April 25, 2013
Review by David Jones
This time it's me sitting with my head in my hands instead of Dylan. Did
I really pay $100 more per ticket to see Mark Knoffler last year at the
United center? Or was Charlie Sexton's exorbitant salary that made the
price difference? So I made the 2 hour drive to Champaign to the
notoriously poor acoustics of Assembly hall which were worse then I
remember to sit in the dark? Same venue last night as in 2010, but now
it's something out of Spinal Tap. How dark is it, It couldn't be any
darker!' The mirror's which debuted last year supposedly to block camera
flash's only add to the effect. Now before the show we get a pleasant
announcement about the use of camera's during the show, but whoever
he's listening to has it all wrong about camera's and phones in low static
light. All the great video and photo's being shot are because they are
locking off auto-focus/auto-exposure or opening up the F stop on digital
camera actually gives it an even sharper picture. And for $30 on Amazon
their snapping on telephoto lens on I-Phones and clamping them to
anything stationary without a second look by security.
The show looked so good in 2010 in comparison to 2013. For starters the
lights were on in 2010, and the subtle use of video and lighting brought a
professional quality to the show that is totally missing at this point. At
the United Center Knoffler used the lighting to complement the songs to
dramatic effect. Dylan has never been shy about "borrowing" other people's
idea's either musically, lyrically or artistically. So how about borrowing
the light guy from The Who or Bob Seger that have both played Chicago in
the past 6 months for the same money I spent for Dylan at the United
Center except they delivered! I'm no longer questioning wether or not
"Mr. Jones" knows what's going on, I'm questioning if Dylan does?
If you go back far enough you've seen the "Tell tale signs" of the
departure of guitarist from Dylan's touring band. So it's no surprise that
the band is playing better, they do for a while after every new change.
It's us that suffer for the year or two leading up to the "Axe" falling. I
watched the same thing happen with Denny Freeman and before that
Larry Campbell. Think back to the Aragon show's in 2009, the two guitarist
attack added new life and a new direction to the band. Then at some point
Charlie was castrated, and by the time they hit the United Center they'd
stare at him like deer in the headlights, attempting to read his mind and
when they didn't get it right he stopped playing and then Herron followed.
So the new arrangement of Kimball relegated to only acoustic guitar and
Robillard playing lead with Herron still copying Dylan's increasingly
limited playing fits the band much better then the over reaching attempts
Dylan put forth the past few years.
After attending this show, I have no intentions of damaging my memories
or wallet any further by going to Toyota park in July. That place holds
30,000 people and I can't imanage if you'd even see the stage from the
lawn? Last night I'm was sitting with a group of "kids" in the dark who
finally wore me down and I'm started to laugh along with them. Review's
are kind even if they sound as if they are copied from the last town and
the reviewer has not even bothered to attend. And the fan pages go into
great detail as to what the band is wearing and use such polite terms as
engaged. "Engaged? That's what they say about Grandpa at the nursing
home!" cracked a less then interested 20 something behind us between
songs. He was here just to say he'd seen Dylan and at that point I
realized at this point maybe I was too, but possibily for the last time.
Knoffler could have easily stole the show had he rolled out a few more
Dire Straits songs, a sizable part of the audience left before Dylan's
Phlegm did. I doubt Wilco will show that kind of restraint.
He stayed behind the assembly hall,
it was there he made his bed.
Oftentimes he could be seen returning,
until one day he just appeared
with a note in his hand which read,
"The soles of my feet are burning".
Oh, the leaves began to fallen'
and the seas began to part,
and the people that confronted him were many.
And he was told but these few words
which opened up his heart
"if you can't bring good news, don't bring any".
On the drive back to Chicago and I was trying to put my thoughts together
about the show as we struggled to play Tempest in it's entirety . When it
finished I was struck by the underlying theme, death. He eluded in the
Rolling Stone article last year. "….Intentionally, specifically religious
songs……That takes a lot of concentration to pull off 10 times with the
same thread-then a record I ended up with" There is more said about Dylan
then he has ever said himself outside of the lyrics to his songs. He's
responsible for so many masterpieces and the song track for so many of our
life's. Whatever you've been doing since Love and Theft with the exception
of Working Man Blues which nicely replaced Ryan Adams "Here's to the rest
of the World" cover "Scarlet Town" needs to change. Don't become a parody
of Bob Dylan, pack up the paint brush's, say goodbye to this band and take
a final bow, let the "Never Ending Tour" die as the final encore to
Tempest. Surround yourself with the legion of artist who you've inspired
and record that last masterpiece, write 5 volumes of Chronicles. Though it
might not sound like it, I'm bringing good news. Bob, I love you, but
please don't leave us with "Roll on John" as your final song.
Review by TA O'Bannon
I unfortunately have to agree with the previous reviewer. I was
disappointed in the show, the poor lighting, the crappy use of mirrors to
prevent what? Photos? Who wants them? I didn't get to see Dylan in
2012, but I've spent thousands and thousands over the years to see him at
hundred of shows.
The voice was less croaky than in the past, there was actual singing, but
it was so not enough to make this show enjoyable. The setlist was grim
and slow and monotonous. One dirge after another. In the dark no less!
