Zaragoza, Spain

Feria de Muestras

June 23, 2008

[Ant Walker], [James Scott]

Review by Ant Walker

We crossed the desert to see Dylan play a car park, my wife Ester and me...

Zaragoza, Spain lies just on the edge of the Monegros Desert. Dylan was 
booked to play as part of the Expo, 'Hard Rain' being the official theme song 
of the event. The venue, according to the tickets was 'la feria de muestras', 
a trade-fair. I had something like the Birmingham NEC in mind, but no: the 
stage was set up outside -in the car park! 

June 23 is an important date in the Spanish calendar: Sant Juan, the 
commencement of summer. Coincidentally, it was the first anniversary of 
seeing the Stones in San Sebastian, but that's another story…

It had been nigh on two decades since my last live encounter with His 
Bobness, and I confess to being more than a little nervous. He'd been 
lookin' so frail in recent photos, just didn't know what to expect. You 
never do with Dylan at the best of times! He took to the stage at round 
9.30, resplendant in black, a silver stripe down his pants -and a bigger, 
whiter hat than even the Desire model (often in danger of blowing in the 
wind). His two literary honour medals, Spanish and French, proudly dangled 
either side of his equally shiny buttons. Th five piece Modern Times band, 
predominantly in black, with a variety of headgear: 

George Recile: drums and kangol cap
Tony Garnier: bass, double bass, cowboy
Donnie Herron: steel guitars, banjo, violin, electric mandolin, silver suit, no hat
Denny Freeman: lead guitar, cowboy
Stu Kimball: rhythm guitars and pork-pie

As tight'n'loose as you'd expect after more than two years as a unit, and 
havin' a real good time one'n'all!

El Señor treated us to a trip upon the magic swirling ship of his career (just 
over 2 hours with the encores), with many super-radical reworkings. They 
played a bit of everything: from country-blues to blues-country, a touch of 
jazz to boot, but the key feel was some of the kickingest rock'n'roll boogie I've 
ever witnessed live. Hadn't known what to expect, but didn't expect that! 
Smack-on sound system --and no matter how hard the band pumped, Bob's 
perfectly phrased croakin'+growlin' never got lost in the mix. Despite my calling 
"Play us some geetar, Bob!" a coupla times, he remained firmly planted behind 
his electric piano the whole night. 

With the big desert sky as their backcurtain, the band kicked in with an 
elaborate country intro. Took me a while to work out what it was: 'I'll be your 
baby tonight'; an arrangement as intricate as the original is simple. Bob havin' a 
lot of fun with the lyric: "Why dontcha just bring that bottle over here?" A sign 
of things to come…

'Don't think twice'The rib rattling stand-up bass makes its debut, and a mighty 
cheer when Bob's harp does too. Great poppin' vocal to keep up with the 
pickin' -and a masterful tempo change to finish Vegas Cabaret style!

Another one that you couldn't really suss till the first vocal. 'Tom Thumb's Blues', 
remodelled as a full-on funky blues, with enormous drums and no less than three 
blistering guitar solos.

'Levee's gonna break' Bringing us up to more Modern Times, (thanks Wook!) 
with an absolutely mental swamp-stop rendition: all the players -Boppin' Bob 
most of all- were well off it! Electric mandolins are cool things, man…

It was just getting dark enough to lift the lighters for a mellowed-down ballad 
version of 'Shelter from the storm' (Spanish punters love doing that!) Very lovely, 
bit more harmonica too: came across something like 'Lay Lady Lay'. Clouds were 
gathering on the desert-sky backdrop, the air getting stickier by the minute.  

'Cry a while' Considerably beefed-up from Love and Theft, almost encroaching 
upon leopardskin pillbox territory at times. Some truly excellent near-straight 
blues harp from The Man for good measure. Banjos are cool things too…

Lapsteel and cymbals, joined by acoustic guitar provide a long rolling intro which 
dropped sweetly into 'Just like a woman'. A heartfelt creaky talk-through, with 
the audience more than happy to help out with the refrain. And more butane.

'Things have changed' The Oscar winner got taken apart and put back together 
like some kind of surreal Tom Waits/Beefheart construction. Electric fiddle in the 
cocktail this time. Got Bob's ass movin' and it sure as hell got ours, but there 
was 'mucha gente' not quite sure what to make of it…

'Beyond the horizon' A country waltz to calm things down a little, the double 
bass and drums not being able to resist some incongruous twangs and snaps, 
however. Bob's cheesy organ and husky Harry Nilsson phrasing worked a treat! 

