June 30, 2012
Review by Fran Scott
PLAYFUL DYLAN TICKLES THE IVORIES IN THE GARDEN OF ENGLAND
Following a memorable performance at the Hop Farm in the summer of 2010, the
Never Ending Tour rolled into deepest Kent once more to kick off a three week
As a gloriously sunny afternoon at this open air venue turned to a fresh evening,
Dylan's road crew wheeled a grand piano onto the centre of the stage, alongside
the Korg keyboard and the pedal steel. It transformed the show.
Two minutes before the scheduled time, Stu Kimball walked onto the stage playing
a blues riff, followed by the band - equally attired in sharp grey suits with the
exception of Mr Zimmerman in his customary dark suit and a grey hat. A gentle
Leopardskin Pillbox Hat opened up proceedings, followed by It's All Over Now Baby
Blue with Dylan on keyboard and guitar respectively.
Then came a wonderfully playful Things Have Changed with great harmonica and
added rhetorical flourishes - "What happened? Things have changed".
Tangled up in blue was delivered centre stage with the unfurling of a flamenco
dancer's hand, Bob was here to EXPRESS himself tonight.
Cry a While was reworked to a 12-bar blues number with stop-start theatrics from
Dylan. Love Sick, a personal favourite followed, with Bob on the grand piano
playing a jazz-like solo while wickedly flashing his teeth at the crowd.
Hollis Brown saw the travelling storyteller centre stage, his left hand making shapes
as this most desolate of tales was sung with a passion.
Dylan was back to the piano for a summery rhythm & blues version of Spirit on the
Water to which he injected energy on piano and harp.
High Water felt a little flimsy, the inoffensive arrangement clashing with the singer's
eagreness to entertain.
Back to the piano for Hard Rain, Bob sitting at 45 degrees to the keys at times as
if to better address the audience and building his singing to a passionate crescendo.
It struck me at this point how discreet Charlie Sexton had been so far. In fact,
Dylan was dominating the show completely.
Highway 61 - such a guitar driven sonic assault in recent years was rendered
positively jaunty by some more piano from the Jools Holland school of r&b. What
an improvement on the keyboard!
Can't Wait was wonderfully atmospheric, its descending bassline providing the
backdrop to a moody delivery and Thunder on the Mountain began with Dylan
looking as if he wanted to play the keyboard but wisely opting for the piano once
more, the song climaxing in his best work on the keys of the evening.
Ballad of a Thin Man was the excellent arrangement of recent years with the
echo effect on the vocals and then Rolling Stone, with all of the bombast
replaced by a gentle backing from the band again allowing the piano and vocal
to take prominence.
After the band lined up to take the applause, there was an extended discussion
between them before an arrangement of All Along The Watchtower which was
as close to the John Wesley Harding Version as I have heard live, Tony Garnier's
bass at the forefront driving the song along. Dylan introduced the band midway
through the song and the concert came to its end, an hour and a half after it
The man's capacity for reinvention is astounding. A wonderful concert.
Review by Joe Neanor
Bob closed the performances on the main stage of the second day of the Hop
Farm Festival by delivering a 16 song set list. As usual Bob's keyboard was
set up on the stage and he opened the show playing it on Leopard-Skin
Pill-Box Hat. This instrument has been a mainstay of so his concerts over
the past nine years or so but it was not to be visited again for the rest of
the evening. Instead, when he was not centre stage, with or without his
guitar, Bob was plonking away at a grand piano, set back in the middle of
the stage in front of steel guitarist Donny Herron. With Bob seated it was
of course even harder for people to see him.
There were interesting moments, with good piano parts, such as on Love Sick,
Sprit On The Water and Thunder On The Mountain. At other times though Bob
was just playing chords with his right hand and, being seated, seemed
detached from the audience, despite turning round frequently towards us.
Bob was on the piano for Like A Rolling Stone, for me it was a whole level
down in terms energy and power. Bob being Bob decided to move away from
piano when it would have been just right to play that minor chord on an
echoing Ballard Of A Thin Man.
Lots of nice harmonica tonight from a performer who seemed to be living out
the stories of the songs, with his gestures and chest clasping when making
first person references. The band were in good form, their contribution
including some driving banjo and double bass on Ballad of Hollace Brown and
High Water for Charley Patton from Donny and Tony Garnier, the only man on
stage wearing a traditional collar tie. Bob introduced the band between
verses of All Along The Watchtower, a novel way of doing things.
