page by Bill Pagel
Review by Ray Seed
Words fail me. It's so easy to trot out the same list of superlatives -
amazing, incredible, unbelievable. And yet, when you have to describe the
excellence Dylan and his band, it somehow seems inadequate. On this
steamy August night in Ottawa, Dylan was "on" from the first verse of
Somebody Touched Me. We have become accustomed to a two or three song
‘warm-up' before Bob hits his stride but tonight the highlights came early
and they came often.
My Back Pages followed a great opener and it was quite simply,
majestic. Larry's melodic fiddle gives the song a wonderful dimension.
I've seen Tangled Up In Blue performed so many times I can't distinguish
one version from the next. It's become a staple of the live show and
basically it's ten minutes of brilliant musicianship. Most Likely You Go
Your Way (And I'll Go Mine) was surprisingly close to the original version
and a great addition to the set list. High Water was completely revamped
from the last tour and it now sounds like a raunchy blues number.
Mid way through the concert Dylan unleashed a trio of acoustic songs
that could make a grown man weep. Masters of War, Visions of Johanna and
I Shall Be Released were performed with a delicate precision that left me
wondering how the concert could get any better - but it did. The opening
chords of Summer Days immediately brought the crowd to its feet. The
current version is like a runaway freight train. Each verse gains
momentum as Dylan, Sexton and Campbell leave a blistering trail of guitar
solo's in their wake. Cold Irons Bound has been rearranged once again and
it has a great swampy-blues feel to it. The encore was the standard 3
song selection Dylan is playing on this tour and they were note perfect.
It was fun to watch the interplay between Dylan, Sexton, Garnier, Receli
and Campbell. They are constantly watching Bob's eyes and fingers to see
how the songs will unfold. The slightest nod or movement can take a song
into uncharted territory. Dylan's unpredictable nature can make any song
on any given night an adventure and the potential for disaster is
enormous. When Dylan misses, he misses by a mile. But when he hits the
target, and he seems to be hitting it a lot these days, the rewards are
more than you could possibly imagine.
Review by Bill White
This was my ninth time around, positively the fourth time in Ottawa and
quite possibly the best concert I have ever seen by Bob Dylan.
We were sitting at a great new Thai restaurant in Hull (okay, things have
changed, it's been renamed "Gatineau" now) when Anne asked me what time
the show was supposed to start. I figured every other show on this tour
started at 8 pm... I hadn't bothered to look at the tickets since I bought
them about five minutes after they went on sale... so I pull out the
tickets and my eyes pop: show time is 7:30 and my heart started really
bop. Our order hadn't emerged from the kitchen yet and it was almost 6
o'clock. On the radio, I'd heard the main artery leading to the arena was
a nightmare - they were still clearing the debris from an 18-wheeler crash
that morning. Normally, it would take about 30 to 40 minutes to get out to
the arena, never mind get soaked for a place to park ($14...!) and then
walk half a mile to get into the joint... Sure enough, we get on the road
and end up in a parking lot about halfway there. Miraculously, the real
traffic jam is on the other side... and the line-up over there is a good
three kilometres long... so we only lost maybe ten minutes' time and
hallelujah! we're pulling into the parking lot with a good 20 minutes to
I have to say that there is nothing quite like strolling to a seat close
to the stage in a massive venue. This place rates in those terms, although
it's set up as a "concert bowl" with a capacity for 10,000 for this gig.
Mark Knopfler was accorded the same treatment last year, and so will
Supertramp later this summer. The fact is that Ottawa continues to be
considered as a backwater for major tours. The Stones will never come
here and Pearl Jam just might, but I'm not holding my breath. Anne and I
are likely going to have to take a run down to Toronto or Montreal when Ed
Vedder and the boys tour next year, but I digress.
The show got going at 7:45 to the strains of Aaron Copeland's "Fanfare for
the Common Man" on the sound system. I suspect this late start was in
deference to those fans who got stuck in the aforementioned traffic jam...
at least, I'd like to think so.
Anne and I had tickets in the fourth row off to the left. We would soon
find out that my great friend, Buckets of Bob host, Dr. Gripton, was
absolutely right when he told us that this is the place to be to see Bob,
because he faces that way most of the time.
Right away, I noticed that Bob had dispensed with the "hairpiece" and -
damn, I need new glasses - I believe he's shaved off the beard and
moustache, too. Natty black suit, tinged with red and a black cowboy hat
that he wore all night. Someone observed his Oscar on top of the amp, but
I never saw it - either it was obscured from where we were, or it wasn't
there... I think I would have noticed.
The opening number, "Somebody Touched Me" turned out to be the biggest
surprise - and the shortest performance - all night. Anne and I had seen
the Down From The Mountain tour at the Ottawa Bluesfest (yes, I know,
somewhat of a thematic departure, there, but nevermind), so we are no
longer total strangers to bluegrass/gospel music. And from the gitgo, it
was evident Bob and the Boys were gonna deliver a great performance. In
fact, Anne - who had never seen Dylan before - was enthralled by the combo
of bluegrass, country, blues, folk and rock music. It is an indescribably
good - and intoxicating mix.
Let it also be said that the band cooks, for sure, but they are always on
the edge - it seemed apparent to me that at times, things were just about
out of control; "the thing" threatened turn into cowpunk or
bluegrass-thrash, call it what you will, especially during the faster
electric numbers and High Water, in particular. Now, there's number that's
gone through some great changes...!
And while the set list notes only (!!) 18 songs, it should be noted that
these guys jam A LOT. Tunes ran, on average, more than six minutes long.
But I never got the impression that any of it was "filler". However, there
were a couple of points where Bob wanted to add another three-note solo to
the end of a song, and that kinda threw everyone's timing off to the point
where they sorta stumbled into the "Hollywood" ending.
Okay, so Bob plays more than three-note solos - my guess is that perhaps
he's following Willie Nelson's example, although I suspect Willie has a
bit more experience as a lead guitarist. The thing is that Bob really
mines the melody of the tune and while his efforts may seem to be a bit
laboured, it actually works. Far better than his harmonica playing, I
The only other criticism I would note is that he's kinda mumbling again.
From the fourth row, the sound was great, but until they kicked into
"Don't think twice", the enunciation was just not there.
On the other hand, the arrangements these days begin with the key melody.
I remember the days when Bob would babble between songs - he sure doesn't
have to do this any more because he lets the melody intro a song, and the
music and the lyrics do the talking. Anyone who knows his stuff halfway
well - and in some cases, that was half the crowd - recognized the song
before Bob started singing, and I know he appreciated this on more than
To this end, I think the second acoustic set was the best-received part of
the show. Certainly, "Visions of Joanna" was an absolute gem, and I think
the audience reaction for "I Shall Be Released" - with the Band-inspired
three-part harmonies - outweighed that for TUIB. My personal fave was "Til
I Fell In Love With You", which he's played at all three of the shows I've
seen since 1998. For whatever reason, this one send the chills up my
I'd read a lot about the so-called "formation" in the past couple of
years, and it is quite something to see the modified formation. The new
guy - as always, the expendable crewman, the drummer - ain't invited for
this part of the deal.
The thing I noted on this night wasn't the how they got the crowd jacked
up or any of that. It was Bob's behaviour. While the other guys pretty
much just stand there, he's shuffling his shoulders back and forth, almost
to the point where he's gonna raise his arms like he's in a boxing ring.
Bob looks like s a prize fighter up there! He's just about to break into
the Ali shuffle...!
It was hilarious!!!!
And at that point, it was obvious to me that he's gonna keep on knocking
audiences out with his music until he's knocking on heaven's door.
page by Bill Pagel
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