October 5, 2009
Review by Drew Kampion
Word began to filter down the quarter-mile-long line waiting for the
doors to open at the WaMu Theatre that the seat numbers on our tickets
meant nothing. There were no seats tonight, and the many oldsters
looking forward to kicking back and taking in the Bob show would be
standing. There was some excellent grumbling, I can tell you,
exacerbated by the fact that, after most of us had already purchased
our tickets for tonight’s concert, Dylan’s people announced a second
Seattle date – the night before this at the smaller, classic, and much
more commodious Moore Theatre. Now that was a pisser.
Still, the WaMu, which had been described to me (accurately) as a Wal-
Mart with curtains, had a grandiose gymnasium appeal to it. There
were, indeed, lots of curtains, hanging everywhere, demarcating
special functions (entry, bar & lounge, concessions, restrooms, etc.)
and triangulating the corners of the big central hall, with its waxed
concrete floor, which was bare and exposed for about 70 percent of the
space. The rear 30 percent was low-sloped auditorium seating – comfy
enough but a good 50 yards from the stage. However, there was a warmth
in the new WaMu, part of Seattle’s Qwest Field complex, home to the
Seahawks and Sounders football teams. Maybe it was the theater
darkness, the ambient blue lighting, the amber glow of the concession
booths lining the mezzanine walls. Which brings me to the most
disconcerting aspect of the evening: People with those large tubs of
theater popcorn and oversized sodas slipping into their seats … to
watch Bob Dylan?
This just didn’t seem right. It definitely didn’t smell right. I
hardly sniffed any reefer all through the concert, though I must say
the ventilation kept the air fresh, and that could have been the deal.
Anyway, I’ve noticed (or think I’ve noticed) that when the venue
acoustics are good, Mr. Dylan is good. If he can’t hear himself
properly, or has a sense that he’s not being heard properly, I think
he just goes WTF and tromps on through. Tonight at the WaMu seemed to
confirm the theory. The sound was good and so was he.
The concert was splendid. Bob was strong from the first words of the
evening: “Gonna change my way of thinking, Make myself a different set
of rules.” Such a relief! Although the second number was “Lay Lady
Lay,” a song I profoundly wish he would never perform again, since
he’s a good quarter century past making the prospect sound appealing.
If I were doing a Dylan standup routine, this would be a big part of
Fortunately, “Beyond Here Lies Nothing” quickly brought things right
again. Bob’s new material is growing into a body of work that is truly
redefining our sense of Dylan the artist. There’s a whole universe in
the last four albums of original work, as definitively unique as that
great ’60s period of unequaled poetic creation. The new stuff lacks
the abstract mythology of those more nascent works, but it fully
occupies the present Gestalt (or whatever you want to call it) in that
same way. There’s a great convergence of word and sound and image that
seems to conjure an atmosphere at once literary and abstract and
painfully present. He’s like a teacher of aikido in a nuclear age.
Bob Dylan is no optimist. There’s a profound sadness that comes, in
large measure I suspect, out of the ability of the human race to
continually disappoint. Like, in the sense of hearing what you say as
an artist and visionary but not doing anything about it. I mean, this
man has been warning us about what’s coming since Day One, and here we
are, wallowing in it up to our eyeballs, hooting and cheering, waving
our flicked Bics, hearing and feeling everything he’s been saying for
the past half century almost, and the biggest change that’s come is …
we’re a lot older now.
And yet still he trots out the parables and the chants and the story-
lessons, reminding us that “the hour is getting late,” “State gone
broke, the county’s dry,” “I feel a change coming on, And the fourth
part of the day is already gone,” … “For the love of God, you ought to
take pity on yourself!” … and this from a pretty light-hearted set-list!
I think he’s probably mostly given up. He knows that we’re not really
gonna change. Even so, he’s still holding up his end of the bargain he
made with his own great teacher. He is contractually obliged to take
his mission seriously, no matter its futility.
“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke. But
you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate, So let
us not talk falsely now, the hour is … late.”
Whidbey Island, Washington
Review by Steve Rostkoski
Even though the WaMu Theatre performance featured essentially the same opening
and closing numbers as the night before, it was an entirely different animal.
Almost right away, the song selection felt a bit more 'standard," as a
crowd-friendly "Lay Lady Lay" replaced the trainspotter "Shooting Star." Over
half of Together Through Life made up the core of the set, giving it a more
unified feeling than the Moore concert. These new country blues songs are
perfect for a live setting with lots of nuances for the band to explore. They're
up for the challenge, too. Dylan and his ensemble effortlessly shifted from the
slow blues of "My Wife's Hometown" and "If You Ever Go to Houston's" breezy
swing, to a soulful "I Feel a Change Comin' On." A moody "Forgetful Heart,"
perhaps my favorite from the LP, was especially fine. Herron added an eerie
violin that enhanced its desolate atmosphere.
Another highlight was "Honest With Me," anchored by a mysterious Peter Gunn-like
riff from Charlie, perking up the song considerably from its slightly worn out
welcome of the past few years. On previous tours, "Memphis Blues Again" became a
lumbering excuse to simply rock out with Dylan often rushing the lyrics. Tonight
the song was closer to how I always wished it were played. Stu Kimball's loud
acoustic guitar strumming (yes, I could actually hear him for once!) made it a
fun light-footed romp with Dylan spitting out the words staccato-style,
mimicking his rhythmic keyboard playing. This time we did get a third encore in
the form of a majestic "All Along the Watchtower," providing a more satisfying
wrap up to the evening.
