Saint John, New Brunswick

Harbour Station

May 19, 2008

[David Johnson], [Annie]

Review by David Johnson

Music as Magic. The alchemical sleight of hand that turns sh*t
into Gold. Bob once said of his performances, “Watch closely, it happens
fast.”  Third time around for this reviewer viz the Bob Experience. I’ve
been reading where some reviewers, notably Jim Meek of the
Chronicle-Herald (Halifax) felt that he had somehow been cheated by the
performance he witnessed. Jim implies in his review that Bob is tired,
worn out; ready to be put out to pasture. That Bob was committing
“songicide” via his re-arrangements of his music. Well, Jim, it is HIS
music, after all.  As natural as it sometimes feels that Bob is singing to
you and FOR you, in the last analysis the music is his creation.  He can
do with it what he wishes. 

What I observed last Monday evening was a consummate, vital
artist that seemed to be operating out of time, combining modern musical
idioms with the ancient rhythms & syntax of past troubadours: that’s what
Bob does. The band was swinging, operating just behind the beat. As for
the man himself, I heard power in the creaking timbre of that well-worn
voice. I heard all of the words. 

If you go to a Bob Dylan concert for nostalgia’s sake, you may
be disappointed. If, however, you go to experience music being made live,
in front of your eyes, as it happens, in the moment, you will be
mesmerized. As for the set list, I don’t much think it matters anymore or
at least no more than it did for Miles Davis or Louis Armstrong when they
were performing. It’s just to see the olde Master at work, still turning
tricks, still weaving a spell, making it happen out of thin air. I was, of
course, delighted to hear “Visions Of Johanna” & “Ballad Of a Thin  Man”,
but no more so than hearing “High Water (for Charley Patton)”. To use a
now hackneyed phrase, “it’s all good.”  The shifting perspectives Bob wove
into “Tangled Up in Blue” (which was not on the set list), spill over into
his live act these days. It’s in the present, past & surely the future
where Bob & his music dwell. What I saw was a sort of timelessness at
Harbour Station, an incredible act of faith by Bob & his band, bringing
the Music to life, as if by Magic.

David Johnson
05/24/08 (Bob’s Birthday: Happy 67th Mr. Dylan, remain Forever Young)


