Review by Jerry Stone
For a Dylan fanatic, being objective about a live performance can be a very real
challenge. There are times when you want to pull the set-list apart because
you are disappointed that your own favourite obscurity was not included (I
swear, one day, Bob WILL play ‘Sign On The Cross’); at other times you just
want to heap praise on the man for merely showing up. I’ve spent the duration
of entire concerts having a battle in my head between these two positions.
Last night, I was determined to enjoy myself in celebration of the man’s 65th
year on earth and nigh-on 20 years of constant touring. Having said that, I’ll try
and be as objective as any Dylan nut can be.
This time around I turned up extra early and, after a very quick but large glass
of wine in the bar opposite the CIA, I took my place in the queue at 2.45pm.
The gig would not start until 7.30pm but I was already a few hundred places
back from the door. Many of the usual suspects were around and you soon get
to recognise the hard-core Boblings. Still, as I sat on the ground and got out by
biography of William Blake, I was confident of getting somewhere near the rail
when the doors finally opened at 6.30pm. ‘Time passes slowly’ indeed.
Around 6.00pm there was movement around the main entrance as the stewards
got in place but we still has to wait a further half an hour before we would be
allowed into the overgrown cattle shed known as the CIA. As ever we were
warned about not taking anything to drink, cameras, recording equipment etc.
into the arena. We then had to rearrange ourselves into lines of males and
females for the obligatory body search, so you then find that people who arrived
some time after you somehow manage to get way ahead of you in the bloody
queue! At this point I was beginning to wonder if it was worth the hassle. CIA
stewards really know how to flex their ‘muscle’ and abuse their power. They
were loving it. Finally, the doors opened and we scrambled in and you lose all
sense of dignity in the process.
To my dismay, once I was in the hall, there was already a very large scrum at the
stage with many a grown man and woman pushing forward to gain best position.
We should all know better. I managed to get about eight rows back and just to
the right of centre, which was perfect for viewing His Bobness at his keyboard.
For those who don’t know, Bob only plays keyboards on stage these days. Of
course, Bob being Bob, these are very eccentric sounding keyboards (he seems
to have them stuck on ‘Churchy Whine’ but I’m anticipating a switch to ‘Space’
or ‘Bells’ any day now!). For the next hour or so we were rammed together for
the wait and the excitement was high. As ever, listening to the conversations
going on nearby was hilarious and tragic in equal measure. ‘Yes, this must be my
100th Dylan show…’; ‘I’m seeing Roger Waters on Saturday…’; ‘I’ve come from
Norway for this…’; ‘Mark Knopfler is great live…’; ‘ Does he still play harmonica?...’;
‘Hope he does ‘Hurricane’…’; ‘Oh, I must have at least six Dylan albums…’. Groan.
At 7.30pm the first strains of Aaron Copeland was heaedr over the PA and we all
cheered. Still, the orchestral intro came and went for a further ten minutes or so
until, finally, we heard those thrilling words of introduction that preface every gig
"Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the poet laureate of rock 'n' roll. The
voice of the promise of the '60s counterculture. The guy who forced folk into
bed with rock; who donned makeup in the '70s and disappeared into a haze of
substance abuse; who emerged to find Jesus, and who suddenly shifted gears,
releasing some of the strongest music of his career beginning in the late '90s.
Ladies and gentlemen, Columbia recording artist............. Bob Dylan!"
The roar of excitement and expectation from the Cardiff mob was truly wonderful.
Bob and the current band, with whom he’s been touring for about 18 months
now, slip easily into a grooving, if predictable, ‘Maggie’s Farm’. The first thing I
notice is that Bob is in good voice. For the uninitiated his latter-day vocal technique
can be a bit of a shock but, as long as he avoids too much of what the Bobophiles
have termed ‘up-singing’, his cracked chords can be a thing of rare beauty. Next
we were treated to a lovely version of ‘She Belongs To Me’. As with many of the
versions that he does of his 60’s classics these days, Dylan is able to use his age and
vocal limitations to highlight extra nuances in the song. This song now oozes sadness
and some regret. As ever, Bob played with the phrasing in his wicked way and then
blew his first harmonica of the evening. Dylan’s harp playing is not always ‘on the
button’ but when he finds the right tone it works wonderfully. Tonight he was on
that button more often than off it. Naturally, every time he goes near a mouth harp
he gets an enormous roar of nostalgic approval from the fans. He keeps a host of
the things on a table behind his keyboard and wanders over during song intros to
get the right one. On more than one occasion I have seen him pick up a harmonica
that’s in the wrong key only to realise this when it’s too late and have to put the
thing quickly aside. None of that tonight, though.