Disappointing, yes, and a little pathetic. My only highlight was What
Good Am I which made me cry, initially because I hadn't heard it live in a
long time, and it did sound so good, but then it made me realize that this
artist that I have loved for so long and have loved being a fan of really
might be asking himself the question.
I don't know what's happening, but I think I am done with Dylan shows this
year, maybe forever. It makes me too angry and too sad.
Review by Adam Selzer
On the surface, there's nothing very promising about seeing a concert in a
basketball arena. I wasn't sure about making the trip until I saw the set
lists, which put me in the strange position of going to a Dylan concert
and knowing almost exactly what the setlist would be, as it's barely
changed at all this tour. But the standard setlist promised me five songs
I hadn't seen before, and a three hour drive just for "What Good Am I"
alone seemed reasonable.
So, though I came thinking I knew what to expect, I wound up seeing a
Dylan show totally unlike any I've seen before. The new band and new
arrangements simply shine. Very stripped own and laid back, with Stu on
acoustic for every song and only one notably plugged-in instrument (well,
two if you count the pedal), this was just about as unplugged as
"Unplugged," with an increased reliance on melody and pure SINGING. There
was a long period where Dylan was finding a groove for the song on the
keyboard and then singing the tune, not the words (which worked pretty
well, so there was no cause to complain), but now, with the new, sparser
arrangements, he was truly singing the songs. I loved the sound of "Love
Sick" with the main riff on acoustic guitar. "What Good Am I" was
stunning. I've never heard "Visions of Johanna" played so beautifully.
I've missed the old acoustic set in recent years, and, despite Duke's
elegantly played electric guitar, this often felt like seeing a full show
of acoustic songs. The stage set up was interesting, with a couple of
random mirrors set up and a light on the bass drum that, from my angle,
made the thing flicker orange whenever it was hit, creating a nifty
fireplace effect. Dylan's "dancing" looked like he was flapping in the
And the sound, despite being in a basketball arena, was superb and crisp.
Even Dawes, the opening act, sounded as clear as a new record on a good
turntable. The vocals were upfront and clear. The arena itself was set up
so only half of the place was being used, and even then it wasn't nearly a
sell-out. Rumors had it that only about 2000 of the seats were sold,
making it a surprisingly intimate show. It felt almost more like going to
a movie than a concert, crowd-wise.
There were lots of fun ad-libs; my favorite was during Tangled, when Bob
sang "'I thought you'd never say hello,' she said, 'you look like the
silent type.' I said 'I am.'"
Then, following a short conference, rather than the expected "Scarlet
Town," we got the surprise of the night, a stately "Workingman's Blues #2"
tailor made for the new band. Swapping out a song I hadn't heard before
with one I have was mildly annoying, but on the balance I think I like
this song better than "Scarlet Town," and, anyway, it was a dynamite
performance. Dylan seemed to forget the words a couple of times, but he
recovered nicely, and there were some lines that I don't think I'd heard
before, most notably:
I woke up in the morning and sprang to my feet
went to town on a whim
saw my father in the street
at least I think it was him
This is the kind of show I've always dreamed of him playing, and
yet…something almost felt missing. Though "Beyond Here Lies Nothing" was a
killer, it sometimes seemed like the whole thing was too laid back and
never really got rowdy. Everything was solid and artfully done, but not
always…. well, Chuck Klosterman recently wrote that Metallica is like Hank
Aaron to Led Zeppelin's Babe Ruth: leaner, more consistent over the long
haul and destined to break the records, but never quite as transcendent.
That's about it. Maybe it's just me, and the laid back crowd around me,
but I feel like the tight arrangements were never quite as transcendent as
the songs can be when they're a bit looser and rock a bit harder. This was
a show that might have sounded better as an album than a concert; rumors
that he's planning a live album from this tour seem reasonable enough to
me. And it would make a terrific album!
In 2003, when Charlie left and Freddy joined and everyone was saying that
the band was in a "transitional" state, I feel like this is what they were
transitioning TOWARDS. Took 'em long enough, but they got there.
I have to wonder if this setup will continue in the summer; it's hard to
imagine such a relaxed show in the Americanarama setting. I guess we'll
soon find out! And there are countless songs in the catalog that I'd love
to see this band tackle. Starting with most of "New Morning," which sort
of shares a vibe with this tour.
Review by Rodney Peck
During the last week of April my wife (Terri) and I were lucky enough to
see Bob Dylan perform twice. On Tuesday the 23rd at the Peabody Opera
House in St Louis we saw a show which excited us so much that we
decided to go to Champaign IL two days later on the 25th. It was a very
inspiring time and I am pleased to be able to share my impressions and my
view on the “state of Dylanology” (tongue-in-cheek on the term
Dylanology) at this point in time.
