[Graham Cole], [Martin], [Tim Ricketts], [Markus Prieur], [Johnny Borgan]
Review by Graham Cole
A hard day at school starting the week after a stunning first night Dylan concert down in Portsmouth has been pleasantly alleviated all day by the thought of his second gig there tonight, so it was good to drive home with the prospect of Loraine and I making the short drive along the motorway to see him again. Like the Butch Hancock "No two shows alike" of some years ago, Dylan again has shown himself to be the master of producing excellent performances several nights in a row, yet with a constantly changing set-list as he goes along. When I'd queued for tickets (four per person max!), I'd made the decision to buy standing first night and seating second. At the end of last night, I'd felt a twinge of regret at not being able to be down at the front for the second night, but the change meant we saw Bob in a completely different way in this same 2,500-capacity venue. The intimacy of being just five metres away from him on Sunday night was quite definitely more than worth arriving early, adding to our appreciation of the atmosphere and enabling us to watch from close-up Dylan work so brilliantly through his show. At times, yes, the sound was a bit muddy (or are our ears showing their age??!) but this was compensated by being where we were, so close to the stage. Tonight, front row, almost centre on the balcony, the sound was crystal clear at times, particularly on the acoustic numbers, and the lyrics audible throughout his customary wide range of songs. The acoustic kick-off gave us a spirited country jaunt through "Hallelujah I'm ready to go" and the band were clearly in a rockin' good mood. The first strains of the following number were instantly recognisable as those of my all-time favourite poem, and I have to confess that "Mr. Tambourine Man" had me close to tears. I thought of the late John Bauldie who once told me he also loved this song - he would have approved, I am sure. Several "oldies" had an airing tonight with a lovely, delicate treatment of "A Hard rain's a gonna fall" next up. With "Mr. Tambourine Man" worth the admission price alone for me, there were nevertheless several other highlights as the show progressed, and it was great to catch the different renditions of songs we'd heard the previous night. "Like a Rolling Stone" seemed louder and we saw Dylan really letting go on guitar on this, and on "It ain't me Babe" there was some quite extraordinarily sweet interplay between Bob flat picking and Larry Carlton finger picking their way through the song. From "John Wesley Harding" came an outstanding version of "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest", typically catching the country mood that Bob seems so fond of just recently, and for me the lyrics of this tale came over particularly well. I'd heard "Things have changed" a fair bit on the wireless and I was pleased to hear Bob doing this, his latest single so clearly - a shot at the charts, perhaps! Indeed, both nights the band has looked like they have been enjoying themselves and the rockier numbers seemed to enthuse Dylan for his task. At the end of the show he was positively skipping about and pointed to the audience as he told us "Thank you all you people". We'd love to know what Bob and his band were thinking each night as they stood there on stage, just after "Blowin' in the Wind", watching the wild, cheering throng and taking in their applause. Certainly Larry Carlton smiled very happily and looked almost awed by the reception, and Dylan too looked, well, impressed. It may be true that he does not appear to smile too much, but tonight his head was up for much of the show and his eyes wide as he looked around the auditorium. I'd like to believe that he felt he had done something special for an awful lot of folk, and indeed has been doing so around the country on this tour, since this would surely be an accurate picture. Talking to people on both nights (and what a real pleasure it is at Dylan concerts to share one's love of the man with such good friends), there seems to be universal acclaim for all the shows he has done since hitting Dublin, and I now feel sorry that we shan't be able to see him in London, let alone do as some have been able to do and follow Bob from city to city. Still, at least after tonight, Loraine and I feel that we have once again seen and heard Bob performing two outstanding shows, and the memory and our thanks to him will stay long into the future. "Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free..."