I preferred the rough-and-tumble, anything goes, intimate vibe of the Moore, but
the WaMu concert was no slouch either. Both shows prove Dylan is on yet another
roll. With Charlie Sexton back in the fold, Bob and the band seem ready for
anything. Things could get interesting on this latest leg of the Never Ending
Tour. Once again, Bob Dylan is keeping us on our toes.
Review by Tim Whittome
If there was a certain irony to Bob Dylan playing a show in a place named
after a now defunct Seattle-based company, he didn't really show it through any
comments or introductions between songs. As anyone who has heard tapes of the
Houston shows from 1981 will attest to, or from comments from many of the 1986
shows with Tom Petty, Bob has not been averse in the past to making comments on
local characters and misfortunes. Not on the night he played the WAMU Center,
though, unless you count the overall mood of the set list as one of scorn for
humanity in general? I digress, miserable though the loss of Washington Mutual
has been for Seattle, most of the time, we are trying to move on here and then
there is always Boeing to depress us in the wings.
Anyway, Bob's two Seattle shows were almost uniformly outstanding. Great
new opener in Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking - not immediately recognizable to
this reviewer at the Moore Theater but a powerhouse arrangement once I got more
in tune with its opening bars at the WAMU Center.
I think that on balance the WAMU show was the better of the two, despite the
fact that Highway 61, Honest With Me and a somewhat tired Thunder on the
Mountain all graced the latter show along with the usual tuneless Lay Lady Lay -
a song that has not worked well live since a brief outing in 1984 (notably at
Barcelona) and the raucous 1976 Rolling Thunder versions. For much of the last
twenty years or so of the Never Ending Tour, this song has rarely worked however
Bob has tried to work it. At this point, I can't even give him full marks for
The Modern Times and Together Through Life songs all worked very well indeed
with the exception of the now tedious and largely tuneless Thunder on the
Mountain and for this Seattle audience, it was nice to get to hear Nettie Moore
for the first time. Those who were at the Key Arena in 2006 - his last show in
the Seattle area - will well recall that we got shortchanged with only three
songs from Modern Times. Tremendous versions of My Wife's Home Town, Forgetful
Heart and Beyond Here Lies Nothing testified nicely to the strength of Bob's
recent work - especially in live performance. Not so sure that Jolene will
continue to be popular with audiences after multiple hearings but this is often
the case when Bob doesn't toss in variety in some set list slots but becomes
predictable. Highway 61 and Like A Rolling Stone have long since passed their
sell by dates in live performance short of being slowed right down and
dramatically changed. This said, another tired warhorse, Honest with Me- now
performed to its dying breath as a song - did still have some life in it with
Dylan moving center stage and gesticulating to some inner muse. Same for the
great versions of Ballard of a Thin Man that graced both nights in powerhouse
arrangements. Dylan still manages to keep this old staple fresh and alive and
one of the reasons for this is that in live performance between the 1966 and
1984shows, the song stumbled a little and has only picked up well since the 1984
European Tour and 1986 and 1987 outings. Others may well disagree but I have
never really enjoyed the 1978 and 1981 versions of this song but since those
years, it has definitely made a good comeback live and the performances in
Seattle were no exception to this.
Unquestionably, a wild looking Charlie Sexton added some panache and energy to
both shows and at the Moore, he played some solos from the floor of the stage.
Bob seemed delighted to have him and the two would play to one another in an
intensive dance - Bob looking mostly inscrutable but intent on his guitarist and
Charlie looking focused and energized, eager not to disappoint boss or audience.
The remainder of the band was much as usual - tight, rehearsed, competent but
largely lacking the stand out flair that Sexton brought to the shows. In
introducing the band, Dylan finally recognized Tony Garnier as someone who has
been around a long time. Where once Garnier was introduced as the man who was
playing bass 'tonight' as if he had just dropped by, now he gets introduced as
the guy playing bass 'as usual'. Tony has been playing with Bob since the Den
Haag show of 1989 - a staggering 20 years now and age appears to be finally
catching up on him. Interestingly, both he and Bob appeared to be displaying
almost identical and somewhat expensive looking diamond and silver wedding
rings! Anyone know anything on Bob's status here - can there have been a third
marriage no one has known about?
If I had to make one suggestion, I would say that I wish that the band had
more subtlety in their artistry. They throw every instrument into every
song and more slowed down arrangements I think would help Bob's voice a lot
because one of the two questions I always would love to be able to ask him is
'how do you stand it night after night throwing so much of your voice into each
song?' The other question would be - 'Do you take away many memories of the
towns and cities you visit?' For example, 'Did anything strike you about
Seattle at this time?'
Apart from my usual criticism of the way that American audiences move around
incessantly during shows, the crowds on both nights were hugely enthusiastic and
it was certainly a relief that after a three wait for us Seattleites that Bob
had finally put the poor memories of his lackluster 2006 show at the Key Arena
to rest. For this we can be thankful and I hope that he can keep up this pace
down the road as he inches across the country towards New York.
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