October 30, 2014
Review by Mitch Meyer
As I walked out of the lovely old Paramount Theater the last three nights after
seeing Bob Dylan and his band, one word kept coming to mind: sublime.
Each song is well-crafted in its unique style, with Dylan enunciating each line in
his own unpredictable, expressive style. You never know if he's going to end a
line with a high voice or low voice, and whichever it is tells you nothing about
how he's going to end the next. Or how he'll sing it the next night. He's
telling a story, and telling it differently each time. The sound is brilliant. The
musicianship is subtle and yet thrilling. I'll reveal my baseball sympathies by
saying that Charlie Sexton is the Madison Bumgarner of the band. (The first
two shows inevitably were infused with the agony and, ultimately, ecstasy of
the Giants World Series games that were going on at the time.) I always love
Charlie's virtuosic and tasteful playing, but this was the best I've ever seen
from him. Masterful.
I had a bit of concern about the experience of seeing the exact same set list
performed three nights in a row. I've always felt that three Dylan shows is just
the right number to start settling in and really, deeply appreciating the
performances. But that was always with shows with a lot of variation in song
selection each night. Not to worry. I was just as gripped on the third night
as the first.
Favorite songs: Workingman's Blues No. 2. Pay in Blood. Love Sick. Scarlet
Town. Long and Wasted Years. Simple Twist of Fate. The emotional theme
of the "stories" veers seamlessly from vengeful to wistful to angry to reflective
to murderous … and onwards, touching on the range of human experience
like a tornado hopping through a town.
As for the crowd, it was very different sitting in a theater with all reserved
seating compared to the frequent Bay Area format for Dylan shows of
standing room in front of the stage. With standing room, if you get on line
several hours before the show, you're going to be surrounded during the
concert by several hundred people all of whom know very well what Dylan is
about these days. They totally get it … and love it. No one is surprised that
he doesn't talk to the audience or that his voice is growly (who cares!).
But with reserved seating, you don't have this self-selecting process. At all
three shows, it was very clear that there were quite a few people around who
were not having a real good time. Some of them never clapped at any point
(the woman next to me one night seemed to be seething with anger at the
show), while others did clap politely at the end of each song but clearly were
not connecting with the performance. At the intermission last night, a very
friendly woman in her '50s turned to my friend and me and asked if we had
seen Dylan in concert before. We told her, yeah, many times (probably about
40 for me in the last 15 years … plus the glorious 1974 Dylan-Band mid-afternoon
show at Madison Square Garden, a few years before I more or less dropped out
of Dylan World from 1979-97). She said that she liked his old stuff, but she
didn't know any of these songs and couldn't understand the lyrics. She
clapped politely all night but was obviously disappointed and frustrated.
I have no idea what percentage of the people in attendance were
disappointed/disgusted compared to those having a near religious experience
(e.g. my friend and I), but there were quite a few alienated folks around.
On that theme, let's grapple with what was truly unique about these three
shows: they were the second, third and fourth times ever that Bob ended the
show, not with a couple of his world-famous old masterpieces, but rather with
Sinatra's "Stay with Me." The many fans who were disappointed over all with
the shows had to go into major despair with this one utterly unknown, brief,
indecipherable song as the encore. Dylan's voice was real ragged on the first
night on this song, but got quite a bit better the second two, and the slow,
atmospheric musical accompaniment was lovely. But, heck, even I was pretty
disappointed at how brief the encore was, and on missing out on the old war
horses, AATW and BITW.
But, that is one of the things I love most about Dylan. I'm there first and
foremost to experience what this brilliant, creative artist finds meaningful that
tour, and that particular night. He disappointed almost the entire audience
with that encore … and that's absolutely thrilling and wonderful. He was
willing to take that risk, and confident that his core fans around the world
will ride along with him as he travels his unpredictable creative road.
Make no mistake about it: Dylan and his band right now are sublime. See
them. And, maybe advise your friends who don't know Dylan's new stuff to
check out the lyrics before the show.
Review by Wicky Boyd
Nice review. I'm not an Oakland resident (live 125 n in Mendo County) so
wasn't aware there were ways of standing right in front of the stage at
other Bob shows (wow, good thing I'm old and married or I'd really make an
ass of myself). The crowd WAS kind of disappointed (my husband among
them), but I was not. What a band, what a leader, what a VOICE! I've never
thought of him as having a great voice, until Thursday night. What
control, and rhythmic command. I missed so much in the words but the ones
I did catch--as ironic, evocative, as deeply felt as ever. Bob Dylan
is--what can you say? I love the guy.
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