Review by Martin
After noticing that the strange queue jumping stories I’d read about on Boblinks were true at Cardiff and at the first Portsmouth night, I suggested to Ann & Alexis that we move to the end of the queue at about 6.10, which we did, having arrived in Portsmouth after lunch and played pool in the pub opposite until 5.30 on a rainy afternoon. As it was still raining, we sheltered by standing in the doorway near the end of the building. I was keeping my eye on the door that the back half of the queue were loitering in front of, when the handle of our one turned and Bob’s minder appeared and let us in. He seemed very pleasant. I say he was Bob’s minder, but that’s only because the security guard we spoke to later told us he was. We waited a minute or so, then had our tickets checked and walked briskly to the front of the stage where we stayed all evening, and which, being slightly to the left of Bob’s microphone, seemed just right. After awhile the couple next to us were asked to go and speak to Bob’s minder, and that the guards would save their places. When they came back, they said they’d been asked to move from the front row, and told that the management had the right to move them if they refused. After awhile, a stage hand turned a spotlight that normally points towards Bob, to face the centre of the first few rows. This was blinding the people next to us, and after some complaints it was turned off. It seems amazing to think that Bob might actually order certain people to be moved, but that’s what seemed to be happening. The security people in front of us, who were very pleasant, said they’d been asked not to look at Bob during the performance. I agree with a review I read which mentioned how slightly unnerving it is to be so close. The sight of Dylan close up is so extraodinary anyway, and even more so for someone like me, who has been a fan for nearly 20 years, since I was 10. He looks at times a little shy about being close enough to look straight into your eyes, and even smile back when you smile at him (which he did, once). But it makes a concert so intimate, expecially when his performance is as good as it was tonight, and when he is as charismatic and charming as he was tonight. The highlights for us were Mr Tambourine Man, Hard Rain, Frankie Lee & Judas Priest (which was even better than at Cardiff), Tombstone Blues, It Ain’t Me Babe and Trying To Get To Heaven. The outstanding performance in my opinion was She Belongs To Me, which was sung beautifully and featured some lovely, fluid electric guitar from Bob. I managed to take a few pictures while the guards were otherwise engaged, and although slightly blurred, they’ve captured the atmosphere of the evening (they also have no heads in the way, obviously). I was pleased it was a good concert, firstly because it was my sister’s birthday present, but also because the first night at Portsmouth was so bad. After a beautiful trio of To Ramona, Visions Of Johanna & Mama You Been On My Mind, Bob’s performance that night went downhill rapidly. His behaviour changed noticeably, and for at least the last 11 songs he looked impatient and upset. Hia singing on some songs was halfhearted, forgetting quite a few lines, and for Gotta Serve Somebody, everything except the first verse, which he sang twice followed by whole verses of adlibbed mumbling. During Like A Rolling Stone, he stopped playing his guitar for what seemed like about 60 seconds and stared blankly at the stage. He looked like he might collapse, and seeming to regain himself, mouthed to Tony Garnier something like “I’m alright”. I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight was massacred by really awful singing, and the fact that he couldn’t remember most of the words. He started the show wonderfully with To Ramona, sung with real feeling and power, and finished it with this, sung like a drunk cat. I find it truly baffling after reading other reviews, how some people seem incapable of distinguishing between the two. In my opinion, he performs best when he’s on a roll, and in this case he lost it with Tangled Up In Blue, which I think he should either drop or rearrange. On the second night in Portsmouth, he managed to get through that song okay, although he did mumble the last two verses (the first of which was pure mumbling), and it didn’t affect the show as a whole. I think the band are good, but they’re really only the background to Bob (which is what they should be). On She Belongs To Me in particular, Bob was in total command of the stage, cradling his guitar and playfully strumming bar chords and picking melodies to illustrate his lovely singing, in a kind of majestic doodling. At the end of the evening, Bob fidgeted about while they all lined up to soak up the applause, moving his head from side to side and bending his knees up and down. It looked like he was having a stretch and winding down after some hard work. It’s because I consider him the greatest ‘recording artist’ ever that I have incredibly high expectations of him, and that’s why I don’t just manically applaud every song he performs - because he’s not always great, in fact sometimes he’s terrible. But some nights he is truly great, and casts shadows over every other ‘recording artist’ - and the second Portsmouth concert was one of those nights.