Review by Annie

Harbour Station is incontrovertibly a big old hockey rink, with
metal quonset-hut ceiling, big steam pipes snaking the length
of the roof.  Half filled with about 4300 or 4500 really happy people:
oldtimers who heard Bob here in 2001 or so, rafts of teenage kids like the
one who sat next to us -- he'd saved his money from waiting tables and
bought a really good ticket for himself (sorry, he had said to his
girlfriend, who, he said, understood). No opening act.  No guitar-shrine
parked behind the keyboards -- and Bob played only two instruments all
night, keyboards and the harmonica.  No clutter onstage.  One little burst
of Mardi-Gras beads hanging from the front of the drums, and, of course,
Oscar, overseeing the harmonicas from beneath his own personal little
spotlight. The band strode on looking clean-cut too.  Gone was Donnie's
long floppy hair; gone was the straggly curl at the back of Bob's neck. 
He sure looked great:  black cowboy suit with trim and touches of silver,
small sombrero with a little feather at the side, sideburns and mustache
cut just so (is a professional barber who's a sane Sweeney Todd with the
straight razor traveling with the show these days???), and that big
diamond band on the third finger, left hand.  Lean, mean, ready to play. 
And play they did for two solid, and I mean solid, hours. Stuck Inside of
Mobile:  a fabulous rise-and-fall to the lyric line, something he kept
doing on the other songs too.  Very low on the "there's one" and then way
high on the "I've" and low again on the "met" -- low on the "He just
smoked" and high on the "my" and low again on "eyeball" (yes, eyeball). 
The "Aw c'mon now" to Ruthie was a bass purr that filled the hall; the
"deb-u-tante" was enunciated perfectly and drawn out slowly -- a feature
of the show was the spot- on, clear-cut pronunciation of every word! 
Bob's voice sounded grand from the get-go and didn't flag or fade in the
slightest.  So did Denny's guitar -- he had intense and joyful solos on
many of the songs. Bob only played the harp for a puff or two on "Mobile"
-- then looked at it as if asking an old friend why it was letting him
down -- and moseyed over to the stand and selected another, out of which
he played the living heck.  In-out, chug-a-chug, an old train whistle
rippling and rising and falling. Don't Think Twice:  fabulous intro by
Donnie and Bob.  The "it's all right" was so kindly delivered, without the
slightest edge -- a gentle song until the very end, including a soaring
harp stanza that followed the melody.  At the end the band, grinning,
burst into an incredible bump-and-grind striptease riff to close things
out:  crowd went nuts. Levee's Gonna Break:  growly, earthy, and the
perfect lead into Desolation Row:  one of the best versions I've ever
heard.  Bob sang the start almost a capella until the band came in fully
just before "Lady and I."  A slow, 1-2, rocking-horse beat.  Riffs on the
words -- "you'd better hurry up and leave" -- after the pennywhistle a
long instrumental.. Ophelia got a nice little tweak from Donnie's
mandolin.  Again a defective or wrong harp, smoothly replaced by Bob and a
gorgeous interlure with it before the last verse, very quiet band, almost
a cappella. Watchin the River Flow:  Bob's in an aquatic, nautical mood. 
Who couldn't be, here in the Maritimes, with that massive rise and fall of
the Fundy tide literally just outside the door, on a day that began with
driving rain and pearl-grey mist down to the ground, and then burned into
a glorious windy sunshine by three in the afternoon?  I find myself
listening to the song and hoping he had some time down by the sea, or out
on the water -- it would make my day if he did a sea chantey, like Rio or
Golden Vanity.... Nettie Moore makes me even happier, though.  The "Oh I
miss you" he sang incredibly low.  Very quiet, respectful crowd, clapping
along with the slow drumbeats.  His voice sounds especially good on this
one, for the instruments are low.  A little tech trouble during the show
-- with George's drums.  They end up being so loud they hurt my ears and
George is an enthusiastic man ... drowning out the rest what's happening
onstage.  May they get this one fixed before the next gig! A
tumblin-tumbleweeds intro and into "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight."  Hot and
sweet as can be.  "You don't hafta worry anymore" and a lot of repetition
in the lyrics, which punctuated them and made you listen to the words: 
"I'll be .. I'll be your baby tonight."  Sat up and paid attention when he
sang "Shut the blind, shut the light, Your daddy's gonna last all night"
-- debate ensued right after the end of the song:  "did he really SAY
that?  WHAT did he say?"  Well, that's what I heard ... maybe because it's
what I wanted to hear!  The fact that there was a heavy full moon pressing
down on the harbor and lighting up the whole night made the song even
better. High Water was a standout, under the bright bright lights.  Bob
did it better than the band did; for some reason (amp troubles?) the song
sounded tangled and muddy.  He kept looking back at the guys. Spirit on
the Water:  wicked appropriate, as they'd say in Boston, for the setting
and the night.  He crooned it.  "You think I'm over the hill" always gets
a huge enthusiastic NOOOOOOOO from the crowd which must be fun to hear. 
And when he challenged "lemme see what you've got, we could have a
whoppin' good time" you really did wanna take him up on it.  A sweet harp
in this one.  At the end, he faced straight to the audience and made a
gracious little head-nod of a bow. And then smash into Highway 61.  2 kids
with red foam pointy fingers (for the Saint John Flames) began waving them
madly.  People in the costly seats who had been sitting down (!) stood up
and began to dance.  The sound quality on this one was unfortunately
ragged, and an annoying incessant sort of diddley-dee on the lead guitar,
but at least it wasn't that freakin' slide whistle. Bob took a long time
at his harp station at the end of Higway 61, those long white hands moving
carefully in the little Oscar spotlight, taking his time.  The band
started vamping for him, and a couple- minutes lead-in had no one knowing
what was coming next.  What came was the best live "Visions of Johanna"
I've perhaps ever heard.  I must hear it again -- please, someone, post
it; please, Sony/Columbia, release it.  Donnie did lovely work.  A
gorgeous, liquid, slow song that made me cry on my birthday.  Oh, Bob,
thank you for this one! Straight into Things Have Changed -- hurried, but
great, and repetitive like some of the others:  "first woman...first woman
I meet"; "wheelin...wheelin her down the street."  Donnie plus fiddle =
good stuff.  Bob drew out the lyrics a lot:  "next sixty seeeeeeconds
could feeeeel like an eterniteeeeeee."  He spat out "one big LIE" and
really stretched out the "people are craaaaaaaaaazeeeee." When the Deal
Goes Down was a slow sexy waltz.  I swear he was waltzing with his
keyboard while Denny strolled on the guitar. Summer Days was rollicking
and I reckon inevitable these days.  But they did it well.  And then
rewarded my patience with it with a searing "Ballad of a Thin Man."  He
bit out every word:  "some-body- points-his-finger" clean and crisp.  His
voice cut straught through the fuzzy tangle of the instruments and made me
wish they'd all just stop, and let him sing the whole thing without a
shred of accompaniment. Encore:  Thunder on the Mountain.  Alicia Keys got
a yelp, sort of indifferent otherwise,  The band intro was nice; Denny and
Tony got the hands they richly deserved.  He vamped on the keyboards as he
introduced the guys, and then smash into Rolling Stone.  As many times as
I've heard it, this was a standout:  he delivered that first "didn't you"
as quiet and calm as could be.  Slow, low-voiced, dare I say a
philosophical delivery that really made me think, and worry, and also,
weirdly, relax.  On the last "no direction home" he pointed out at the
crowd, with that thumb-and-forefinger like a pistol gesture, and looked
out at us.  They lingered quite awhile for the bow at the end, and looked
like they liked being there.  The crowd was certainly appreciative and
enthusiastic, refusing to head out even after the lights went up.  People
who'd heard him in 2001 said how much better this show was, and how much
better he sounded.  The kid next to me who'd saved his money for the gig
wiped his wet eyes and said he was going home to play his guitar. A
delight of a night.  So glad I was there for this one...but I have to say,
I'm having trouble remembering back to a show I didn't like, for some
reason or another....Ah well.  Given that I loved the eyeliner days I
guess I'm a pushover, but the one thing I long for is Bob on acoustic
again, doing some old ballads with Denny the way he did, in another
lifetime, with G.E. Smith... and even longer ago with men long dead....


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