July 2, 2012
Review by Werner Kehl
It's been just over 8 months since Bob Dylan And His Band last performed 'round
here, in fact it almost seems like yesterday. Including the gigs in Mainz and Hamburg,
tonights performance was the fourth I've witnessed in the past twelve months and
it's always nice to have it be outdoors even with summer rain looming; it surely beats
any inside enormodrome gig whatever time of the year although last octobers
concert in o2 world was anything but shabby.
The citadel is exactly what you'd expect it to be especially when you're walking a
cobble-stone walkway crossing a moat to get into the inside. Once there and as you
approach the stage , it's gets different: as if you find yourself in a small local
neighbourhood park because the buildings to the left and right and back behind the
stage almost look just like certain houses one sees all over in certain parts of this city,
no unusual ancient medieval architecture, actually quite the opposite; it's as if the
show were being held in someone elses backyard - albeit a bit bigger with perhaps
almost eight thousand in attendance.
Since I wasn't bringing any novices this time unlike in years past and since I was
gonna meet up with the usual suspects afterwards as opposed to before, I went by
myself and went in way early so that I was able to grab a third row standing place
about 10 metres from Bob on the right. The first thing I noticed, of course, was the
piano that has become the talk of the tour already and just watching and hearing
them tune that thing before the show was the best foreplay imaginable...
Electrical problems on-stage delayed the starting time of the show almost by 40
minutes so that Stu started his intro at almost twenty before 8 p.m. and the
ensemble launched into the expected Leopard-Skin Pill Box-Hat. It Ain't Me
followed and by then I sensed that everything was fine, the mood onstage
And for me, the next 3 out of 4 tunes that followed was the best part of the
concert: Bob center-stage, singing and blowing the harmonica like, just amazing!
I'm not sure I've ever heard more inspired harp playing by him live before, like it was
chillin', man! And who says Bob can't sing anymore?? Obviously, he's no Caruso but
those who've written him off voice-wise recently just don't have a clue!!
Then came the part where Bob sat down to play the piano. Well, he's no Liberace
either (thank god!) and I like what one Hop Farm reviewer wrote: "tickling the ivory"
and that really sums it up nicely: his approach is somehwat a little more reserved,
tentative as opposed to him striking his keyboard. He seems careful, wants to make
sure to hit the right chord and get it down right and when he does so, feels
comfortable enough to hammer it out a bit further. Mostly, his style is very
honky-tonky and has almost a jazzy feel to it, definetly a nice new addition to the
overall sound, very welcome indeed!!
About some of the numbers later on in the set: I really was enthusiastic that Simple
Twist Of Fate was re-introduced since I havent seen it in a long time but if that's a
song they're going to play more often (which they should!), then that one needs
work to be done on. It started out o.k. but quickly went nowhere and it seems like
they were lucky enough to get it patched-up and even finished in the end.
Ballad Of A Thin Man is still the tour-de-force it has been since it was introduced in
show, where everything just comes together and gells; I don't think I could ever
get tired of hearing (and seeing) that one "performed" every Dylan show I attend
in the forseeable future...
...and there will be a couple more of those in the days ahead and I'm really looking
forward to them all!!
And those of you attending shows this summer should also be in high anticipation
Review by Wieland
As I never warmed up to the barking singing style I skipped Dylan shows of the last
years. Today I got news about the newly introduced grand piano and decided on
short notice to give it another try. It kinda payed off.
Like Dylan the band sported nice grey suits which made them look quite Beatle-esque
in a good way. For the first three songs Dylan opted for shades, which he then
exchanged with a broad rimmed gambler hat.
The opener Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat was as entertaining, as Dylan openers go these
days. The most remarkable thing about it was him forgetting the lyrics halfway
through, which seemed to amuse everybody (including Dylan) quite a bit.
It Ain´t Me Babe could have been very nice, some odd guitar work from Sexton made
it sound more like a public rehearsal, though. Which is nice in it´s own way. Things
got even weirder with Things Have Changed, as Dylan decided to play harp fills
between each line. It seemed to be an idea born on the spot and it worked
surprisingly well. The artist remained center stage for Tangled Up In Blue and
provided an utterly charming standup comedian routine. To get an idea just recall his
gesturing with the Rolling Thunder Review and then replace intensity with humour.