A ripping intro into 'Honest with me'. Full-tilt get-down boogie, open savagery 
on the drumkit in particular. Even raised a smile from Don Zimmerman: there 
were just a few, and -aside from introducing his "friends" a little later- not a 
spoken word. Par for the course!

The double bass got bowed for 'When the deal goes down', perfectly 
complementing the lapsteel and a genuinely warm and mellow delivery 
from Dylan.

Now almost too dark to even see my notebook, wamm! 'Highway 61', 
reconstructed over a mental jungle rhythm, with a creamy lick of 'Crossroads' 
thrown in for good measure ¡Enorme! We came to dance, and dance we did.

'Hard rain'Inevitable outing for the Expo Anthem. Much more faithful to last 
year's country re-make than the feisty folk of the original, electric mandolin
included. Beguiling backing, hypnotic vocal -a different way to address the 
"blue-eyed son" each time.

Back to the boogie: the appropriate 'Summer days' had Bob bobbin' round 
again.  One of those smiles between drummer and bass that says "Look: The 
Man's enjoyin' himself!" And lo: he too flashed a smirk while snappin' out the 
vocal. At times I was convinced they were gonna medley into 'Shake, Rattle 
an' Roll' or somesuchlike: wild!

'All along the watchtower' Acoustic levels owing more to JMH than JWH: an 
immense, loping, menacing vision! Dylan in great voice: actually singing, albeit 
with a wildcat growl. Shimmery tremolo guitar solo before repeating 1st verse 
at the end. And off they walked…

A goodly wait for the encores: Bob in particuar looking suitably 'relaxed and 
refreshed' as they slammed into 'Thunder on the mountain'. A last-ditch 
attempt to call down the rain. The heavens fortunately remained intact, 
though not for lack of effort on the band's part (an almost Who-like intensity),
nor for Bob's -thundering the keyboard like Jerry-Lee!

'Like a rolling stone' You can imagine how it felt! That snare crack, His Bobness 
Himself actually laughing as he re-kooperated the classic organ refrain and 
continued to 'wiggle wiggle'. Amazing vocal: he hit every note he went for, 
and twisted a different inflection into each "How does it feel?" while the 
audience carried the original cascading melody. A gleamingly clean guitar solo 
brought to mind Randy and Frisky. There's a good quality float on Youtube, 
probably from the guy stood next to us. Big finish, wordless gestures of 
thanks, and away…
Showing no signs of gathering moss at 67, we saw his bus roll out less than 
10 mins later. Next stop Pamplona: same show very probably, but no repeat 
performances fer sure.The paltry 5,000 who were there witessed, without a 
doubt, a legendary performance from the legend. Many of them didn't seem 
to've entirely appreciated the fact, but hell man, Bob's used to that! (I didn't 
hear any 'Judassing', at least…) 

Me? I got my €25-worth. Thanks Bob: may you stay forever young!


