. And I'm
here to tell you that this show was just fabulous. From the second our man
kicked off with Cats in the Well you could tell it was gonna be great.
This was just excellent, full on Rock and Roll. The MT stuff was very well
done, even Rollin & Tumblin, which I've never much cared for. Strangely,
the highlight of the night for me was Most Likely, which I've seen him do
a few times before, but which tonight just struck me full on. Have to say
I thought Ain't Talkin' was a tad disappointing at this show, he seemed to
be straining to hit the notes a bit too often, but hey, that's only my
opinion. Wait for the CDs and decide for yourself. Just one other thought;
is there a reason for Stu still to be there? Bob didn't look at him once
as far as I saw and he didn't seem to have anything to do except play the
rhythm parts. With respect, I could play them as efficiently and, if Bob's
should read this, I'll be happy to do the job for less money.
Review by Mick Jefferys
24 hours after the event and still the disappointment lingers in my mind. I
had been to the first Wembley Concert and although I was 25 rows back I
thought it was a superb event. Brilliant interpretations of Chimes of Freedom
and Blind Willie McTell, as well as wonderful versions of When The Deal Goes
Down and Nettie Moore, consistently great singing and despite the
previously bad reviews, impressive guitar playing.
So with high expectations and daughter along for the ride I was excited
about seeing the show from only 10 rows back. But it never took off. It
was never less than competent, but if John Brown is the only song that
comes close to a spine tingling moment it cannot be a great night. No big
songs except Ain't Talking. There were no surprises at all in the set list, it
was almost formulaic.
I admire Dylan because he keeps on keeping on. He is singing as good as
ever and the harp playing was excellent, but what makes Dylan magnificent
is the surprises and there were none last night. Incidentally my daughter
thought the drummer was crap!
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