September 10, 2014
Review by Les Memory
I first saw Bob Dylan and Western Springs in 1978 and still consider it to be a
concert to assess others by. I have seen Mr Dylan on every visit to New
Zealand except the 1986 tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
The benchmark for the older Bob for me was the Civic, a 2000 seat theatre in
Auckland, New Zealand 2007. An incredible show I was fortunate enough to
be in the second row in front of his microphone. Standout songs were: "Spirit
on the Water", a superb "Visions Johanna", "Beyond the Horizon", which just
seemed to float through the theatre, and a majestic "Nettie Moore".
What would 2014 at the Horncastle Arena bring?
We had secured seats in front of his microphone setup, 10 rows from the
front. Good for visuals (just) although I did like the subdued atmospheric
lighting. As for sound, very good, but not as good as Leonard Cohen
(perhaps Bob could talk to him about borrowing his sound technicians).
The introduction of the shimmering sound of a gong followed by guitar really
set the scene and "Things Have Changed" was incredibly full of energy and
was without doubt the best opening song I have heard at a Dylan concert.
"She Belongs to Me" was stunning, a tour de force, jangling guitars with a
pulse setting rhythm that suggested the night was going to be something
"Beyond Here Lies Nothing" was a dramatic improvement on the album version
with real bite to it. "Working Man's Blues" had some great moments but some
of the vocal was delivered at a speed, which removed some of the majesty
from the song.
"Waiting for You", was just great and Mr D played a waltz tempo with feet
splayed, no pedal work here. "Duquesne Whistle", has grown in stature from
Tempest, the vocal delivery was powerful and the band was tight, George
Recile's drumming was outstanding. "Pay in Blood", was wonderfully sinister, a
great vocal with some words fairly spat out for effect. "Tangled up in Blue", I
think my favourite live version is from 1978, with Steve Douglas' wonderful
saxophone. Tonight's version was also great because it captured something of
the melody line of the original and although new lyrics were inserted here and
there, it really worked and it was so good.
"Love Sick", had that sense of bereft mournfulness about it that just made
your heart ache.
Suddenly it was intermission and the only words of the night were spoken,
"we'll be back soon" and 20 minutes later they were.
"High Water" got the show back on track with outstanding banjo from Donnie
Herron, the vocal was a bit of a mixed delivery some of it excellent, some of it
too fast and sounding muffled. "Simple Twist of Fate", was a tour de force. I
remember when Blood On The Tracks first came out listening to it 60 times
in the first month. Tonight it was a wistful, tuneful vocal, full of regret and
longing, it was lived in, and we lived with it as well. The clever changes of
words, "something about, 'if we had put a stop to this in 1958 then we would
never have had had this……' (I may not be quite correct but it was a great line).
"Early Roman Kings", was incredibly high octane and the vocal seemed to lift the
band as they were all on fire and they seemed to be incredibly attentive at
where Bob was going with it, another tour de force. "Forgetful Heart", was
surprisingly good given the album track. "Spirit on the Water", was rushed, the
band seem to be driving a fast tempo and there was no pause for audience
response with "so you think over the hill etc". Then came "Scarlet Town", just
beautiful, the people around us were attentive, they had stopped talking during
songs, and there was no more talk from them of wanting "a greatest hits
package". "Soon after Midnight", was strong and I felt the band and Bob were
getting a second wind. "Long and Wasted Years", exploded on us and suddenly
we were at the final song with the band really fired up, great guitar from Charlie
Sexton. Bob delivered an impassioned high octane vocal and when it ended I
felt exhausted, such was the intensity of it.
The encore: "All Along the Watchtower", energised those who had come to
hear familiar older Dylan songs, it was a solid version without going to any great
Then came, "Blowin' in the Wind", it was wistful, it was beautiful, it harked
back to an earlier time, but it also look forward, and was a perfect ending to
a great concert.
We clapped and whistled hoping as this was the last concert of the tour
downunder that we might get a second encore but to no avail.
Final thoughts: I thought George Riceli has improved hugely as a drummer.
Tony Garnier held the band together especially when on double bass. Bob's
piano work was just great and it seems that he is now comfortable at the
piano and he was especially outstanding on, "Early Roman Kings" and "All
along the Watchtower".
Review by Mike Reid
The last time I saw Bob was here 2003 (I was away for the 2007 show), but
it was certainly worth the wait. As others have observed, in many reviews,
the shows of the last year or two, with fairly static set lists, are very
different from earlier shows. Gone are the long guitar duels, and the
challenge of figuring out what song is being played. In place of the loose
jams are structured arrangements. In this sense the shows are more
reminiscent of Leonard Cohen, who was here last year, than the old Bob.
However, there was still a real sense of spontaneity. And even less
talking. Even the band introduction was gone.
My only disappointment was that, as Les Memory observed, the sound was not
nearly as good as the Cohen concert in the same venue. I'm jealous that
others on this tour got to see Bob in relatively small venues, with
presumably better sound. We were off to the right, 11th row, a little to
the right of the piano, and it seems that the sound was significantly
worse where we were than where Les was. The balance was quite poor, and I
could hear the cymbals from the stage, but not through the PA.
Consequently, after a strong start with the first four songs, the finer
points of Waiting for you and Duquesne Whistle seemed lost, and at that
point I was starting to wonder whether things were going awry.
That doubt was swept away by Pay in Blood, which really blew me away. Much
more dramatic and compelling than the album version. Tangled up in Blue
and Love Sick were also strong, with Tangled sounding amazingly fresh.
Here in a Christchurch still somewhat broken after the 2011 earthquakes,
it's hard for me to not read meanings into some of these lyrics: "I'm
walking - through streets that are dead" "I'm circling around the Southern
Zone I pay in blood, but not my own"
The second half was great, though Early Roman Kings could have done with
better sound balance and a lot more volume. Like Pay in Blood, Long and
Wasted Years has really grown in stature from the album version.
With the encores everyone on the floor was on their feet, which made it
feel much more like a proper rock concert (in 2003 we were on our feet the
whole time). It's amazing that after 52 years Blowing in the Wind still
has a message that inspires Bob to put his heart into it.
The lights stayed off a long time after Blowing in the Wind, and I
wondered whether, as the last show on the current tour leg, and as a
favour to Christchurch, we might get another song. But it was not to be,
and we were out into the night, with the memories ringing in our heads.
Roll on Bob...
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