Review by Tim Ricketts
Not a big Dylanologist so ill keep the review brief I must say I was blown away- best gig ive seen for a longtime etc- particularly in comparison with Steely Dan who I saw a couple of weeks ago but- despite musicianship etc - had no presence. In particular I enjoyed his attitude towards the audience- seeing David Bowie on TV the night before make a prat of himself with endless grinning it was good to see a milestone artist still with attitude. Growing up in Gosport- just over the water from Portsmouth- I have seen many gigs at the Guildhall over the last 20 years (starting with Ultravox and most recently Peter Green a couple of months ago- now there was a baaaad gig) but never one before where it had the palpable feel of an event. Although it did look a bit sad that the people upstairs were hardly even nodding their heads- and there were a good number of abstainers from the final ovation up there. I also must praise the approach of no bollocks support, straight on at 19:45, do the gig and bail- particularly no 'mid-set break'. I wont bother to expose my lack of Bob knowledge but I did go out yesterday to add to my meager collection of Blood on the tracks, Time out of Mind and Live 1966, with Biograph as the next step.
Review by Markus Prieur
There we were back at the rail amid friendly aficionados from Australia and Canada, to see our tenth Bob Dylan show in a row. Now we are heading this way (back to Ireland) and Bob and his band are heading that way (off to mainland Europe). For my wife Catina and me it sure was a fitting end to our first year together out of Germany, this holiday once around the Irish sea. Initially we planned to go to six shows, ending up however seeing ten. We saw 69 different songs performed by Bob Dylan and "some of the finest players anywhere", as Bob described them last night at his second show at the Guildhall. He repeated but seven songs from his first show the night before, but interestingly enough 13 songs from Saturday in Cardiff, including the masterfully performed "BALLAD OF FRANKIE LEE AND JUDAS PRIEST". As it was the fourth show in a row without a day off, it could hardly be as great as the exceptional great show on Sunday, but Monday's gig sure did have it's peaks and fine momen! ts. The "DRIFTER'S ESCAPE" was as intense as ever, as was Bob's harp solo ending it. We were reminded once again that "it sure ain't me ... you're looking for". And once again we were told that "EVERYTHING IS BROKEN", which kicked the pillbox hat out of the main-set-ending-slot. "WATCHING THE RIVER FLOW" was equally rocking last night as in Cardiff. Also notable were the only two additions to this tour, "SHE BELONGS TO ME" (with Bob moving around a lot while playing his guitar), and "A-HARD RAIN'S A GONNA FALL" (performed only for the fourth time this year), which I thought before he might put into the number three slot last night. It was on my wish list as I saw it only twice before (Zurich 1999 and Cincinnati 1981). Performed as a grave warning about this world which can't stand long, it is all the more powerful within a setlist containing also "HALLELUJAH I'M READY TO GO" and "TRYIN' TO GET TO HEAVEN" (he put these three in on set before in Horsens in May, even adding "GOTTA SERVE SOMEBODY", which he also played in Portsmouth, however on Sunday). "HALLELUJAH I'M READY TO GO" (one of his most challenging openers ever / see my website "Not Dark Yet" for lyrics), as well as his new slow arrangement of "TRYIN' TO GET TO HEAVEN" were also performed together in Cardiff on Saturday (see my review for some comments on this combination). These songs sure are most powerful and valid statements about his faith, and once again I am very grateful that Bob Dylan keeps singing them to us, warning us not to "wait before it's too late", pointing out his "wonderful saviour" to us, convinced that one day they will "close ... close the door". Markus Prieur http://notdarkyet.tripod.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Review by Johnny Borgan
