Reviews

London, England
Fleadh Festival
Finsbury Park
June 20, 2004


[Graham Cole], [Toby Richards-Carpenter], [Martin Webber], [Richard Hempsall],
[Rebecca Harley], [Sascha Krieger], [Scott Ellis]

Review by Graham Cole



I could start this review of Saturday night's open air concert in north London by saying that I never 
saw Bob Dylan at a Festival venue - I think when both the Isle Of Wight and Blackbushe happened, I 
was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Alternatively I could hand over to my 24 year old son Sam, 
who would have to say that he never saw Bob Dylan before anywhere!

So The Fleadh was a first for both of us in one sense or another, and the good news is that we both 
enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, even if I felt that like Cardiff two nights before, again it wasn't a 
classic concert.  For both of us Bob's appearance came at the end of a long day of mixed music.  Sam 
(and I) enjoyed the sparkling energy of Adam Duritz and his Counting Crows (they are after all Sam's 
faves and the main reason he was there) and earlier both Billy Bragg and, more so, Christy Moore 
(with long time ex-Planxty mate Donal Lunny) had been wonderfully entertaining.  Both made much of 
Dylan's songs with borrowings (if that word exists?) from his work and contributed to the (political) 
spirit that is a part of The Fleadh.

But, for me, truth be obvious, and certainly for Sam in a lesser, but eagerly expectant way, the big 
moment was to be 8.15 and that familiar background music and spiel culminating in "Columbia recording 
artist " and enter, tonight, the man in the long black suit and black stetson over what looked like 
a dark grey open-necked shirt.  The band, much as at Cardiff, looked great, especially the handsome 
Larry, this evening crisp in his white shirt, though hatless, and the quartet augmented, almost 
inevitably, following his appearance on two numbers with the Charlatans earlier, by a rather more 
ramshackle Ron Wood.

From the start there was much laughter on stage, with Bob quite clearly enjoying himself, joshing 
every now and then with the band, and giving everyone words of advice, admonishment, support, and 
who knows what? but above all, having himself a real good time, as did a very supportive crowd.  It 
should perhaps be said that this was not a Bob Dylan concert peopled with fans just of the man from 
Duluth and his band, but it was clear that a huge proportion of the audience, young and older, were 
more than ready to appreciate his music even more than they had done their earlier, younger stars.  
From the opening Down Along the Cove, the band were pretty tight, even if Ron Wood didn't always seem 
to be sure if he was doing the right thing, and was constantly watching Bob carefully to check he was 
keeping up to speed with things as Bob wanted them to be.  From where we stood, he appeared almost as 
nervous as a kitten on some numbers, whilst on others he found his groove more comfortably and traded
licks with Stu or Larry, and shared jokes with Tony G.

The rocky/slow alternates that had prevailed for much of the Cardiff set looked like happening again 
with a very similar It's All Over Now Baby Blue taking second place after the jaunty opener, though 
the pattern was less obvious tonight, and we had the rarity of Lonesome Day Blues to follow as a 
change from anything we might have expected.  Vocally, I thought Bob put in a lot of effort again with 
his singing, with lots of really effective vocal inflexions throughout the evening (Tweedle Dee Tweedle 
Dum scored highly for this), and the positively brilliant arrangement of Desolation Row had the audience 
truly hushed at times (no mean feat with an outdoor audience of such numbers, I thought).  When 
Positively 4th Street started up, I looked at Sam and we shared a huge smile of appreciation - with 
just the sparsest of instrumentation Bob's voice delivered those biting lines so powerfully - I 
particularly loved his phrasing on "perhaps,  perhaps I'd rob them".  Then, later in the set, the
treatment of High Water Everywhere (For Charley Patton) was really menacing, both lyrically, of course, 
but also in Bob's delivery of the tune.  Highway 61 Revisited didn't rock with quite the same highlight 
intensity of Cardiff, but was nevertheless great, and it was good to hear Spanish Boots again with the 
latter-day softness, again with sparse accompaniment, that Dylan brings to such a lovely and evocative 
song.