During the third number I did find my mind wandering a little for the only time during
the gig. Why he keeps playing ‘Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee’ so often is anyone’s
guess. I’m sure it’s to wind up the Boblings. The song is fine and dandy on Love &
Theft but is merely filler when played live. Still, we are then rewarded for our pain
with a nice version of ‘Positively 4th Street’, which did include some quite odd
keyboard from Bob but this didn’t really harm things too much. He sang the song
with some conviction. ‘Stuck Inside Of Mobile (With The Memphis Blues Again’ has,
perhaps oddly, never been one of my favourite songs and it does little for me in
recent live performance but I seemed to be alone in this and the Blonde On Blonde
nugget went down a storm. I had the feeling that Dylan got as a little bored with it
though as I think he declined to sing all the verses. Or maybe that was just me.
It’s always good to hear something from Time Out Of Mind and tonight we were
treated to two gems. Album opener ‘Love Sick’, even with all its Victoria’s Secrets
lingerie associations is still an atmospheric piece which tonight, whilst sticking closely
to the album arrangement, was played with fresh conviction. Before we got to the
other song from ‘TOOM’ we are witness to a jaunty ‘Watching the River Flow’, a
touching ‘Girl From The North Country’ and a romp through ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’.
At the end of the latter Dylan’s face broke out into the most enormous grin. I reckon
the band had screwed up somewhere but he was enjoying himself so much he didn’t
care. A lovely sight to see. In fact, all evening Bob looked to be in a very sanguine
frame of mind.
The two absolute highlights of the main set were, for me, ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’,
which, even though it has been performed many times over the years, was absolutely
chilling and, even better, ‘Cold Irons Bound’. For ‘Thin Man’ Bob’s vocal was chock full
of menace. You just know he still has a message for Mr. Jones. It was superbly sung.
‘Cold Irons Bound’ is sometimes considered to be one of the lesser tracks from his
1997 ‘comeback’ masterpiece, Time Out Of Mind but tonight the song was the
centrepiece of the entire show. With a new arrangement that brought the song ever
closer to the Mississippi Delta whilst, at one and the same time, managed to make it
sound almost ‘post-punk’; this was Bob, as Robert Johnson would have put it, making
the blues ‘walk like a man’. This was an utterly convincing and completely chilling
performance. Unbelievable. Things were always going to ease up a little after this but
‘Don’t Think Twice’ was thoroughly enjoyable and had some nice harp moments. Also,
at one point in the song, I swear Bob almost sounded like his 21 year old self; or
maybe that was just my mind doing things to me. Whatever it was, it was lovely and
included some nice guitar from Denny Freeman who played some excellent licks tonight.
‘Summer Days’ saw the main show out in rockabilly style before the demands for the
inevitable encore began. Dylan has been encoring with ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ and ‘All
Along The Watchtower’ for some time now with little variation. The former was just
great fun and gave the audience their chance to bellow out the legendary chorus but
‘Watchtower’ was something else. As with ‘Thin Man’ and ‘Cold Irons Bound’, ‘All Along
the Watchtower’ was compelling, full of blues menace, exhilarating and fresher than I
have ever heard it in live performance. This is what Dylan can do. He takes a song that
one and all should be over-familiar with and turn it around in one performance to such
a degree that you feel like you are hearing it for the first time. I’d bet even he felt like
that about it. At the end Bob and the boys, all grey suits and hats whilst Bob was
donned all in black with black cowboy hat, did ‘the line-up’ where they just stand in line
at stage-front and stare into the crowd without a single facial expression. Very, very
cool indeed. Bob acknowledged the hysterical cheers by holding up a harmonica
between thumb and forefinger. This is a good sign, so he obviously enjoyed it too. If
you weren’t there, you missed a treat. This was Bob Dylan, contemporary artist.
