September 7, 2008
Review by Jeff Beresford-Howe
The show was a relative oddity in Dylan shows, at least for me: it started
out hot, peaked a couple of times early in the set, then faded towards the
"Cat's in the Well" was in the pocket from the first note, and Bob and the
band stayed there for six songs in a row. Everybody in the band was on top
of their game -- special shoutout to the rhythm section, which was smoking
-- and Bob was punching and jabbing magnificently. The "Desolation Row"
was one for the ages: a fresh reading with a massively high goose bump
ratio and a few verses sung with gorgeous, alien melodies, the way a great
jazz player does it. ("Million Miles" deserves special mention too -- it
was slinky and out there in a way that made it sound like the love child
of Daniel Lanois and Jerry Garcia.)
"Hard Rain" began the second half of the show. Not only was it perhaps not
a good choice after "Desolation Row," but the song lost it's way early and
stayed lost... the climactic verse was startling for being the only thing
in focus in the song. After that, the show was hit and miss. "Honest With
Me" is probably played out, but it was still rollicking. "I Believe in
You" was soulful and played with great conviction. Unfortunately, Bob
followed that up with an "It's Alright Ma" that was flat in exactly the
same way as "Hard Rain."
The train picked up momentum again with a lovely, elegaic "When the Deal
Goes Down" and a crackling "Highway 61." Then: whoops. "Ain't Talkin'"
just laid there and died, and "Thunder on the Mountain," while swinging
hard -- lots of dancing! -- seemed like more of a band work-out than
anything interesting from Bob.
"Like a Rolling Stone" was good, "Blowin' in the Wind" better -- what a
great arrangement for that song he has going now.
Overall, a wonderful show.
A couple of notes: (1) the Bowl is a massively over-rated concert
experience. It's just a crappy little thing carved into the hills, with a
bad parking scene, uptight security and an audience base that is awfully
Boston Pops-ish. (2) I was with someone going to her second-ever rock
concert (she's from Hangzhou, China) and while she liked the show, she had
a hard time with Bob's voice: "He talks more than he sings." Her first
show was a Phil Lesh and Friends blowout at the closing of the Warfield,
and she was disappointed in the, uh, lack of variety in the audience at
Review by Scott Eisner
Last night was my 32nd time seeing Bob Dylan. The first time I saw him
was back in 1978 and over the last 11 years I try not to miss him if he is
within 2 hours of the Los Angeles area. I saw him at the Santa Monica
Civic on September 3rd and then last night in Santa Barbara. To say there
was no comparison would be an extreme exaggeration. Bob and the boys were
in absolute stunning form in Santa Barbara. This was the dream setlist
played as one would hope. The highlights for me were a spot on Desolation
Row followed by an emotionally moving Hard Rain. Later in the set Bob gave
us I Believe in You and followed that up with It's Alright Ma (I'm Only
Bleeding). The final highlight for me was Ain't Talkin'. I had never
heard that played live and words can't describe how moving that
performance was. Bob was truly into his music last night and the venue
was absolutely perfect. I always try to catch Bob because one never knows
if at some point he might become a golfer and give up the Never Ending
Tour, but for the 4,500 or so fans in attendance last night we were
treated to a magical performance.
Review by Tim T.
the bad taste in my mouth from last week's civic show is now gone.
(honestly that show was so bad.. the highpoint was actually 'rollin and
tumblin.') the s.b. bowl, however, is a great venue and this was possibly
the loudest show i've seen there. guitars totally cranked, and bob's vox
even louder. we could also hear some of his keyboard playing(!) which was
an added treat.
after santa monica i was convinced that denny freeman needs to be
replaced, but i take it all back. he has a few different styles to offer,
and with a decent sound mix, you can hear all of the subtleties.
highlights for me were 'million miles,' 'desolation row' (not usually one
of my favorites) and 'honest with me' which has been completely re-worked
in a bouncy, not-so-country groove. 'i believe in you' was also great,
and sounds a tad influenced by cat power's recent cover version.
and bob, thank you for playing the best songs from the new album: 'levee's
gonna break' and 'ain't talkin.' both were awesome. finally, one quick
suggestion for all bob dylan concertgoers: let's dance!
Review by James Coffey
The last time Bob performed at the Santa Barbara Bowl was 1988 and 89. I
was in the 3rd row in 88 and in the middle section in 89.Back then it was
called the Santa Barbara County Bowl and the stage was a concrete slab and
if you sat in the first section you were right on top of the performer.