And finally, the only act to be allowed an encore (even if it may have been stage-managed!) returned, 
first with Bob's lovely clear spoken band introductions and then into a final Like A Rolling Stone.  
By now, many in the audience probably didn't mind anything and launched inevitably into the sing-along 
that can come close to ruining the song for some people, but it was perhaps an obvious festival closer 
as well as being the huge crowd pleaser that it is.  And then he was gone, ready to travel north, and 
then to Galway, and elsewhere in Europe.  Rumours have circulated that this may be the last time Bob 
will play Europe and therefore dear old Blighty.  We can but hope that this will not be the case, for 
the evidence on the two shows this weekend suggest that Bob is on as good form as ever he has been over 
the past ten years or so, and, needless to say, we will always welcome him back with open arms.  It is 
probably true that Sam, and our two daughters Hannah and Jess, have been somewhat inculcated with Bob 
Dylan from an early age (home stereo, car radio, etc), but now at last, Sam, who would have loved to 
hear One More Cup of Coffee, has seen the great man live as well.  He loved what he saw and heard of 
him - " he looked kind of mysterious ..." - and now he's seen him this once, I just hope he'll get 
the chance to see a lot more of him.

As ever Bob, thank you, from both Sam and me!

[TOP]

Review by Toby Richards-Carpenter



As expected, this evening's show was dominated by an ageing rocker with a big nose. Unfortunately 
though, the party in question didn't hark from Duluth, Minnesota.

When Bob and his band sauntered on with Ronnie Wood in their midst, I suppose we should have been 
prepared for routine festival fare. It was still a disappointment, though, that we got it. The song 
selection was restricted to those which Wood could play along to, which meant blues numbers on the 
whole - although Ronnie was clearly seen to mouth 'I don't know this one' to Tony Garnier at the start 
of 'Tweedle Dee And Tweedle Dum'. As if it wasn't obvious.

So Ronnie Wood's presence had the double whammy of reducing the majority of the set to a jamathon, and 
putting both the band and Bob off their stride. Loose and wavering versions of 'Maggie's Farm', 'Honest 
With Me', 'Highway 61 Revisited', 'Summer Days' and even 'High Water' had the audience foot-tapping 
their cartilage away in the drizzle, while the guys on stage giggled at Wood's endless succession of 
mistakes.

Luckily, though, this was still a Bob Dylan concert, and some magic was spun from the dross. Not from 
'Desolation Row' or Positively 4th Street', which were performances that searched but did not find, saw 
but did not conquer. But in 'Lonesome Day Blues' and especially the fierce, mean and partly re-written 
'Seeing The Real You At Last', Bob found a purpose in song for the buoyant energy of his stage 
companions.

There was more to come, infinitely more in just two songs. 'Not Dark Yet' stood stately, dignified and 
tragic, Bob singing in measured tones of empathy. It seemed like a warm prayer of hope quite separate 
from the surroundings of its creation. As if to emphasise that point, Ronnie Wood spent the performance 
gurning, waving his hands in the air and trying to put Larry Campbell off by grinning in his face. Bob 
ignored him, and we had our moment of sanity and tranquility at last.

The precision and beauty of 'Not Dark Yet', amazingly, was to be emulated by the penultimate song of 
the main set, 'Boots Of Spanish Leather'. What struck me during this slightly rearranged version was 
how profoundly sad the story became. Bob was singing in wilted, reserved tones that really left no hope 
of resolution with the woman he once loved. 

It was a mournful, moving performance utterly at odds with the clumsy bluesy racket of the previous 
hour and a half. That Bob could mine such a gem in such a context is testament to his unearthly powers, 
and it reminded me why I can never take even a knockabout Dylan concert lightly. He always takes the 
trouble to show me a glimpse of the beyond.

Bob Dylan, then, didn't take his Fleadh festival performance terribly seriously. This is regrettable 
from a fan's perspective, but I don't begrudge him an evening's fun on stage with an old mate, any more 
than I feel the Counting Crows fans and good-time revellers in the crowd deserved better. 

The show should be remembered for the calm, reflective performances of 'Not Dark Yet' and 'Boots Of 
Spanish Leather', and perhaps even more for Bob's determination to find them. But it won't be. It'll 
be remembered for the performance of an ageing rocker with a big hooter. The wrong one.

P.S. I am a big Stones fan!

[TOP]

Comments by Martin Webber



No redeeming features at all, I'm afraid. Uninspiring band and back to the
growl for all songs. A thoroughly lacklustre performance compounded by a
day of showery weather and uninteresting support bands. People were
leaving in droves during the set - I lasted till half way through Spanish
Boots, which clearly meant nothing to him. If he can't even connect with a
song as emotionally powerful as Not Dark Yet then, frankly - why bother?
Not a patch on the last time I saw him (at Brixton Academy) and, sadly, I
fear, time to give live performances a miss.