Review by Graham Cole
I was greeted with "Are you watching the footy tonight?" when I got to school
this morning, and with France playing (one of my subjects) it would have seemed
reasonable to expect a "Yes!" answer. But, no, not this evening, for at about the
time that Zinedine Zidane and his pals were taking to the field in Hanover, Bob Dylan
came on stage for what was, at times, one of the best performances I have seen
him play with his now excellent band of cowboy chums.
But first things first, a Bob show these days isn't just the music, but all the wonderful
people who are there, as at no other artist's gigs, to talk, make new friends, and just
get very excited at the prospect of, well, nobody's quite sure, until it actually happens.
People I spoke with were buzzing about Cork and Kilkenny, and I fell in five rows back
with Chris from Warwick and the wonderful name of Hosanna from a narrow boat near
Cambridge (and elsewhere). It was great talking to you folks, and a lovely prelude to
what was to follow.
They are still fanfaring the common man, something our Bob most definitely is not!, as
the lights go down, but most of us tonight were happy to applaud over the "Columbia"
bit as the band came on, dressed in light brown with black shirts (Tony G looking for all
the world like a character out of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada), and there
at the keyboards was Bob, almost the new man in black with his suit and cowboy hat
(just the red piping down the trouser legs to match the burgundy shirt and red tie).
Then, with stage lights on, they were in to the familiar opener of Maggie's Farm. For
me, along with the new organ sound from Bob, the most startling thing right from go
was the outstandingly clear vocals, which, to my mind, were right up in the overall mix.
My tired ears need all the help they can get these days and Bob and the soundmen
gave virtually an entire evening of clear vocals (only Cold Irons Bound was a bit muddy
to my hearing). Just as the opening song closed there was lovely little guitar trill to
close it out, and give us a few seconds before an exquisite reading of She Belongs to
Me. Before the show, Chris had commented to us how beautifully Dylan uses language
(yes, cue the line from LARS!), and indeed this second 60s song gave ample evidence
of this, again delivered so wonderfully clearly.
Although later on, there came a set of four or five songs that made the evening for me,
She Belongs to Me was worth the admission price alone, and I felt privileged to have
heard such a gorgeous version of an old favourite. Not for the first time this evening,
George's drumming lay at the heart of the band, driving them forward insistently, but
oh so delicately where necessary. Bob, meanwhile, made such effective use of his harp,
making it integral to the songs where he chose to play it. The organ effects make for a
very different sound from that to which we may have become used over the past few
tours, and it squeezed through on Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, which itself soon
made way for a stunning arrangement of Positively 4th Street. Again the organ played
a key part in the overall sound, with really strong chords alongside those fantastic vocals.
There is, it seems to me, far more melody emerging in his voice presently, adding much
to the gravelly delivery that is so familiar these days. In addition, there is Bob's fascination
with enunciating in such a careful and caring way - just listen to "if I was a master thief"
from this song, and other lines such as "where - are - you - tonight - sweet - Marie?"
when this concert emerges to our ears later on.
Without a doubt, this was less rockier, quieter show (perhaps therefore much more to
my liking) and the pedal steel work from Donnie, to the fore in many of the songs,
showed up beautifully in a country treatment of Mobile, which even got three separate
harp sections. From this, the brooding, almost menacing contrast of Love Sick started a
sequence of songs which formed the core of the night's performance for me, and
showed Bob on as good form as he has been for many months. Hearing this, and then
into Watching the River Flow, Ballad of a Thin Man, Sweet Marie, through to Girl from the
North Country, I just kept adding mental stars as highlights of the evening, and was
beginning to wonder where would it all end! River was slinky, muddy (thinking of New
Orleans post-Katrina??), whilst the Thin Man brought out such a tenderness in Bob's
vocals and a lovely simple guitar solo from Denny, and North Country showed sweet
interplay between the acoustic and electric guitars. I wrote down at this point that "this
show just gets better and better"!