There were some big screens either side of stage. Bizarrely you could see
more of the stage with naked eye than the shrunken view the screens offered.
Presumably this is all down to Bob's rules but these restrictions on
close-ups are plain daft. The artist is there to be seen or we might as well
stay at home and listen to the records.
Bob gave a solid and enjoyable performance tonight, despite his relative
lack of visibility at times. The show ended around 10:30pm on what finished
up being a chilly evening in a field in the Garden of England.
Review by Al Kerslake
A pretty standard setlist, Bob sat down on a baby grand piano for quite a few songs,
the band on auto pilot, a rowdy festival crowd, a windy day, the 'big screen' joke,
'Can't Wait' the only real highlight, People sang the chorus of LARS but didn't really
know the words, a lot of people left to see Primal Scream in the big tent.
3 out of 5 stars overall. Patti Smith owned the main stage here on Saturday.
Review by Mr. Jinx
Bob Dylan rang the changes at the Hop Farm festival tonight. Instead of the usual
announcement at his arrival (seedy tales of forcing Folk into bed with Rock) Stu Kimball
coolly strode on and struck up a mean riff. Bob and the boys joined him and we
were off. . . Leopard skin style.
But what was that big black thing right in the middle of the stage? Wow, a grand
piano! Bob has not played a grand piano on stage since . . . well, you tell me.
Anyway, he played it tonight. In fact we got Bob the all round musician.
He played electric guitar, harp, piano and keyboard, skipping from one instrument
to another like a hyperactive kid in a toy shop.
The voice was very strong all night and Bob’s harp playing was simply out of this world.
Harp that sharp ought to come with a government health warning.
The show’s highlights were many. Tangled Up In Blue was sleek rolling beast of a
performance. Bob told the well-worn tale placing fresh emphasis. I was spellbound.
Hard Rain, too, was a virtuoso performance. Every line was freshly minted and beyond
dramatic. The final verse pounded. Submission was the only option.
For me, though, the performance of the night was Can’t Wait. It contained multitudes.
It was brooding in the extreme and shimmered a million shades of blue and cast a
thousand shadows. The way Bob held the last note will stay with me to the grave.
One of the best performances I have ever witnessed.
It was great to see so many young people surrounding us. They were cheering and
smiling throughout. Spirit On The Water prompted an outbreak of dancing to my right.
It was joyous to be there and to see Bob in such good spirits too.
High Water – a banjo pluckin’ treat – turned extra apocalyptic as Bob sang ‘It’s bad UP
there.’ Sometimes it is the little nuances that say so much.
The only bizarre note of the evening was
the way Bob introduced the band right in the middle of Watchtower. It jarred to have
a band announcement smack in the middle of such a dark song. It seems churlish to
omplain, though, when we had been showered with such riches.
Simply put, Bob Dylan sang and performed at the height of his powers at the Hop Farm
tonight. The band was sympathetic to a fault, especially Charlie, who responded to
Bob’s piano playing with great style, matching his master’s runs where space allowed.
I have seen several as good N.E.T. shows but never a better one than tonight’s.
The whole performance was up a level from the Hammersmith residency at the end
of last year and Bob looked and sounded as if he had years left in him. May it be so.
In this mood I would put nothing past him. Watch this space.
Comments by Martin Gayford
The piano was a wonderful surprise. Obviously my theory that he didn't want to fork
out for a proper piano was either wrong or he's changed his mind. Or perhaps it's so
central to the new album that he needs it on stage now. Either way, Highway 61,
Love Sick, Spirit On The Water were all really transformed with the piano. Also, being
Bob, he managed to make it sound unlike anyone else's playing. Occasionally, on the
high notes, it sounded to me like a vibraphone, or the electric piano on See The Sky
About To Rain. I thought at first it wasn't typical Bob piano, but if you think of the
opening to It Takes A Lot To Laugh it reminded me of Spirit On The Water tonight.
In the middle of Like A Rolling Stone it sounded almost orchestral. Can't Wait sounded
eerily like the first TTS version, GREAT singing Bob! Glad the spoken intro's gone - Stu's
riff is much cooler. Would've loved to have heard Forgetful Heart and This Wheel's On
Fire (instead of Things Have Changed and Tangled Up In Blue, neither of which are
working for me!), but I can't have everything.
Review by Trevor Townson
"Master, you say the things that we see do not actually exist, so how do we see them then?”