They changed things a few years ago and did a remodel, built a new stage
and the sound seems to have suffered for it. The folding chairs in front
of the stage used to be on grass, now they are on concrete.Security did a
pat down search but it was half hearted.They made a point of No Cameras
but they didn't get in your face if you used one. I was in the 8th row
stage right.Bob Came out and the energy level was high. They ripped into
Cats in the Well and I hoped the Crowd would be into the whole show and
keep the energy at that level, like last summer in Paso Robles. But Santa
Barbara is not a Paso Robles crowd and where as Bob fed off that energy
last summer, (played guitar for the first 5 songs), He had to supply it
all tonight. And he did.The Times They Are A -Changin is a good fit in the
#2 slot and Bob delivered. Hard Rain was another highlight, next to the
best that I've seen him perform, San Jose 2001. It was nice to hear I
Believe in You, though he didn't get much of response from the audience.
Bob gave it everything he had tonight, maybe he held back a little but he
wasn't gettin the feedback. a solid performance with some nice Harp work.
I missed Working Mans Blues #2. Blowin in the Wind is always a good
closer. You Can't go home again. Didn't want to.
Review by Iris Seifert
Driving to the airport the next morning, listening to Debussy’s Sacred and
Profane, it becomes evident that my inner world is battling the Lonesome
Day Blues. Realizing this, it occurs to me what the attraction to Mr.
Dylan’s music is: it is a mix of the sacred and the profane, an unusual
harmony, and this is what made this show last night, and the other nights,
Seeing the winner of a long race cross the finish line strong and making
you contemplate and reflect after this show in Santa Barbara.
All songs were really tight; the openers being the same as the night
before, yet, it seemed as though they set the audience on fire more in San
Diego. The bluesy ‘Million Miles’ came especially over well, and started
the reflective mode after “Don’t Think Twice” had sounded the whistle. The
follow-up with Desolation Row in a great rendering left no doubt. ‘It’s a
hard rain’ could not be a better song to keep going on that ladder, and
was remarkable mainly for the drawn out, softly intoned and resonating
“hard". And that harmonica kept singing that blues. The performance of
Honest with Me was even yet better than in San Diego in my opinion; near
every word clear and intended, underlined by a great solo by Mr. Kimball.
Only to set the scene for an unbelievable ‘I believe in you' - it makes
your heart stop. “It’s all right Ma” poured gasoline on the gleaming
timbers and here we go, only to return to a contemplative “When the deal
goes down”. Every time I hear this song I think it’s better than the last;
it’s just so dear. The obligatory Hwy 61 lit up the crowd; this version I
liked especially with the words being sung more and Mr. Freemans “siren”.
To put the dot on the I: Ain ’t talkin’ – definitely from the lyrical
point of view my favorite song performed today. Transforming that, the
Thunder was again rumbling on the mountain strong and clear, and when it
couldn’t be better, the encores topped it yet. This is the first time I
actually enjoyed Blowing in the Wind.
Whatever mission it was that i embarked on last October, this Odyssey
began with the closing shows in Chicago of last year’s tour, and ends
after excursions to Europe and New York tonight with the end of this tour.
Mr. Dylan and his band have come full circle and delivered a show with
every song played near perfectly; it seems that the songs are taking on a
more defined individuality – rhythmically, style-wise as well as lyrically
– thank you for singing. You can hear some of these songs performed in
dance halls with people knowing how to dance to them, men dressed like the
men on stage and women like women – wouldn’t it be lovely – and yet they
deliver such poignant lyrics that cut right to the core: how honest can i
really be with myself and others, and do i even consider their feelings?
What am i really doing, and for what purpose?
Thank you for reading these reviews, and after putting my foot into my
mouth with every one, just to see if I could, it really is lonesome
without the prospect of another show in the near future.
Review by Jeff Moehlis
The original rock legend brings a new sound to some of his old classics — along
with some surprises.
We hear a lot about “electrifying” these days. For example, “the crowd was
electrified by Obama’s speech,” “McCain’s VP choice electrified the GOP base,”
etc. You kind of wish the political pundits would crack open a thesaurus every
once in a while.
But one place where the word “electrify” is indisputably appropriate is in describing
how, long ago, Bob Dylan electrified his music, in both the now-he’s-using-electricity
and the wow-that’s-exciting-stuff senses. This action alienated his folk-purist base,
but Dylan the “Maverick” (sorry, another overused word these days) didn’t look
back then, and he still hasn’t.