It didn't go downhill after these five songs - a crowd-pleasing Don't Think Twice made
sure of that - but the last three songs, Summer Days separated from the two customary
encores, were more as expected, but certainly contributed much to the general
enjoyment and excitement of the evening. And, of course, we tend to know that
Watchtower heralds Bob's departure after lining up to our heartfelt applause and cheers,
and although the lights stayed down for an agonisingly hopeful long time, that was it.
Many of those there tonight move on to Bournemouth tomorrow, including Tony and his
Dad from Glasgow (great to meet them!), and as his Dad said as we left the hall, "Can it
get better?" Tomorrow night we shall see, but certainly tonight for me was one of the
best Bob Dylan shows I have seen, for the people there, for the excitement, but above
all just for sheer enjoyment, so thanks Bob yet again.
Oh and France went through to the quarter finals! I wonder if Bob is watching the
Review by James Collins
With no support band, the announcement that Bob would be on stage at 7.45
was great news to the fans. Tension was certainly mounting in the arena as
we eagerly awaited his arrival.
Lights go down and on come his band, in matching white suits, not a crease
to be seen. Bob was dressed in black, with a read shirt and his hat. This
was interesting as the band stood out and he didn't....so when the crowd
finally realised he was on stage you could feel the ground rumble. Dylan's
hat was tilted back slightly, his face in full view. Pure Magic.
Maggie's Farm opened the set, with the new country style arrangement. This
was fun because the song was not instantly recognisable, until Dylan began
singing. I myself was expecting him to open with Maggie's Farm, and when
the music started I felt he had decided to open the show with something
else, how very wrong I was! A great opener!
Dylan's whole feel, both in stage presence and appearence has a very
country/western feel about it, and I feel that this works well. It can be
loosely based on Dylan's change from acoustic to electric in the late
1960's...but without the booing! The strong and heavy use of the steel
guitar added to this new feel, and just made the material sound very fresh
However, some might be dishearted by Dylan's changing of the character of
alot of his songs. They can, apart from the lyrics, sound nothing like
what we are used to. I like this idea, but stronger fans of Dylan's older
material might not take to this idea. Each to thier own i suppose. Perhaps
a few more harmonica soloes might have been welcomed, but he did give us a
few that blew us away.
The set was very well organised, and with a good mix of singles, and newer
material, it really felt as if Bob was certainly not going to leave the
'scene soon'. He was smiling, turning to the auidence, and even had a
liitle 'dance' in a few places. It all amalgamated into a fresh and
energetic stage presence that highlighted his professionalism.
13 songs later came the encore. Bob exited to stage left and the auidence
waited for around 4 minutes for his return. As Dylan and the band
returned, he took his hat off for a few seconds and we all had a glimpse
of that amazing hair! Not for long though, the hat went back on and the
usually encore of Like A Rolling Stone, and All Along The Watchtower was
well underway. LARS was very well performed, and closely resembled the
The show ended with the band pausing in formation on stage to take a bow,
and Dylan stood there and waved his harmonica above his head at the
audience, before the lights went off and we saw Dylan's sillohette
dissapear down the stage steps.
The gig finished early at 9.30pm due to lack for support acts. A wonderful
night, pure magic for any Bob Dylan fan. A clear 9/10.
Comments by Alan Jones
just afew lines,i only live 2 miles from the cardiff international
arena,so bob tonight,he came on 7.50pm,the crowd were rowdy but the
concert wasnt sold out? dylans new band ,seem tense,awkward,they watched
bob intensely the first few numbers,dylan seems to hide behind the other
members, he shys away from being the main man,the selection is a bit
strange,most of the songs are turned inside out and upside down,its only
the lyrics the crowd seem to latch onto within the first few bars,its
mostly a pub rock band sometimes then it dips in to a country/.bluegrass
feel,some stunning versions of girl from the north country,cold irons
bound really digs in deep,the best of the night,a superb love sick,and a
sing along version of dont think twice,so not a greatest hits
package,but a very good concert,bob did two encores and were all out by
9.30pm,yes i really enjoyed it,bob introduced the band at the end,never
said anything else,no acoustic guitars from bob, but hey bobs back! for me
its 7 out of ten.
