Birmingham, Alabama
Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex
BJCC Arena
April 30, 2006

[Stephen Solis], [Michael T. Nix]

Review by Stephen Solis

Like the girl from the 29th, I am a 27 year old that got into Dylan just 4 
years ago.  It is so gratifying to have him come through, not only lyrically 
and musically but now in the live setting.  It makes me happy.

Saw Dylan in Birmingham last night for the first time and hopefully not
the last.  The show completely caught me off guard.  I wasn't prepared. 
The nature of the show is what made such a strong impression on me.  In
the past I've assumed that Dylan, because of his incessant tours, came on
stage rather haphazardly, played a few ragged versions of songs, hoarse
voiced, with an adequate backing band.  I was very wrong.  What I walked
away with is the knowledge that Dylan is a relevant, vibrant entertainer.

It quickly became obvious that an incredible amount of thought has been
put into this show.  The arrangement of the songs, the staging, the order
of songs all the way to the sound effects and basic audio engineering
which was not traditional in any sense.  Dylan isn't just going through a
round of songs for some old fans.  In fact, I left not knowing who he
intended that performance for.  There were Merle Haggard fans, who left
early, older folks who want to see a legend, some of them left early, and
they were college age to 30 year olds who came to get down.  (The arena
was less than half full -BJCC).

Dylan made the audience work.  He starts with Maggie's Farm and She 
Belongs to Me.  The only recognizable feature, about both of these, were 
the lyrics.  Instead of relying on a familiar rhythm or melody, Dylan forces 
the lyrics to the forefront by making them the anchor of the song for the 
listener.  The words are all you can connect with and once you do the new 
arrangement is danceable and very enjoyable.  Then came Tweedle Dee & 
Tweedle Dum.  This was the first taste of the DARK nature of this show.  
The lead guitarist had his guitar tuned to Devil and it whipped and lashed 
with an intense but methodical pace as Dylan spits out :

"Tweedle-dee Dum and Tweedle-dee Dee
They're throwing knives into the tree
Two big bags of dead man's bones
Got their noses to the grindstones

Living in the Land of Nod
Trustin' their fate to the Hands of God
They pass by so silently
Tweedle-dee Dum and Tweedle-dee Dee"

His voice grabs you at this point.  It is growling and purposeful.  Each
slide of the throat or extra hold of a note feels completely intentional. 
In fact you realize that you aren't watching a loose band of musicians
meandering through tired old songs but a viable rock band whose timing is
essential to the overall purpose.  The music is exacting and overwhelming.
 It isn’t laid back.  At one point during the middle of a verse the sound
man turns the drums up unexpectedly, the drummer hits an uncomfortable
rhythm, smack in the middle of the song and like a “jam band” that has
lost its way Dylan forces us into the middle of a change that no one was
expecting but that no one can ignore.  The drums shake the ground,
insisting that you pay attention and if you had been lulled into a groove
by the first minute and a half, your senses now are set one notch higher. 
The change takes place, they get the new groove and now the song has 
more energy than it did just 15 seconds before.  They are riding and 
rolling, stretching and gliding.  This is much more than I expected.

The simple red curtain being used as a backdrop, which is gigantic, is
pulled back revealing another backdrop that will grow and add to the show
just like the music will, as Dylan works through the predetermined 14 song
set.  The lights change and the band is illuminated in such a strange way
that it would take too many words but do know that it was very appealing. 
The next stretch continues the strange arrangements but again your focus
and your guide are the lyrics.  Positively 4th Street, 'Til I Fell In Love
With You, and It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding).  People start leaving
at this point but the ones who stay must be figuring something out.  They
are more energized and it seems they have committed to the show,
reciprocating the energy that Dylan has obviously put into this evening. 
It's Alright, Ma is difficult, defiant and eerie.  Lyrics are being
shouted, the guitars are dissonant and Dylan's keyboard is more horror
movie than melodic companion.  It is staccato, creating a second rhythm
with his voice, similar in style,  creating a third.  I couldn't tell if I
enjoyed it because it was hitting different emotions than I normally get a
concerts, but I knew that I was engrossed and overwhelmed.  This isn't
just a show for Dylan.  He is trying to provide an EVENT for the listener.

The next song confirmed that fact for me.  Very well crafted and thought
out, he has taken you to your uncomfortable limit (almost like a suspense
movie holding you out there as long as you can stand before the big scare)
and then he sweetly kisses you with this beautiful, melodic rendition of
Just Like a Woman.  The mood changed, couples were holding each other and
all were transfixed as you get your first confirmation that Dylan's voice
is fantastic.  This band can do all things.  They are powerful.  There
power was never more evident then on song 8:

Highway 61 Revisited - Unreal.  This band was playing around with an
energy that I have rarely seen.  I've seen many bands move a crowd more
and make people dance and laugh but this was dark and driving.  Dylan’s
voice is indescribable as he howls:

"Now the rovin' gambler he was very bored
He was tryin' to create a next world war
He found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor
He said I never engaged in this kind of thing before
But yes I think it can be very easily done
We'll just put some bleachers out in the sun
And have it on Highway 61."

