Review by Jimmy Row
If Nottingham was a good show - and I still think it was great - how many times better was NEC?
A sign near the stage correctly said "Way Out" - this show was so far out it is celestial. My
vocabulary I fear lags behind. Atmosphere was brewing in the NEC even before the show. As soon
as the band hit the stage the crowd surged to the front and all were on their feet. Dylan and
band seemed to respond and were standing in line soaking up a long standing ovation before and
after the "encores". Bob though remained typically inscrutable. I did not notice much of the
laughing and smiling reported at Manchester but the interaction on stage was still intensely
obvious. Each band member richly deserved the ecstatic round of applause when the maestro
introduced them. In this stage setup - to pursue a soccer metaphor - Dylan presides over the
midfield powerhouse of Keyboard in front of Donnie Herron, next to George Recile's drums and
Tony Garnier's fluid bass, with on the wings (like Southend United in the 60s - while Dylan
was transcending the folk mafia - with the speedy Woodley on the right and tricky McKinven on
the left providing goalscoring opportunities that Dylan does not squander). As Andy Gill
rightly pointed out in his Independent review Herron alternates between pedal and lap (is this
technically correct? It is a steel guitar on a stand but without the pedals) steel which Donnie
exploits like Baxter and Campbell before him but in his own inimitable and even more expressive
way; from the weeping and wailing country sound all the way through to an electric guitar
soloing which is just startling. He pulled out the mandolin tonight to great effect on Johanna
and Hattie Carroll, but no violin sadly. The band seemed to cut loose of any inhibitions tonight
with Denny Freeman providing some magnificent solos and fills and Stu Kimball likewise perhaps
tending more toward the old rhythm role on his range of guitars. The acoustic was superb on
Memphis Blues and Johanna. The keyboard sparkled and shone through. Maybe the sound mix was
better tonight. The thing is each member contributes his part to a satisfying whole: the stage,
indeed the arena, is dominated by Bob Dylan's presence, vocals and songs. Not just his songs
whose lyrics alone written on the wall could captivate the arena but his music as delivered by
Lucky Luke at his first Dylan show to hear two of the greatest songs ever written performed
superbly: Chimes of Freedom featuring Herron's steel, Visions of Johanna featuring inventive
solo from Freeman. If It's Alright Ma is the creed, Chimes is the only manifesto you need,
and Visions of Johanna impossible to characterise is where we hear the all night girls and
much much more of the naked poems in wonder, as Bob's delivery of the vocals was just
magisterially dramatic rising and swooping on demand as the band rolled through impeccable
momentum. One particular person I know wanted to hear Memphis Blues Again and the wish was
granted with another stellar version; I am always wanting to hear this song again, a paradigm
of one facet of Dylan's art. Highway 61 (with riotously extended space section, Summer Days
(coruscating and gleaming "of course you can"), Like A Rolling Stone (beautifully played) and
Watchtower ("princess kept the view"?) were served up again in lavish and spectacular
performances with all the coloration to be wrung out of them.
Maggie's Farm was the opener, hinting at things to come: Tell Me It Isn't True (with the
ironic "it doesn't sound right" I tell you well and truly contradicted tonight) and River
Flow burst out with Herron already impressing. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues - another Dylan
masterpiece - has surely not been better performed, with the band developing its own version
of the trademark riff. Even Mr Tambourine Man - yet another poetic landmark - was given a
magnificent reading at a sedate pace enlivened by Herron's steel and Dylan's vocal. In any
other show these would be a highlight but tonight they seem almost run of the mill in a
consistently brilliant set. A storming Thin Man where it is great to see and hear Bob on
piano. The transcendent Chimes could only be followed by something as classy as the reworked
Till I Fell In Love With You, picking up the bluesy / jazzy groove of Time Out Of Mind which
would make Waters and Wolf proud. Honest with Me exploded the visions' tranquillity as one of
the three representatives of "later" Dylan albums but this tour is documenting yet another
"new Dylan". A powerfully delicate reading of Hattie Carroll developing the excellent 2003
version lowered the tempo but not the profundity reading; tears to the eyes indeed.
This wall of sound is constructed by an inspired architect with beautiful brickwork, pediments,
carved columns and sculpting; the keystone is Bob Dylan. The lady standing next to me her head
was not exactly exploding but she assured us that Manchester and Glasgow were even
better - barely credible but with Dylan not impossible.
Review by Mr. Jinx
'RAISING THE DEAD AT THE NEC.'
On a night like this you don't find and measure Bob Dylan's limits; you
simply find your own. There are no words to describe what Dylan did at the
NEX tonight. I shall try but rest assured whatever I say will fall short.