Martin Webber

[TOP]

Review by Richard Hempsall



First of all, great sound from where we were standing.  Luckily the rain
showed a bit of respect, and held off for Bob's set.  I'm used to that
muddy arena sound with Bob, but tonight was crystal clear. The band is
truly excellent, and tonight was enervated by  Ron Wood's presence. 
Everyone onstage was clearly enjoying the whole  thing. Not  a night  for
the Bob purist, probably, but I was pleased to see a sense of  humour on
the Dylan stage.  Maybe I was too far away, but was Ron even trying  to
get  Bob to put down his harmonica at one point??

Nobody really expects a very interesting setlist for a festival
appearance, and we didn't get one.  Too much Love + Theft material for me,
and accommodating Mr. Wood led inevitably to a lot of standard blues-jam
arrangements.  However, it was a real joy to listen to this great band
tonight, and hear a slightly different take on  the familiar material -
not quite so disciplined, a looser approach.  For once I was engaged
through the whole show, never bored for a moment.

As someone who catches Bob every year or two, I get the feeling that Bob's
voice is changing again, and in a positive way. There's more of a 'growl'
than a 'rasp' there now, and a bit more warmth to it.  I might even
suggest that he could soon return to the 'standard' arrangements of some
of the classics ...

All in all, a great festival experience. By the way - those who chose
Counting Crows over the fantastic John Prine (in the tent) made a BIG
mistake!

[TOP]

Review by Rebecca Harley



This was a different kind of Dylan gig, but why he inspires such
vituperative fury is unclear.   Not present on Sunday at the Fleadh was
the transcendent interpretive performance art of complexity, paradox and
internality that blazed from his London performances in November, instead
there was another surprising kind of intimacy being offered up for
scrutiny. Here was happy Dylan having a good time playing rollicking good
rock music with his old best mate from Blighty.   "Fuck off Ronnie,"
yelled someone from the crowd as it became obvious that the set was being
designed to enable him to participate.  And yes, he was irritating with
his gurning antics, but he was irritating in exactly the same way at the
Stones gigs last summer.  However, the affection between The Old
Inscrutable and Mr. Punch was touchingly obvious, with Ronnie unable to
keep his hands off Dylan, at one point almost cuddling him.

I did wonder what Dylan would come up with after Counting Crows, who
determinedly worked the crowd and managed to make their piquant lyrics and
good but rather ordinary music come impressively alive in performance. 
The crowd was fired up, but was also getting tired and cold.  Most of us
had stood through ten hours of music in intermittent torrential rain,
without eating, drinking or going for a pee.  The context was wrong for
Dylan to be in exploratory mode, pushing, pummelling, re-interpreting his
material in a more internal, reflective way.

Oscar was there, and Dylan's stage space was boundaried by two huge
electric fires.  The band was exemplary, especially considering the
destabilising battering from Ronnie Wood and his guitar.  The band and
Dylan hung in there, pushing the juggernaut home with wonderful
musicianship and enormous grace.  They are all beautiful to look at too. 
What a great bunch of handsome guys.

Love you Mr. Dylan.  Come back and beguile us again really soon.

Rebecca Harley

[TOP]

Review by Sascha Krieger



It was raining from the first... There was one sure sign indicating when a
new act had started playing on the main stage: Shortly afterwards it
started raining heavily. From the first act after our arrival (a band
called Delays) till the Counting Crows, this scenario was followed. Until
the main act, that is. When Bob Dylan entered the stage, the sky suddenly
cleared. We should have known then it would be a special night.

But let's be chronological. With festivals like this, it is a matter of
selection of what you're going to see. I went for three acts and couldn't
have made a better decision. First, Christy Moore. The legendary Irish
singer (and ex member of the best band Irish folk has ever produced) was
joined by regular sidekick Declan Sinnott on guitar and old Planxty buddy
Donal Lunny on a number of instruments (among them mandolin and bodhram).
They kicked off with a fine City of Chicago and it was all perfoect from
there. They gave us a number of his classics: the inevitable Ride On, a
surprisingly good (because stripped of its original 80s style production)
Missing You, a spirited Ordinary Man, to name just a few. Interesting was
the high number of political (especially anti-fascist) songs like Viva La
Quinta Brigada and a superb song the title of which escapes me (something
with triangle). The highlight was a sublime Black Is the Colour that
brought tears to my eyes. The set which saw Christy in excellent voice and
the band in fine spirits finished with a great sing along Lisdoonvarna
into which Christy inserted a verse of I'll Tell Me Ma. An excellent start
to the festival for me.