I do not have much to say about the next three songs, nice to hear them (especially
She Belongs To Me), but nothing outstanding. And then: Bamm !
Dylan at the grand piano, finally not just hitting random keys, but laying down some
expert bad-ass Jump Boogie with The Levee´s Gonna Break. His liveliness and the hat
he was wearing by now once again made me think of the RTR days. Wow !
The rest of the set was nice, but nothing really stuck out - but a version of Desolaton
Row, where Dylan could neither decide for an instrument, nor for the voice or melody
he wanted to use. Public rehearsal time again.
If you prefer rave and more detailed reviews read the others. I myself was pleased to
see the best Dylan show since the late 90s. The roaring lion´s voice and the annoyingly
slick blues band sound have been turned into something more diverse and adventurous.
Made me wish he would hit the grand piano for Ballad Of A Thin Man again. Or even
better for ... If Dogs Run Free.
Review by Helmut Mehnert
We had a brilliant show starting at 7.35 pm going through for nearly 110 minutes with
some rain in the second half in the old renaissance fortress of Spandau very close to Berlin.
The rain didn’t bother us, because we enjoyed Bob’s show tremendously as well as he
obviously enjoyed himself.
Bob’s voice was sharp and clear and his harp work was good to brilliant. My absolute
favourite of the evening was his new version of Desolation Row: Really Fantastic. Simple
Twist of Fate got a little bit over the top with weeping guitars. Ballad of a Thin Man was
great for me and the encore “Blowing in the wind” with the Donnie Herro? on the violin
as Bob invented himself once again in the arrangement of this song.
It is a new feeling listening to his grand piano versions of songs you know for so long and
Desolation Row really proved that it works! Don’t you dare miss this year's European leg!
Review by Frank
After a disappointing in-door concert in Berlin 2009 (crappy sound, noisy and chaotic band),
this year's open air show was so much different. Of course, Dylan live is not emotionally
spectacular, but spectacular nevertheless! His acting during the Neverending Tour always
gives me a good laugh, and that is not a bad thing.
The setlist wasn't very exciting, nothing from Together Through Life, no real rarities (I've
just read now that he hadn't played She Belongs To Me in years). However, I liked the
'new sound': sparse, decelerated, lots of space for everyone -- so much different from the
noise last time I saw him. In fact, the performances are very much sketches of songs, ideas
for arrangements... 'there should be piano solo here', 'that's supposed to be jazzy', 'add
some rock'n'roll here'. It's like the audience is free to fill in what he's imagining in his head.
Of course, one could say that's because he just can't play the piano solo himself -- but I
guess he also doesn't bother. Dylan's voice was strong and not lost in the mix. Sure it's
more barking than singing, but it suits the man, he's an old dog!
Altogether, not a great show, but still one of the better with some highlights and an
interesting new sound! Seeing Dylan changing from piano to guitar (oh, well....), playing
harp, sitting and standing -- just moving -- was also a nice change, the static wax figure on
the keyboard is gone. The second half of the show was much more coherent and intense,
the piano certainly added an interesting new twist to many songs. Loved to hear new
arrangements! Ballad Of A Thin Man was amazing, reminded me of the more 'modern'
versions on Tell Tale Signs.