It's a long distance train, rolling through the rain - from Portsmouth to Gatwick. I'm on my way back to Norway, two Dylan-shows richer and a few pounds poorer. I surfed into the streets of Portsmouth, guided by a smooth arrangement of the Badlands team - I'm forever grateful for helping me out this time. As many of you know, on monday it was arranged a mini-convention at the Southsea Pier, where unspeakable items swiftly changed owners, and the roaming dylanologists gathered to discuss the last shows and the possible next tour. Quite a bonus, actually, to get this kind of gathering between the shows. It was also fun to listen to Clinton Heylin's reading of Behind the shades, Take Two. I got all his Dylanbooks, and really think he's done some very important work documenting the life and art of Bob. Nevertheless, it's a bit odd to see the narrowminded perspective of Dylan's Never-Ending Tour that Heylin's presenting. Of course he got his humorous points and gets good laughs describing the tour band's skills in early 1991, but I really don't think that Bob's goals was to establish the most sucking band in history - what more is, I even don't think he did - remembering the great Stockholm shows as an example of the contrary. A biograph, in my opinion, has a duty to look for his objects goals and purpose, not only the results - his job is something more than the critics, who can be excused for their fragmented view on the artist. Maybe Bob didn't succeed, maybe it was the alcohol, or maybe it was the other way around - either way: A biograph must not only take the subjective critics view - then we'll just know a little more about Clinton, and not about Bob. Even harder it is to understand Heylin's comments to Dylan of today - as a man who "artistically is throdding water", referring to his lacking vocal abilities, and that he'll never will be as good as in 78 or 81. Well, of course he'll never gonna be the same again, I don't know anyone who lives with that expectation - and I can't see it's a clever point - I want Bob 2000 - the 78 and 81 is well documented history. Nevertheless, I've seen more than thirty post-81 shows, and 've been constantly inspired by the artists unique ability to transform his struggle with life and art into the most interresting live-act around. I don't think every show was pure gold, of course not - but even on the lowpoints of shows the glimpse of magic has been shining through to me, not only because I'm easy to fool. His ability to work inside his own vocal limits has always been his unsurpassed strengths, in my opinion also today (f.i. I don't think Hard Rain ever was sung better than in Nara, what must be said to be a performance of his Later Days, even if it's a few years ago). I think the Never Ending Tour has been a Bob-vision, like the Rolling Thunder once was - but it's been possible to develop over twelve years because Bob's now is on his own, and his own moods and changes has been the guide all through - and he's now in charge of a tight and potent band who got the ability to mix styles and setlists that few others can copy (Twelve out of nineteen songs were changed from one night to the other - where everyone else makes blueprints of The Shows, Bob makes originals!) The polished treatment of similar sets from night to night will never be a trademark for Bob and his band - but then, I wouldn't travel to Portsmouth to see such a show. As I think of the two Portsmouth shows, I see a combination of professionalism and spontanity - a show that got the audience on their toes even if it's their sixth or seventh show in a row. I see an artist that presents a varied show of bluegrass, country, ballads, both hard and soft rock, blues, even a beautiful jazzy treatment of "Trying to get to heaven". I see an artist that more than any ecclipses the complete specter of human life: faith and disbelief, love and lost love, loneliness and eternity, youth and beauty, age and decay, joy and rage, hope and glory. I see an artist that through his inimitable timing and phrasing, invites he and she who will hear, into his universe of songs and characters and makes it come alive for the zillionth time for new listeners, young boys and girls from the streets of Portsmouth, who never 've seen him before - and who've never seen someone like him before - "he's really something else". There's a time for everything - and this is a time for performing, painting and repainting masterpieces in public - even presenting new songs that never could've been written or sung as good as today - only experience and time could give us "Time out of mind"! I don't see an artist throdding water, drowning in nostalgia, but an artist who ages with dignity and sweet grace, and who has that voice crying in the wilderness that we need even more these days than ever before. And when he takes us all by surprise and give us a soft and tender rendition of "Fourth time around" the first night, he uses his "Midas touch" again - unforgettable, that's what it is. It's poetry, but more than poetry - it's song, but more than song. It's art - coming alive right in front of us! Catch the next show. I know I'll stand in line next time around, too! Johnny Borgan
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