Indeed, although his 1963 all-acoustic folk classic The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was
well-represented in song at his Sunday night concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl, it
was not represented at all in style. “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” sounded like a
brilliant Highway 61 Revisited outtake, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” featured
a rushed but effective vocal delivery over a somewhat countrified instrumental
arrangement, and the concert-closing “Blowin’ In The Wind” became a completely
reworked, cheery clap-along.
Other songs that bore little resemblance to their original acoustic versions included
“The Times They Are A-Changin’” as a speedy waltz; “Desolation Row,” which was
lively enough to draw scattered dancing in the cheap seats; and “It’s Alright, Ma
(I’m Only Bleeding),” a song I didn’t even recognize until it was almost over. For
the latter song, I was probably hindered by Dylan’s degraded vocal timbre — and
let’s admit it, his voice was never really his strongest attribute — which made the
lyrics virtually incomprehensible. This is a pity, since his clever wordsmithing is
arguably unparalleled in modern music.
Of course, it was not a surprise that Dylan completely rearranged and reworked his
older songs. This has been a hallmark of his “Never Ending Tour,” which at more
than 20 years and 2,000 shows long still represents less than half of his performance
career. He presumably got tired of playing the same old songs the same old way
long ago. In fact, he didn’t even play guitar at the concert, instead focusing entirely
on singing, playing competent organ, and, a precious few times, playing tasteful
harmonica. The rest of the band provided skilled accompaniment, including violin
and stand-up bass on several songs.
Sadly, the only songs that were played whose original versions were released
between 1966 and his critical resurgence with 1997’s Time Out of Mind were the
opener “Cat’s In The Well” from 1990’s Under The Red Sky, and a plodding “I
Believe In You” from 1979’s Slow Train Coming. His latest album, 2006’s Modern
Times, was, for my taste, over-represented as a quarter of the program. This meant
that there were no songs from classic midperiod albums such as Blonde on Blonde,
John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline, and Blood on the Tracks. Oh, well, it would’ve
taken all night for him to play all of his songs that I wanted to hear, not to mention
other people’s favorites.
As I was walking out lamenting the songs that weren’t played but also recalling the
many highlights of the concert — the biggest of which was probably the raucous
sing-along “Like A Rolling Stone,” which kicked off the encore — I saw a sign that
Dylan’s music will be appreciated by yet another generation. There was a girl, about
4 years old and well past her bedtime, who was being carried out of the concert by
her father. She exhaustedly but affectionately said, “Bye, bye, Bobby Dylan.” I’ll just
add that we hope to see him back in Santa Barbara again soon.
Associate Mechanical Engineering Professor
University of California, Santa Barbara
This review has been posted with the author's permission and
originally appeared on www.noozhawk.com
Review by Chico Enorme
Squeezing one more shirtsleeve night out of summer, Bob Dylan appeared in
perfect control of his craft at the Santa Barbara County Bowl. That oft
smiling man behind the keyboards looked like he was having the time of his
life out there - a man in perfect control of his craft, singing full
throated, cathching melodies and unsurpassable phrasing, and giving new
meaning all the while to the phrase "do what you love." Give him credit
for the songs he wrote, and again for their rewrite in new arrangements.
Not played last nite, but you take Cold Irons Bound from the record and
play it against a Masked and Anonymous edit and you'll hear how he picked
up the beat from over there and brought it over here. Does the exact same
thing every nite with lots of his tunes. His champion band strutted in
unassuming fashion. I wish him health and happiness but for a long while
he hasn't needed to write another song or play another gig for me.
Selfishly I want it to go on,
but the way the world works is that it comes to an end one day. Before
you go Bob, I say thank you.
Review by Drew Kampion
What a luminous jewel of a performance on a perfect night in a great
venue! I read the previous reviews with some astonishment, wondering
what layers of drowsiness and attitude could have obscured the utter
eloquence that I experienced. I don’t get it. This was as good as the
very best Bob shows I’ve experienced, but the reviews here seem lukewarm,
and the same was true of reactions from a couple of my friends. From my
perspective (fairly high above stage left), the concert was a magnificent
and impassioned close to the current leg of his tour and as eloquent an
expression of the urgency inside Mr. Dylan’s aging heart as anything I’ve
The sound was excellent – for a change. Often/usually at Bob events, his
sound people seem to be able to boost whatever setup worked for the
opening act into aural chaos for Bob’s set. Not so this beautiful eve.