Review by Ken Cowley
Due to the generosity of a recent 40th birthday present, yesterday saw me make a
whistle-stop trip from Dublin to Berlin for the 2nd show of this latest chapter of Bob Dylan's
Never Ending Tour. Most legs of the N.E.T. come and go these days without much fanfare,
due to the sheer number of shows he has played in the last few decades, but this one is
already making a splash. Mainly for one reason! As reported yesterday on many of the
world's leading music websites (Rolling Stone, Uncut etc) - Bob has decided to bring a
grand piano along on this trip - and very welcome it is too, meaning he is now playing 4
instruments (5 if you include what he does with his voice!) on stage, guitar, organ, keyboard,
harmonica. And in general, playing them pretty well(Dylan's musical eccentricity not
withstanding). However, the grand piano isn't the only development of note. Also of note
is the sheer number of new arrangements. They were obviously busy during the 3 days
rehearsals in Poughkeepsie! Ok, no major setlist surprises, other than the reintroduction of
'She Belongs To Me' after a 4 year hiatus, but some of these new arrangements are almost
like new songs. Which is a good thing as far as most of us are concerned, although possibly
not for the casual concert goer, nor indeed the casual concert reviewer. I go to a lot less
shows than I used to, but regular (?!) readers will know I've been enthusiastic about Bob's
return to the front of the stage (which he does these days for about half the show) and his
renewed animation and engagement with the audience, since circa 2010. I'm glad to report
all of this has been notched up yet another gear thus far on this tour. And with the prospect
of the new album out in September, all really does seem to be rosy in the garden. Hell, he
even had a costume change of sorts in Berlin, wearing shades and NO HAT (when was the
last time he wore no hat?) for the first 4 songs, before whipping off the shades and popping
on a hat for the remainder.. Last night, the animation didn't kick in properly until the 3rd
song ('Leopardskin Pillbox Hat' had been the usual lively opener, and 'It Ain't Me Babe' with
Bob on guitar, had been perhaps a little hesitant. But for a spell of about 6 or 7 songs from
'Things Have Changed' on, Bob was as animated as I've seen him for years. Older fans will
remember that when he was in his 50s he moved like a man in his 70s, now that he's in his
70s he moves like a man in his 50s! Albeit not like any man in his 50s I've ever come across.
His stage movements and expressions range from bizarre to limber, and really have to be seen
to be appreciated. For anyone who's never seen him live, I strongly recommend that now is
the time to do it - and get down relatively close to the front when you do. Just be prepared
for eccentric arrangements and, of course, eccentric singing. But, back to the piano. He first
sat down at it for 'Lovesick', and stayed at it for most of the rest of the show. It has a
couple of affects on the show. Firstly, it's a welcome change from the 'circus-sound' of the
Korg organ he usually plays, and has a lovely classic piano sound. Ok, so he's no Oscar Peterson,
nor even Elton John, but he has a nice style all of his own, and seems to be playing in a
muchless percussive style than the keyboard (pre-organ) style he gave us from 2002-2006.
Visually, it works too, as he doesn't just sit there, but fidgets a lot, and swivels around to
engage with the audience, and band, at will. Now, let me get to some of the song highlights
of the Berlin show. Vocally, he seems to have staved off the decline of the latter years of the
2000s, and has worked out a way of expressing himself in a (mostly) musically interesting way
with what's left of his voice, only rarely lapsing in to ridiculous OTT phrasing. The first major
rearrangement was 'Cry Awhile', Bob out-front with just harmonica and voice, a really excellent
Chicago-blues type arrangement in what is now almost a trademark 'Bob-and-band' stop-start
style. Anyway, it was very powerful and a reminder that Bob is just as likely to recast his recent
work as his more famous older work. Next up was the biggest surprise of the night - a lovely
country-ish version of 'She Belongs To Me' with a nice descending riff on the 2nd half of each
line and a surprisingly prominent Donny Herron pedal steel sound. As we know Bob's N.E.T.