My Karma must have been pretty good on Saturday as there were all manner of good things
appearing to my mind. Must have applied to a lot of other people too as it has since been
confirmed that I was not the only person to see a grand piano sitting centre stage later in
the day. The day had however started much earlier for me as I wandered up to the metal
barrier positioned across what was at that time a fairly empty field shortly before mid day. At
that time there were already quite a few familiar faces standing or sitting down at the rail.
After a little while I made the decision that there was only one thing to do, join them. Whilst
I had the list of acts that were due to perform I did not have the timeframes so I had as a
guess that there was at least nine hours from the first act before Bob would be stood on
stage. No matter there would be plenty to keep me entertained between now and then.
For me that started with Bellowhead as although I had seen Treetop Flyers setting up I had
missed most of their act as I was busy turning water into wine at the time they were on
stage. You never know the lie of the land so to speak at these events so consequently you
never know what you will be allowed to take through the gate so I had returned back to
the car as I had discovered on entering that it was possible to take plastic bottles into the
event. Who needs water anyway I thought as I poured the water out of the plastic bottles
and replaced it with white wine out of the glass bottle. With refreshment for the day sorted
it was time to return to my spot in the empty field. In just a short space of time from first
entering to then departing I was already walking against the tide of people flooding in whilst
I was leaving the field so by the time I was walking back to the rail there were quite a lot of
people in the place but nevertheless I still managed to get back to the front to find a good
spot one back from the rail and in a fairly central position. The second act out onto the stage
is Bellowhead who are an English contemporary folk band with what looked to be about
seventy six band members playing every conceivable instrument imaginable including the
kitchen sink. I think that they said they had a new album coming out later in the year so if
you enjoy a mixture of Good As I Been To You injected with The Pogues it might be worth
checking out. Next act was a bonus, a Brucie Bonus actually. Now this is a guy who has
been on the stage longer than Bob has been on the planet, a true English leg end and
Knight of the realm to boot. Actually Bob did not have to wait half as long for his Medal of
Freedom as Bruce has had to wait for his Knighthood, one reason that Bruce has already
lived twice as long as your average Anglo-Saxon is the fact that he did not intend going
before being Knighted even if he had to wait long enough for someone who enjoys his
jokes like Prince Charles or William to become King in order to get the deed done. Amazingly
for a guy who has done everything this was in fact the first ever festival appearance for Sir
Bruce and Bruce loved the crowd as much as the crowd loved Bruce, just one word sums it
up – Entertainment. In one way Bruce is very much like Bob in that he has so many talents
it is not really possible to fit them all in as he was jumping from one thing to another as he
tried to fit in an act that could last for weeks into a mere fraction of that time. Next up we
have three female acts in succession that are all household names to persons of my
generation even to people like me who are not particularly music lovers. Just being a Bob
fan myself I am not what you could in any way call a proper music lover so whilst I may
know the artists names I do not necessarily know any of their stuff. First up was Joan
Armatrading and guess what, whilst I did not recognise too much of her act it was well
delivered in a relaxed, friendly and entertaining manner and she sure seems to be a pretty
competent guitar player. Randy Crawford followed and what a voice. I was convinced she
would have sounded exactly the same and at the same volume even if she had not been
holding a microphone a yard from her mouth, magical and mystical to both watch and hear.
Patti Smith was the last of this particular trio of acts and she seemed to be loved by the
crowd as she spat out enough attitude to make sure everyone got a piece of it. Actually
the photographers in the press section front of rail got it all literally at one point as she
spat out directly at them. Deliberately so, surely not, surely she just could not see them
down there standing on their stools all holding three foot long telephoto lenses. Again as
you can guess I did not know any of her stuff, well apart from the song that never stopped
getting played on the pub jukebox whilst I was carrying out my drinking apprenticeship at
college. Shortly after leaving the stage Pattie is seen walking in front of the rail as the people
there strained to get a look at her or if possible to touch her hand which many managed to
do. Her generosity though did seem to fall short of giving an autograph as I saw one in the
crowd with pen and paper in hand who looked to get a polite refusal. By the time of the
penultimate act the stage was already half set up for Bob as his stage crew had been
wheeling on some of his stuff including the grand piano which whilst half covered with a
protective cover was quite evident and you would have easily got the answer to what was
under the cover if you had been asked to take a wild guess as whilst protected it was not
exactly disguised like the latest model Ferrari would be whilst out on a test drive in public.
