October 10, 2012
Review by Peter
Calgary had its first taste of winter October 10th, with a light snow
falling most of the day. Having seen Dylan kick off his North American
tour in Lloydminster just a few months ago, I had no intention of
attending this concert. But as showtime neared I, of course, began to
feel the lure, as any longtime fan surely would. (Let's face it: at this
point, any opportunity might be my last opportunity to see the mortal bard
in concert.) I gave a friend a call. He'd long ago promised himself he
would never attend another concert at the acoustically-challenged
Saddledome but was interested in seeing Knopfler. So, on impulse, we
hopped in the truck and headed for town. We settled into our seats a
dozen rows back from the stage just as the lights dimmed announcing
Knopfler's arrival. I haven't kept up with Knopfler's career, although I
was a Dire Straits fan and even saw them in concert in this same god awful
venue more than 25 years ago. Anyway, despite my unfamiliarity with the
songs, I found them all instantaneously engaging. He and his band
provided a very pleasing mash-up of British and American folk styles with
some rockabilly and blues thrown in for good measure. The arrangements
had great nuance and colour; rich and refined and wonderfully performed.
It warm, laid-back and certainly pleasing to the ear. He was, quite
rightly, warmly received by the audience. I knew Dylan would be a profound
and jarring contrast, so much so that I might not even be ready for it.
But, in the end, I think what surprised me most was how quickly he was
able to shift the energy of the room. Out he comes to Watching the River
Flow, pounding on the piano and bleating away, 'what's the matter with me?
I don't have too much to say...' and everyone on the floor is standing,
grooving to the beat. Granted, down on the floor, he's preaching to the
choir. Still, Dylan and the audience seem to be feeding off each other.
It Ain't Me, Babe is a little listless and suffers from Dylan's obvious
vocal limitations, but once he's back centre stage for Things Have Changed
and Tangled Up in Blue he's shakin' not stirrin', spitting out the lyrics
with conviction while the band is cooking behind him, with some excellent
interplay between Charlie Sexton and Donnie Herron. At this point, things
are going marvelously well. I know it can't last.
Showman Bob disappears for a while, and out pops Force of
Nature/Antagonist Bob: wild, mercurial and chaotic. Honest With Me is
aimless and indecipherable. But it's nothing compared to the catastrophe
that comes a few songs later: Bob begins hammering the same three note
chord which seems to have no relation to what the rest of the band is
playing. Thelonius Monk? Probably more like Thelonious Monkey. Donnie
Herron peers over Dylan's shoulder hoping some sort of sign is
None is. Is it Desolation Row? ... Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues? ...
Bassist Tony Garnier looks bemused. He probably knows there'll be no
reining the boss in on this one. Finally, we hear: 'ain't it just like
the night ..' This makes a positive id possible, Visions of Johanna, but
the melody and beat remain missing in action for the duration of the song.
Instead, impetuous and child-like, Dylan continues with his ill-advised
atonal molestation of the ivories, gleefully drowning out and confounding
the band. Was there a single person in the venue who was not relieved
when this abomination finally concluded? Maybe Bob Dylan, but that's it.
And yet, sandwiched between those two natural disasters a sensitive,
melodic and instantly recognizable rendering of Joey that even had some of
us singing along. Go figure. And Simple Twist of Fate was also nicely
performed with Bob playing lead guitar with a surprisingly deft touch.
Having driven away the last of the unbelievers, Dylan's catharsis of chaos
is seemingly complete and the remainder of the concert builds to a
rollicking conclusion with especially stellar versions of All Along the
Watchtower and Ballad of a Thin Man, despite being two of the most
overdone songs in the playbook. My friend by now is pointedly holding his
hands over his ears. There are many testimonials in the local paper the
next day of those who left after three or four songs, disgruntled and
disgusted and appalled. I guess they haven't heard: Dylan's gone
electric. It seems many fans are offended when Dylan refuses to exhibit
the same reverence for the songs that they have. Hey, Dylan was on stage
about 90 minutes and he gave us one great hour. A .660 batting percentage
is pretty good, if you ask me. Finally, a few thoughts on the stage and
lighting: There were several mirrors set at the front of the stage,
pointing back at the audience. And for a good portion of the show, the
band was backlit, with those lights, too, pointed back at us. I assumed
this served the utilitarian function of discouraging photography. But it
also occurred to me there might be a message in the madness: a reminder
that we are here for music - and music is about sound - not sight, not
spectacle. Bravo, Mr. Dylan! Truly, you have no peer.
Review by Mark Kryzan
Thank God Mr. Knopfler decided to play one song from his 1980s Dire
Straits catalogue (So Far Away From You). That raised the mood in the
He's a very good fingerstyle guitarist and watching him up close was a
treat, but much of his solo stuff suffers from being rather ephemeral ---
musical landscaping building over 5 to 6 minutes to a climax --- and it
has a tendency to repeat that pattern and it gets boring.
He's 63 years old and showing his age and leans on a very talented to move
things along. Compared to Neil Young, who's 4 years older, or Pete
Townshend who's 3 years older, MK decidedly lacks vigour.
Now onto Bob. Going to see Dylan (age 71) on his Never Ending Tour is
something not for the faint of heart and not recommended if you have any
expectations whatsoever and are not loving his recent work.
Bob surprised this time.
First of all, he's all but abandoned electronic keyboards (the guitar went
a long time ago) in favour of the piano turned up way over the rest of the
band. At moments it sounded odd. The style was more rock last night than
the excellent rockabilly-swing stuff he has perfected in his last four new
Sometimes he manages to play decent rag time/ rock/ bluesy/ boogie-woogie
style piano and other times, he plays a horrendously simple grating toy
piano/ chopsticks style. Ouch!!!!!
The harmonica is for filler only. Fortunately the band is great and
several of them know Bob well and can adjust to whatever mood or tempo
Last night he was generous: he strode around on the stage in the middle of
Ballad of a Thin Man, and for no particular reason, other than to pose for
punters on the far side from the piano. He spent about 30% of the time
out front --- a lot for him. He's not a man that wants to be seen --- he
just wants to be heard.
He did Visions of Johanna and Joey (he's only done that one about 50-60
times live) to the piano with his maladroit if menacing em-PHA-sis on the
wrong SYLL-abels, but the piano playing was just too awful --- really bad,
cringingly so --- to deliver these songs.
But then others surprised: Tangled Up in Blue (with some nifty new
lyrics), It Ain't Me Babe & Beyond Here Lies Nothing all led by Bob's
plunking piano, were mightily delivered songs. He was animated: Ballad of
a Thin Man (with an absolutely awful and overused echo effect), Things
Have Changed and All Along the Watchtower came alive, especially Things
Have Changed --- he was menacing and drawing out every possible meaning
and nuance like he wrote that one yesterday (did you see the Oscar
statuette on the piano awarded for that song?).
For Simple Twist of Fate Dylan picked up the Fender and got right into the
song. Last time here, he didn't play guitar at all, so that was a treat.
He played no barre chords but again his instrument was turned up overt the
band --- unusual for Bob.
Like I said: you either like what you see and you're into the new
rockabilly and swinging Bob (not so new at 71, but you know what I mean)
or you're not. Lots of folks were not and didn't bother to stay for the
encore (a forgettable version of Blowin' In The Wind).
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