band is always evolving it's sound slightly from tour to tour, but this arrangement took a nice
step back in that it strongly reminded me of the Larry Campbell years. Maybe the best and
most impactful song of the night was 'Lovesick'. As this was only the 2nd show with the grand
piano, it was our turn in Berlin to hear it for the first time. A really powerful new version of this
song, reminding me a little of the great 1920s sounding 'Blind Willie McTell' Bob played at the
Scorsese tribute earlier this year. Old-timey in a good way. 'Levee's Gonna Break' on piano was
maybe less successful, but towards the end of the song, Bob found a little riff he seemed to
like and the band soon adapted and kicked in around that, and finished the song off well. 'High
Water', the 2nd song ('Cry Awhile' being the other) from 2001's 'Love and Theft' album, has
also been given another makeover. I really loved this one. Less overtly powerful than earlier
arrangements of the song, they've given it a lighter touch - kind of bluegrassy/country-blues
on it, and it really swings. 'Highway 61 Revisited' is a bit like a bus not coming, it gets the same
old arrangement for years, and then we get 2 in 2 years - and this one is not bad. For me I've
heard this song so many times, I can only enjoy it if they make it 'danceable' in some way, and
I can focus on whatever groove the band is getting in to. And this one was certainly that, and
as ever is a song the casual rock fan attendee will always want to hear. The rest of the show
perhaps didn't quite reach the levels of that middle run, with a pleasant stab at 'Simple Twist
of Fate', a novel (for now!) chance to see Bob play some boogie-ish piano on the likes of
'Thunder on the Mountain', the usual show-stopping 'Ballad of a Thin Man' - and by the
way - any music fan who has not seen Bob do this song post 2009 or so is missing a big tick on
his/her 'Rock to-do list'. 'Like a Rolling Stone' was performed much as usual, but I must say it
was nice to see him play his most famous song on the instrument he wrote it on. People think
of Bob as a guitar playing singer songwriter, but don't forget he also writes/wrote a large
number of his songs on piano. The show closer, 'All Along the Watchtower' is yet another
song to have received a re-jig, and is now much improved in my opinion - it's a faster, more
urgent reading of this old warhorse, prior to a nice encore of 'Blowing in the Wind' capped
with it's usual closing 'out-front' harmonica flourish. In conclusion, a really enjoyable show in
the German capital with a nice atmosphere in a lovely Castle setting. Final point of note - Bob
was 40 minutes late on stage (unheard of for an artist who despite a reputation for contrariness,
is in many ways actually a very old-school music pro, and normally on-stage within 10 minutes of
the designated time), and ironically the heavens opened and it rained pretty hard for the final
40 minutes of the show! But, who cared. A really good show in what is quite a decent period
for the N.E.T. Go see one! Finally - a quick plug - please consider buying (and telling your friends
about!) my short autobiographical e-book, in which I write not only about my years of going to
Bob Dylan shows, but my experiences of Ireland's financial collapse, a few health battles and
other cheerful topics! It's called 'Not Running Away', and is only 7 euros, available on my
website www.notrunningaway.com Thanks.
Review by Hermann Rechberger
There's something going on and you still don't know what it is...
This is no song-to-song review but I will try to describe yesterday's show.
Heading from Berlin to Dresden I could still not trust my eyes and ears!
First of all, the biggest surprise was the black piano on stage, but later more.
The show started with some weird experience that was assumed to be a delayed guitar tuning
or a technical problem lasting nearly 30 minutes but meanwhile I think this was some kind of a
new opening procedure. There was no more spoken announcement, during the tuning of the
guitars Stu appeared alone, replaced the technical assistent and acting like Neil Young he is
playing some guitar accords for a minute or so. Then the band came on stage and without
brake the tuning turned into Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat. By the way, Bob appeared in a white
jacket and open collar and had his sun-glasses on. His voice seems more tired to me than
through the last years, but therefore I have never seen such an energetic bundle! Nearly
between every sullable he smiles but this was more a devilish grin than a friendly smile!
There have been no specific changes in the pattern of the songs but the whole impact of
the show has completly changed.
I was thinking about the songs the piano was intended to be used for but I was totally wrong.
My Dylan mate Richard Eder assumed "tender" songs like Every Grain Of Sand but what a
surprise: Bob changed to the piano for Love Sick and other war horses as Rolling Stone and
Watchtower and it is unbeliebable how perfect his piano playing fits to the hard rock sound.
A few seconds after the "expecting rain"-verse the rain began. As temperature was not to
cold the audience was still enjoing the show and so did I! There is no bad weather, there is
only wrong clothing!