Review by James Scott

In theory, this show should have been the highlight of Dylan’s European
tour. Bob is some sort of “sponsor” or “symbol” or “front man”
for the ExpoZaragoza2008, the international water festival taking place in
the capital of the autonomous Spanish region of Aragon from mid-June to
mid-September this year.   The event is dedicated to highlighting the
importance of clean and reliable water supplies for humans, a concept so
basic it patently requires no endorsement here. Dylan has, as the vast
majority of people reading this need hardly be reminded, re-recorded his
early 60s song “Hard Rain” in a new arrangement and made a number of
videos related to this too. (From memory, I cannot think of any other song
he has repeated thus, and I am surprised at how little comment this new
version appears to have merited from the cognoscenti who litter the net. I
discount his duo with Johnny Cash and his double takes of both “Forever
Young” and “George Jackson”, the latter 2 because both recording
were contemporaneous and the former for the novelty of being a duet and
thus no longer exclusively his work!)   Unclear as Bob’s official rôle
may be, the confusion was at least matched by that of the organisers of
the concert. Nobody, it seems, had told them that, in Alistair
Campbell’s only memorable phrase, “Bob doesn’t do cameras”. Nor
apparently had they visited any of the web sites or reviews of his shows
for the past 5-40(?) years. Consequently they had invited all the snappers
from Barcelona to Badajoz to see their man perform on an out of town
parking lot, and when the no-photos signs went up at the gate the
organisers could little except  issue a peevish press-release blaming the
singer for their own negligent failure to clarify the matter.   Though I
was fully occupied with the mechanics of leaving Andorra in the morning
after last night’s concert in Encamp, driving to our home in Tarragona
province, catching up a little on sleep, discovering with some
considerable difficulty the location of the Zaragoza-Delicias high speed
train station to pick up our elder son who was travelling up from a
meeting in Madrid to attend the concert and planning the route from the
station to the concert, I did keep a weather ear open for radio or TV
reports of Bob-as-sponsor/symbol/front man. Nothing.     Tarragona to
Zaragoza is an effortless if boring motorway run, but the company was good
so the time passed quickly. The traffic in central Zaragoza was at its
evening peak as we drove in around 7:15pm. With some difficulty we made
our way to the station. We parked on a corner near the front door (it is
Spain!) and I picked up our son from the platform at the exact second
programmed (it is a Franco-German engineered railway!) The journey to the
parking lot would have been easier had we had a sat-nav system but they
take all the fun out of getting lost in foreign climes, don’t they? And
no computer program could possibly have anticipated the decision by the
generalísimo-cabo in charge of the Guardia Civil contingent at the show
to send all the cars off on a pointless 2 X 500m loop in order to
frustrate everyone to no great purpose. Still I suppose there’s no point
in rising through the ranks if you can’t show a little initiative on
nights like this.   As the concert was on the parking lot off a small
retail park, just before the wastelands leading out towards Teruel, the
cars had to park in the farmer’s field just by the car park. Obviously.
Fortunately the queues to enter the concert were short and once in, by the
very simple expedient of furnishing more outlets, the beer selling was
much better organised than last night in Encamp. However for a major
musical event within a major international festival, the location must be
categorised as mas bien pobre, sino peor.   The telonero was the same
fellow as last night in Andorra. But we were only here to see Dylan. The
stage was set much higher than in Andorra and was the work of the locals
in Expo rather than of Dylan’s crew. With scant effort we managed to
locate just left of centre about 3 rows back from the stage. The
atmosphere was equally relaxed to Andorra last night, even more so perhaps
bearing in mind the larger audience, listed at 15 000 by some media
reports. The stage was a fairly classic construction of scaffolding on the
cornflakes box model, open at the front obviously. As it was fairly breezy
the decision had been taken to open the curtains surrounding the stage and
so had the stars come out that evening (not that I noticed they did) they
would have presented an appropriately stellar backdrop.   Though I
promised our friends who had not been to Encamp that Dylan would be on
stage within 10 minutes of PJ Hermosilla´s departure, the delay was more
pronounced than that. I had even begun to suspect there was some problem
with the show when just on 9:40pm Bob and the band stumbled on stage and
launched straight in to “I’ll be your baby tonight.”   Although the
earlier part of the show was, I felt, a stronger performance than the
latter part, at no point did it really take off. Songs 2-8 were the better
half. On song 9, there was definitely a hint of a frog in Dylan’s throat
and from there on the show lost momentum. Not that it was ever on fire.
“Shelter from the storm” at no. 5 was probably the highlight. “Hard
rain” seemed perfunctory when it came. Overall the sparkle of last night
in Andorra just wasn’t there. Less harmonica. Less interaction with the
band; much less. Bob was on a cloud of his own. Not that that precluded
his perusal of the talent in the front row. Or maybe that was the weak
point from the off. Both of artist and of show.   Later, reflecting on
the 2 shows in 2 nights, as well as deciding that,as a health precaution,
never again would I stand so close to a set of rock music speakers 2
nights running, I was struck that in neither of the shows did Bob as much
as break sweat. Given the shower of perspiration on the end of his famous
nose by the end of the first song in most shows in the past, this left me
wondering as to whether the northern Iberian temperatures suit him (it was
19C-65F as we left Encamp but 26C-78F as we left Zaragoza after the show)
or whether Bob has at last got the measure of performing in public after
all these decades.   Finally on watching Bob´s bête noir from the late
70s , Neil Diamond, on stage by satellite TV from Glastonbury now as I
finish typing my review, I came to the conclusion that I still much prefer
Little Bluesbeat Bobby Mitty, for all his weaknesses. And who knows, I may
yet still get to hear him perform “Brownsville Girl” or “Series of
Dreams” or just maybe “Oxford Town.”   

James Scott


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