Due to a lot of Bobs stuff already being on the stage including Georges huge drum set
complete with beads and even the golden statue to the fore there was not a lot of space
left for Damien Rice to perform or even stand as he seemed stuck right at the front of the
stage to the side of an old key board that looked even more bashed and battle worn than
Bobs trusty Korg. As it later turned out when Bob was at his own keyboard Damien only did
the one song sat at his as well. Fortunately Damien did not put on the most dynamic act in
the world so other than walking on and seating himself once at his keyboard and then
walking off at the end there really was no need for any other movement other than that
of his right arm that he used in order to strum his guitar whilst he was otherwise standing
still. For sure Mr Rice has a boat load of talent and boy could he play guitar but as my mother
might say “not my cup of tea”. Some in the crowd were shouting out praise but others just
wanted it over as quickly as possible, I for one was such a person who by that point just felt
like screaming out in desperation “AAAAARRRRGGG, mercy, mercy for Gods sake please,
please put Bob on stage, I cannot stand any more, AAAAARRRRGGG, God please, please
have mercy and put Bob on stage AAAAARRRRGGG” before falling like a shot bird to the
ground. I believe Damien sensed a little bit that he was getting in the way even saying to
the crowd at one point something like “well this is the closest that I will get to playing with
Bob Dylan, standing in front of his bands instruments”. For a non music lover like me it had
been a long day by that point. May be it is the fact that I am not a music lover that despite
what a lot of people say of him I quite like Stu Kimball so I was quite surprised to find him
wandering out alone from the left hand side of the stage where he normally stands, strolling
out whilst just strumming some nonsense on his guitar, surely drunk and past caring. I have
seen Stu riled before on stage but surely this time he will be receiving his cards. No time to
worry about Stu as out from stage right spring the rest of the band and Bob. The nonsense
Stu had been strumming is soon drowned out as that old standing in line quiz “can you guess
what the opener is going to be” is won by every Dylan fan in the place. Good Game, Good
Game! May be we now need to make the quiz harder by having to guess both the opener
plus the next number. Then again I expect that there are bound to be rules written within
the Dylanology hierarchy who would declare that You Don’t Get Anything For A Pair, Not In
This Game (dear), then again no Dylan fan in the world would have won the prize for this
particular quiz at Dresden later in the week, just one of the reasons why you just gotta be
there and why you can never second guess Dylan. By this point however even Stu seemed
to have come around from whatever had been affecting him as he was now playing all the
right notes in the right order so hopefully the earlier incident of him falling out of line and
doing his own thing would be overlooked and we would all get to see him some more. On
leaving the field I was thinking I can’t wait to say what the best song of the night had been
but no doubt by the time that I get around to reviewing somebody will have already told
everybody. Well I am not a professional reviewer so I do need to sleep sometime as well as
carry out three (maybe four) other bodily functions as well. Interestingly I have had time to
read others reviews already so you have probably already heard most snippets and what the
highlights were from others by now but I would like to share one thing with you that I came
across from Mail Online, not from the review itself but from the blog that followed although
the review itself did state that this performance “will surely be among his last handful of
concerts to a UK audience”. This statement was not really important to me as I have already
been very lucky by doing my time following Bob and have enjoyed every minute of it. No it
was not that thought that partricularly caught my eye but something in the discussions that
followed which seemed to sum up perfectly the reason that I do not consider myself a music
lover as the debate goes on as to whether Bob can sing and someone answers the critics
perfectly with the statement “You are a poor appreciator of great art. You would complain
that Picasso does not put the eyes in the “right” place. Dylan can’t sing the way Picasso
cannot paint”. There is art and there is great art and there is music and there is Bob. Hop
Farm Festival was my 99th Dylan concert so quite a numerical landmark but hopefully Cap
Roig Festival in Spain on the 14th July will be my 100th and as such an even greater
numerical landmark providing of course that I have a bit more luck getting my ticket out of
the Spanish bank than I have getting money out of my English one. Is this the end of the
road or just the start of another one as surely 100 shows is enough for anybody? From
what I saw on Saturday Bob for sure has got plenty more shows left in him yet so to
anyone just starting out in 2012 hopefully someone can make this the start of a new road
or them so despite what the Daily Mail thinks go see if you can set off and take in for
yourself 100 shows. Such an opportunity will never come along again so try to travel along
with Bob, On The Road, Brilliant!
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