Then we were off to the Borderline Tent to see John Prine and what a set
it was!. There is this small unassuming humble man who has you in his grip
the moment he gets on stage. Prine was clearly enjoying himself, sharing
stories (about a fan once shouting for "the song about the happy
enchilada" or how he once went to the mountains to save his marriage and
catch some fish, whatever came up first). Accompanied by a superb two
piece band, he played many of his best and classic soungs which despite
his older, croakier voice sounded as fresh and and new as ever. Sad,
thoughtful and gentle ballads like Sam Stone, All the Best or Angel from
Montgomery enterchanged with hilariously funny moments (Dear Abby), sing
along classics (Way that the World Goes Round aka the "happy enchilada
song") and high speed country (Barrow? Creek). After finishing the set
with a long and soulful Peaceful Waters, the encore was sublime: the
haunting Hello In There and the raucous, audience involving Illegal Smile.

This was a tough act for Bob to follow but follow it he did. When he came
on, I doubted my counting skills as there seemed to be one too many on
stage. But even from the distance it didn't take long to find out that the
extra man on stage was none other than Ronnie Wood himself. And even
though it looked like he hadn't been able to rehearse with the band at
all, he started making his contribution with some fine licks that spiced
up the opener Down Along the Cove. The beginning, however, wasn't very
promising. The horribly rushed Baby Blue was followed by a decent but not
exactly high energy Lonesome Day Blues and a not more than standard
Maggie's Farm.

Then things picked up and again Wood was partly to blame as he added a
nice edge to a fine Desolation Row. Seeing the Real You at Last got the
band rocking before Wood contributed some brilliant solos to a great 4th
Street that really shone and worked brilliantly in its relaxed new style
even without the anger and aggressiveness of the original. Tweedle Dee was
substandard and let me to suspect we were getting a show full of openers
having me guessing whether we were in for an encore of Silvio, Roving
Gambler and Everything Is Broken.

But no, up next were a great, stripped down, rocking High Water and a mind
blowing Highway 61 with all three guitarists trading riffs and solos
(amazing soloing from Larry!) as if they were playing for their lives. It
was already a great show at this point but nothing prepared us for what
was to come next: A sublime, goosebumps inspiring, tearjerking Not Dark
Yet, beautifully driven by Larry Campbells pedal steel and Bob's haunting
vocals. A moment to sent shivers down everybody's spines.

Honest with Me was perfect to release the tension in a freely rocking and
surprisingly inspired version. Then a real treat: A completel rearranged,
dreamy, almost angelic Boots with amazing vocals and harp from Bob that
took him and the band into some outer spheres. Absolutely mindblowing!!!

The set finished with a fine Summer Days which had Ronnie quite lost.
After a full set we got only one encore but nobody minded. Like a Rolling
Stone in the presence of a Rolling Stone had the crowd going mad, with
thousands shouting "How does it
feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeel.............................) - a
great moment. Ronnie contributed some more fine riffs and conducted the
crowd during the choruses.

That was the end of a show that was special in many ways (some of the
performances, Ronnie Wood, the atmosphere) and will become an instant
bootleg, I predict. Bob seemed to have a gret time (he was talking to
Ronnie for ages during LARS) and the band seemed to be edged on an extra
bit by Robbie's presence. At the end, I was dying there of thirst but it
was so worth it!

[TOP]

Review by Scott Ellis



Having enjoyed another great show in Cardiff (and as always a great
crowd)! I didn't really know what to expect with a London festival show.
Last time Bob was here in 1993 it was a great set with Bob in good voice
but something told me this time could be different. We were planning to
get there about 2PM as I would have liked to have seen Billy Bragg. But a
quick glance at the sky's above swayed us to enjoy the local pubs around
Finsbury Park. As there were no pass outs it just didn't seem worth
risking going inside as the rain was on and off almost all day. Let's face
it the line up was awful. Van was in London the next day for the Lonnie
tribute show, so you would have thought he would have been there (at least
he is irish)! We only made a move in to the show about 30 minutes prior to
Bob being on stage. Anyway regards the show, very average performance all
round. Ronnie Wood was interesting at first but just wore thin after about
5 songs. I think Bob probably felt this way as well. Man the guy grins
more than John Jackson used to! There were a few interesting selections
such as Not dark Yet but it is just so hard to appreciate them in a
festival crowd. You find yourself surrounded by people who are just there
for the 'festival experience'. After a 1 song encore we found ourselves
walking to the tube feeling a tad let down and 80 worse off. Pay for your
ticket and don't complain? well maybe, but sometimes you do just feel that
a headlining act is supposed to put on a really special show. Especially
as there were probably people who had been there up to 10 hours. Oh well,
I look forward to the next Bob visit but indoor shows only in future.

[TOP]

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billp61@execpc.com

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