Comment by Tierarztpraxis Rhinow
outstandingly humorous appeared to me what i heard bob sang in "simple twist..." the other night:
he woke up and she was gone
he didn`t see nothin` but the dawn
got outta bed and put his SHOES back on...
for me one of the very best jokes
Review by Sascha Krieger
Song and Dance Man
Bob Dylan concerts are a little like Forrest Gump’s famous box of chocolates: You never know what
you’re going to get. On a bad day, he burns his timeless songs at the stake, on a good one, he
turns them into something new, fresh, exciting. Recently, during the latest phases of what has
been dubbed the Never-Ending Tour, his almost constant being on the road since 1988, the really
good days have become rarer. His efforts have tended to be more and more of a routine kind, the
singing little more than a bad-tempered bark, the setlists less and less varying and surprising. In short,
Bob Dylan has become something he has never been: predictable. Now the best antidote to
boredom and routine is change. Ten years ago, he invigorated his live shows by introducing a
keyboard and largely abandoning the guitar. Now a new instrument has appeared on stage, a new
toy. a grand piano. And would you believe it: it has done the job again! Dylan’s show in Berlin has
opened yet another chapter in the only thing constant about the man: permanent change.
There is no opening music anymore, no ironic introduction, no mock-heroic entry. Just a few
grey-clad figures walking on stage. Among them Dylan, hat-less and wearing large sunglasses, a
hrowback into the 1990s. Later, the glasses go and the hat comes back on and we return to the
present. The old chameleon is alive and well. The evening does not start very exciting: a lacklustre
Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat and a passing trifle that is It Ain’t Me, Babe indicate what priority the old
songs have for Dylan these days. They are part of an older self, an afterthought, strangers he
himself hardly recognizes.
But then the first transformation happens: Dylan moves center stage, a harp in one, the microphone
in the other hand. enter Dylan the storyteller, the MC of his own strange tales of love and loss.
suddenly, the voice becomes expressive, the rasping bark, versatile and full of nuances, the way of
singing dramatic. He tells his tales with the voice , his hands, and even a little move here and there
in his hip and legs. Things Have Changed is a dry farewell to love, Tangled Up in Blue a colorful
fairytale, Cry A While a severe dressing down. Only the older She Belongs to Me drifts off into the
routine and meaningless.
Enter Dylan, the piano player. For Love Sick, that bitter trial and sentencing of the illusion hat love
has always been in his songs, he sits down at the piano and hardly leaves it again. And where his
keyboard playing was hardly existing, his harp a little flourish, his guitar play as erratic at ever, he
suddenly discovers rhythm and melody. His piano structures the songs and comments the, it
accentuates and contradicts where his solid but largely uninspriring band play their usual mixture of
rockabilly, country and blues. Gon are the days when George Recile’s drums could pierce the night
or when Charlie Sexton and Larry Campbell formed an almost diabolic guitar duo. Recile is still there
and sexton is back but both are on very short leashes these days.
But there is still Dylan’s piano. In is the newer, more up tempo songs like The Levee’s Gonna Break
or Thunder o the Mountain that see Dylan at his best. His piano drives them along, with a strong
rhythmic force and distinctive, memorable lines. He is the band leader, he sets the tone. These
songs are perfect country rock while High Water crosses the line into the blues. Dylan is at home
there, too, his voice having long surpassed the old blues men he admires so much. With the added
piano, he even finds something in the old gems, whether it is the relaxed rock and roll of
Highway 61, the staccato, almost rap-like vocals in Desolation Row or the dark ghostliness ofBallad
of a Thin Man. The songs my be hardly recognizable and they may not be better than the originals
but they are certainly not stale.
Dylan closes the show with three old favourites and in them exhibits a relaxed attitudes toward his
“hits” that serves them well. The old anger is gone, the need to signify something, too, now it is
all about playing a song and telling a story. So Like a Rolling Stone floats along pleasantly, All Along
the Watchtower is good-humored rockabilly and Blowin’ in the Wind swinging country without a
hint of its old sting. The man who never wanted to be a prophet has found his peace with his
songs of prophecy but he has not lost his urge to go on changing. The chameleon is still here and
these days, he is what he once, 50 years ago, claimed to be: a song and dance man.
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