Comments by Roger Collings
My observations of a slightly disappointed observer
1966 Cardiff, first electric tour, I was there and stayed for the whole
show, and many times since, both good and bad. Therefore anticipation for
a real blast last night was high. This did not happen for me and I had
persuaded my son and his girlfriend to come along for their first time
Reports of a strong singing voice returned are much exaggerated, I think
he left it in the US. That said he played some fine harmonica and the band
were mostly good throughout If Maggies' Farm is the standard opener is
it not reasonable to expect it to be together from the first cord.It was
ragged and for me it set the tone for the whole show, except for the
encores which were excellent, being given a somewhat different treatment
from last year. We always go not knowing exactly what we will hear, but I
think the current set list is now predictable.Please, Mr. D, you have so
many wonderful songs that deserve a hearing. A good show which my
youngsters said they enjoyed, but not the great one I had longed for. We
travel in hope always
Comments by Colin Popplewell
Ditto all the above comments, although I would say it was marginally
better than good, but certainly not great. Too many times in the past
have I been smirking by Bob's vocals but I did think that last night his
vocals were good and finely blasted out by the pa system. The band were
quite tight and rocking although the guy on stage left, next to Tony G,
just never let his eyes leave Bob or the other guitarist on stage right -
"...what will Bob want to do next..." comes to mind. Absolute highlight of
the evening was a resounding Ballad Of A Thin Man - vocals were up front
and almost as if it was Bob of years gone by; band were good too; expected
a Man In A Long Black Coat to follow, it seemed natural. Positively 4th
St was above average too, although I heard a guy behind me saying to his
friend "...he's doing Rolling Stone early..", to which his friend said
"..it's good though..." My only question is why has anything from the 70's
and 80's fallen out of fashion with him? My only gripes of the concert
were song selection (I know, we all our want own greatest hits package!),
no hint of "sounding" out his new material and the fact he's playing
keyboard centre, back stage - Bob, ditch the keyboard and get out to the
front of centre stage please.
Comments by Paul Denham
I've been disappointed with Bob for the last couple of years. There was
that dreary set at the Fleaddh in June 2004 and a dismal night in the
rain at Montauban in July. After Brixton in November 2005 I didn't have
any desire to see Dylan again and I arrived without any great
expectations. Perhaps it was me who was out of sorts. A visit to 'peca
peca' for tapas and cocktails put us in the mood to make the best of it
and Dylan has always done something good at Cardiff.
"Maggie's Farm" didn't seem the most inspiring start but, hey, it was
OK. And "She Belongs To Me" confirmed that Dylan was in great voice,
better that for years, clear and precise and emphasising words in a
meaningful way and not doing that irritating upshift at the end of
lines. This could be good but, oh god, not "Tweedle Bloody Dum". I'll
have to look at the words of this song again to see if I'm missing
something but you wonder why he always includes it: my partner thinks
it's for a bet. After that it just took off.
A succession of songs delivered with some of the old magic. That ability
to breathe life into lines that used to mean so much, the energy that
inspired visions and states of ecstacy. Yes, it was a rockin'
performance and we danced and sang. Of course it could have been better.
Sometimes the band got a bit lost and the arrangement for "Girl from the
North Country" wasn't quite right. The guitar plodded though "Cold Irons
Bound" at first, but things got better. Bob could have given us an
harmonica banquet in a glorious "Absolutely Sweet Marie" but he chose
not to. Well, never mind, "Positively 4th Street", "Stuck inside of
Mobile" and "Ballad of a Thin Man" justified the not inconsiderable
Here is a final thought. When he gets to "Summer Days" you know what is
coming next: two encore songs and fuck off. I'm not complaining because
LARS and AATW were delivered with considerable gusto and ending at 9.30
means you can get to the pub easily. It's just that Dylan has been
presenting a series of themed radio programmes. Why not a concert
dedicated to the colour blue: "Tom Thumb's..", "It's all over now..",
"Blue Moon", "Tangled Up.."? You write the set list. Or mothers or
weather or marriage or whatever? It would give us something to remember
and set Bob a challenge to prevent him getting bored.
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