No opening act, and wonderfully clear acoustics. And the band – when I
first heard Bob with these guys in Seattle a few years ago, I was fully
underwhelmed and gave them a pretty caustic review. But a hundred or so
shows a year (and who knows how many rehearsals) later, they’ve got it
utterly nailed. They’re great – congratulations to Tony (who’s been
great all along), George (who now has the authority and the grace on
drums), Denny and Stu, and Donnie. You guys are like a living, breathing
organism now – fantastic.
As for the set list and Bob’s performances, where the songs were
reworked, they were articulate, focused, and energized with urgent in-
the-moment meaning, which could only come from the heart of the singer’s
intention. I was grateful for each and every one of them, except for the
doomsday-comin’-true classic, “Cat’s In The Well,” which opened the show
while my daughter and I were still getting frisked (they forgot to check
my underwear for the camera!) … but it sounded great bouncing over the
rim of the bowl.
So … we came in on a challenging “The Times They Are A-Changin’,”
although the polite and well-fed audience seemed to have found itself
more on the receiving end of those rabble-rousing lyrics than might have
been the case “back in the day.”
The prophetic “The Levee’s Gonna Break” was nuanced with implication as
Hurricane Ike was bearing down on Cuba; folks in N’Orleans were already
getting nervous, and Bob spoke his words with energy and attention … and
the music rolled.
I loved his treatment of “Don't Think Twice, It's All Right” –
eloquent, with palpable pride of ownership in this likely to be
eternal classic. “Million Miles” has evolved since Time Out Of Mind, and
his treatment tonight was simultaneously lavish and restrained … and,
once again, clearly spoken!
And then came “Desolation Row” – wonderfully in keeping with the
“original” but layered with the interstitial decades of experience and
meaning – I couldn’t stop grinning, except my eyes were wet, too, over
the significance of this and the other songs – how they articulated
something so psychologically real beyond any literal meaning in the
lyrics. Yes, I thought, Bob Dylan is the incarnation of something – a
harmonica player who has somehow been chosen to transmit words that he
himself almost assuredly doesn’t fully understand, but he can surely feel
the truth imbedded in them and seems to feet a gratitude that they’ve
been entrusted to him to do the telling. Anyway … “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna
Fall” … this anthem of Dylan cosmology and purpose … how brilliantly he
told the story, how truly he enlivened its truths, how nakedly he
revealed the narrative (and the commitment) as his own.
If there was a low point in the evening, it came with “Honest With Me” …
but even here, he and the band pulled it out for the last couple of
verses. And then “I Believe In You” came on with a building urgency that
demanded something from each of us, announcing clearly that being here
and listening wasn’t enough. He’s depending on each of us to take some
action, to do what it is that we know we must do, and our doing will
sustain him. Otherwise, he’s wasting his breath.
The weird and strained and cacophonous reworkings of “It's Alright, Ma
(I'm Only Bleeding)” are approaching legendary status, but Sunday night’s
crafting of the underdog hero’s journey reeled off like the picaresque
tale it is – brilliant and sharp as a whet-stoned tack!
Then came the promise: “When The Deal Goes Down” – to me a song of
individual and collective end-times, and a reiteration of Bob’s c.
1990 commitment that he was born to sing these songs, that he has no
option, he’ll be here till the end … whatever that is.
“Highway 61 Revisited,” yet another assembly of the weird and the wise
and the wily, took me back to those precocious mid-’60s days when young
Bob threw down the gauntlet of his gift and declared himself one of those
ill-fated savants, like Mozart or Rimbaud or Keats or any of a hundred
premature firebrands who crashed and burned before they were fully men –
as he himself did, right on time, out in Woodstock … except (probably
surprising himself) he didn’t die. So … Highway 61 Revisited, always
“Ain’t Talkin’” seems to come from the same misty realms as “I Dreamed I
Saw Saint Augustine” and “Highlands” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”
and so many other Dylan songs – a soul caught between the rock of
objective knowledge and the hard place of human subjectivity. Clearly,
for Dylan, being alive is not comfortable; it’s all about continual acts
“Thunder On The Mountain” closed out the set most … inconclusively. As
always, the song’s uplifting rhythm belied its ominous portents … but
then it ended, and Bob melted into darkness. The audience couldn’t tell
what was up, and the bowl went almost dead quiet. Then came a series of
insistent whoops, and the cheering gradually swelled, and eventually Bob
Dylan and His Band reassembled for the encores: a triumphantly youthful
“Like A Rolling Stone” and a salutary, unassailable “Blowin’ In The
Bob pulled out everything he had tonight, his last stop before heading
home to nearby Point Dume. My 21-year-old daughter was blown away, and
so was I. Don’t believe anything else, this was a fuckin’ great concert!
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