We had last seen Dylan on August 25 of 2012 and were both quietly pretty
disappointed, especially since we hadn’t seen him since October, 2010 and
not a thing had changed in the meantime. The main problem for me had
been the loss of musicality in the band as well as guitarist Charlie Sexton’s
onstage demeanor, two issues that were almost certainly related. In the
fall of 2009 all of the Dylan-geek community was thrilled at the news of
Charlie’s return to the band. We saw that first tour after this on October 27
in Rockford IL and were just blown away by how great it was. I would say
it was the best Dylan show I had seen since November 1 of 2002 on
Charlie’s last tour with Bob. My review of that evening is found here:
http://www.boblinks.com/102709r.html#5. Charlie was all over the stage
that night, really showing off his chops and definitely injecting some
serious energy and power into the band’s music, seemingly even challenging
Dylan at times. Unfortunately, he is such an egomaniac and attention-hog
that he almost overshadowed his boss in that show. When we saw them again
in 2010 it was clear that Bob had squelched Charlie, as he barely played
any leads and seemed to be sulking onstage. In addition, the music was
definitely suffering. Due to personal issues, we did not see Dylan in
2011, but it was more of the same at the concert in 2012. So, I was very
excited to hear that Bob and Charlie had split and that Duke Robillard was
going to take his place.
Early word on the new band and tour was very positive and I am glad to
say I was nothing short of thrilled by the show we saw in St. Louis. Part of
the joy of the night was being at the Peabody. I hadn’t been there since
1986 (when it was still the Kiel Opera House) to see Stevie Ray Vaughn
perform a great concert and I definitely picked up on some sort of deja`
vu vibes. The show in Champaign was probably just as good, but being in
a giant basketball arena that was less filled to less than ¼ capacity could
not compare. I definitely vote for him to stick to smaller venues at this
stage of his career.
As for new guitarist Duke Robillard, I have onlygood things to say about
him. His playing was always spot-on throughout both shows and, even
though he has a solo career of his own, he certainly seemed to understand
his role as sideman. He seems perfectly content standing behind Dylan in
the shadows of the stage and skillfully playing his instrument in a way that
compliments what The Man himself is doing. I’m not all that familiar with
Duke’s solo work, but based on what I heard from the stage he’s a
B.B. King-influenced Blues guitarist and that seems to be the direction
that Bob is heading these days.
Ahum, yes the direction that Bob is heading. For one, his voice has now
evolved to what I believe is where he’s always wanted it to be. He’s now
truly a raspy-voiced Blues singer along the lines of Howlin’ Wolf or
Blind Willie Johnson. Also, for people that didn’t like Dylan’s singing to begin
with won’t be won over now heh heh. Of course, the Blues have always
been near the center of Dylan’s musical universe, but I’m fairly convinced
he’s there on another level now. Thinking back, it seems to me that since
Good as I Been to You and World Gone Wrong he’s been specifically
gearing into the Blues, sort of a recovery mechanism after the difficult
(but under-appreciated) years of,the ‘80s which officially ended in 1990
with Under the Red Sky. His harmonica playing now even seems blusier
than ever and I think his decision to switch over to the grand piano adds
to the effectiveness of this sound. I also enjoy him going center-stage and
guitar-less, microphone in hand, to sing. It’s entertaining and also still new
enough to make it kinda fascinating to see, with a few songs a night being
just enough.. He’s also been doing this long enough now that he seems
completely comfortable without having an instrument as a kind of prop.
However, a few musical matters are still bothering me. While Bob’s blues
direction is very pleasing to the ear, the hard-jammin’ rock ‘n’ roll seems to
have gone out of him. Think back to how Summer Days sounded as recently
2009 and compare to its current incarnation and the evidence is plain to
hear. Not that the song is bad now; it’s a pleasant up-tempo number that
is danceable, but it used to transcend its original rockabilly groove in a
way that could evoke comparisons to how the Dead used to jam on Not Fade
Away. Perhaps this is by design, maybe it’s just a matter of Bob’s getting
older, I don’t know. I love the sound of the band now and I’m not framing
this is as all bad, I’m just sayin’ I still need some power-rock in my
On the other hand, it still bugs me that he no longer does an acoustic set
and this is not merely my own preference. Acoustic performances have
always been an integral part of Dylan shows and I miss it every time, even
though it’s been ten years now since he did away with it. Also, while I loved
these most recent shows, it was a little boring knowing that it was going
to be exactly the same set list the second night. Of course, we were very
lucky that he pulled out Workingman’s Blues #2 in Champaign, but I am a
pretty serious Dylan fan who would not want to see very many shows in a
row with exactly the same set list.
There were a few college kids sitting behind us in Champaign who were
vocal in their displeasure that most of the show featured songs from 1997’s
Time out of Mind or later, generally unfamiliar songs to those casual fans that
Bob needs to keep the NET going. Sure, for us hard-core fans we love it
that he has enough confidence in his late-period songs to base his show on
them, but if only us geeks continue to come to his shows the numbers in
the audience will continue to dwindle. I am not complaining just to be
bitchy. I mentioned earlier that at the University of Illinois Assembly Hall the
crowd was thin, and this is not unusual these days. The points of constructive
criticism I have made are not just a matter of personal preference. I
believe these are matters Bob needs to address in order to keep the crowds
coming as the Never-Ending-Tour continues into his 70s. If Dylan the
artist is not interested in doing these things, Dylan the businessman
should be aware of them.
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