As they perform this, allowing all members to get a solo, just really
winding this song out, the back drop has turned to stars.  These stars
stretch 30 feet high.  Bright white lights are cast upon the curtain
giving this three dimensional feel that adds to this incredible ambiance
created by 5 musicians.  It was uncomfortable and I was sure I was
enjoying it.

They rounded out the set with Visions of Johanna, Cold Irons Bound, Boots
Of Spanish Leather, and Summer Days.  All were solid and Summer Days
proved to be a quality set closer.  One notable feature to these songs was
the backdrop.  During Visions of Johanna, the stars turned from white to
blue and now they are chasing each other like a psychedelic wave.  When
you glanced at it they were perfectly still but as you stared at the band
or if you looked directly at the backdrop it swam.  It was like tripping
without tripping.

The encore was of course Like a Rolling Stone and All Along the
Watchtower.  Both were crowd favorites – fun to sing along with and dance
to.  Neither fit the mood of the evening.  I know he has closed with those
for years but his avant-garde approach to the evening contrasts somewhat
negatively with this safe close to the night.

The concert was so Bob Dylan.  I knew he changed the arrangements but I
didn't realize that he was basically writing new music with tough musicians. 
The lead guitarist was dressed country and western but he played like a
punk rocker on acid that was desperate to play the blues.  His solos were
unconventional and his tone was constantly right under the surface of
explosion.  It gave you an "oh shit, what's he going to do" kind of

They created grooves and sometimes didn't ride them out as far as they
could but as a band they are reaching/stretching farther away from
normalcy than any I have seen in the last year and that includes Trey,
Widespread, Audioslave, Ben Harper, Pearl Jam...

Taking chances can be very rewarding and it was for Dylan last night.  The
notion that Bob Dylan was an old man that just wasn't happy unless he is
touring so he's going to play a little something for you has been disabused. 
He is in complete control and that is a powerful position that he is
taking full advantage of.

My advice if you are going to check him out.  Figure out what song he is
playing very quickly.  Ask a neighbor, bring a list but find out and then
follow those lyrics to the emotion they have always brought out of you,
pull that emotion out and connect it with this new version and you will
feel what Dylan is doing.



Review by Michael T. Nix

We drove from The Muscle Shoals area to see Bob last evening and out of
the 35-40 times I've seen him this show was unique. I absolutely love
Bob Dylan but there was one disappointing element to this particular
show.  But even when some element of a night is flawed Bob is ALWAYS
charismatic and riveting and last night was no exception .

THE SONGS:  The older songs rang just as true for The Bush administration
as they did for the Johnson administration they were written during.
Lines like  " Money doesn't talk, It swears"  and "But sometimes even the 
President of the United States must sometimes have to stand naked"
are as true, or truer, than they have ever been.  Every song in the set list 
could be read as an indictment of the gang of thugs who are running
our world at this time.  Bob didn't choose to do Masters Of War or With 
God On Our Side last night but he didn't need to.  He said it just as well 
with the songs he did perform. Bob is a master of cutting through the B.S. 
in any era.  From Maggie's Farm to All Along The Watchtower Dylan's songs 
touched nerves that America needs to wake up before we have a 
holocaust in this country.  Kudos on the set selection !!!!!!

BOB:     Mr. Dylan was in great voice !   He enunciated every word
extremely well and played around a lot with the melodies.  On She Belongs
To Me he did some vocal glissando's downward about an octave which 
I've never heard him do before.  The band was turned down and Bob up 
in the mix so that every word was extremely audible. But it also made the 
band sound a little emasculated or sterile.

THE BAND:  Very tight turn on a dime precise;  extremely clean sound.  But
they were mixed a little too low and there was none of the distortion one
would expect from an electric guitar.   Bob's keyboard sounded like an old 
Farfasia organ without a bass register. He seemed to just be playing little 
treble noodlings in the extreme upper register.  I didn't hear one bass note
from Dylan's left hand all night ?

THE SHOW:  Besides the sound mix the slow song tempos lead to a show that
didn't have any dynamics.  Almost all the songs were at a medium speed and 
they didn't vary too much from one to the next.  On Highway 61 they did 
speed up a bit but on the next song they settled right back into that 
lethargic molasses  tempo. It got on my nerves before the show was over.  
Even the encores didn't have much zip.  When the guitar solo on Watchtower  
is played by a lap steel guitar you know there's not much rocking happening.
Possibly Dylan was tired or possibly he wanted to make certain that we heard 
every word he sang but the show just didn't take off and go.  I hope that all
the shows on this tour aren't paced like this one because there will be some 
musical disappointments

Michael T. Nix
Lexington Alabama


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