This was the single greatest show I have ever seen (and I have
seen him twenty five times to date). It had nothing to do with
the venue - the NEC is still a ghastly place with all the soul
of an estate agents' convention. It had nothing to do with
the position of my seat - I was well back on the floor, acres
from the band and far enough away from Bob to render him an
indistinct smudge in what I took to be a black hat. No, this
was all about the utterly mesmerising nature of the
If I told you that Bob performed the greatest versions of
Ballad of a Thin Man, Visions of Johanna and Chimes of Freedom
since the '60s would you believe me? No. Of course you
wouldn't. You'd say I was running away with myself. You'd
say I was hysterical. But actually you'd be wrong. If there
are finer versions of these songs in existence I have yet to
hear them. Bob took each one to entirely new destinations.
He employed a mighty array of voices and vocal tones from the
subtle and pleading soft-paw to the downright terrifying and
declamatory. You just have to hear the discs when they
circulate. Please make it a priority. Then you will know I'm
not making this up.
An exquisite new arrangement of Til I Fell In Love With You, a
brilliant Stuck Inside of Mobile and a righteous, thundering
Highway 61 completed an embarrassment of riches. Not to
mention a gorgeous Hattie Carroll and a beautiful Tambourine
Man. I suspect that Watchtower was pretty special, too, but
by that point I was so carpet-bombed I could barely take in
any more. All I remember was two riders approaching . the
rest is a blur.
Let me repeat this so you are clear: this was a seriously
great show. Bob Dylan took me on journeys to places I did not
even know existed inside these songs. He was in full command
of his awesome songbook. Short of healing the blind and
raising the dead at Brixton it is hard to imagine how he can
Odd footnote: on the way back to London we passed the tour bus on the
M25. 'Oh my God,' said my friend at the wheel, 'we've just overtaken Bob
Dylan!' We hadn't, of course. Nobody overtakes Bob Dylan . however fast
Review by Derek Mankelow
DOES IT GET ANY BETTER THAN THIS ?
Having long lost all sense of any objective reality of my own I am pleased
to confirm that there was as much enjoyment expressed after the Birmingham
show by non-regular Dylan watchers as those 'usual suspects' that occupy
the key vantage points at the 2005 UK shows. Again his singing was loud
and strong. The band equally so, perhaps a notch too much for some of the
purists but what-the-heck this is LIVE performing and yes it does mean the
night goes swirling and whirling and you lose all sense of time amidst the
mayhem that this artist can create. So, when the stunning standout
have-I-died-and-gone-to-heaven version of Visions Of Johanna came to a
close I had to weigh this moment up against many special performances of
great songs from over the years and reflect upon how fortunate we were to
be where we were on this sublimely crisp Friday evening in November. True,
Bob Dylan's Summer Days and Summer Nights may have gone but this is no
worn out star we are watching. Not even close..
The crowd sensed this from the outset, and unlike the subdued and reticent
old folkniks of Nottingham, this motley crew surged towards the stage even
before Bob had informed us he was no longer wishing to be employed at the
rural location known as Maggie's farm. I was a pushover but I think Dylan
really had the rest of the crowd in the palm of his piano-stabbing hand
(other than the portion of the multitude seated immediately behind him of
course...) by the time the closing harmonica break of Tell Me That It
Isn't True had rippled through the cavern that is the NEC Arena.
By the time he had completed a studied version of Tom Thumb's Blues, a
truly epic finger-pointing Ballad Of A Thin Man and, to complete the
trilogy, a rave-up on Highway 61 we were considering the prospect of a
show made up of the entire seminal 1965 album Revisited. Instead,
following a wonderful version of Tambourine Man done as a poem, and Stuck
Inside Of Mobile we get............Chimes Of Freedom. So, not as totally
unexpected as say Caribbean Wind might have been but a riveting wild
ripping hail version that did everything it should to leave us so
completely on the side of the abandoned, luckless, strung-out ones and
worse - he probably missed a verse but whose counting.?
For others the highlights may well have been a perfect Lonesome Death Of
Hattie Carroll, a great Watching The River Flow, or the legendary
drop-dead knock-em-out encores. Maybe some were moved more by the after
show versions done by enterprising buskers in the underpasses, but I will
need to listen again to the Birmingham Visions Of Johanna and probably a
couple of other live versions of this timeless classic to see if I was the
victim of some trick of the night perpetrated on me by the magician Dylan
or (and this is my working hypothesis) it really was a good as it
Review by Jeremy Stone
I was seated only ten rows from the front and to the left of centre but I thought I’d linger
by the rail anyway. No chance! The over officious stewards informed us rail-hangers that we
would very soon be herded back to our seats. I presume that they didn’t put having fun very
near the top of their list of priorities for the gig goers! Fair enough, I suppose. During my
pre-show sojourn at the front I did take note of the large number of beads draped strategically
around the stage, signifying I don’t know what. I also noted the Oscar (or at least a copy),
placed behind Bob’s set-up. A violin that would remain untouched all evening stood next to
The lights went down and the usual wonderful introduction really got the adrenaline flowing
and then,’ bang!’ the band kicked straight into ‘Maggie’s Farm’. I’d actually been hoping for
‘Drifter’s Escape’ but this was a solid start; to my ears, Bob’s voice sounded good and strong.
There is savage beauty in those cracked vocal chords that can, at times, transcend any vocal
limitations he now has. Tonight we were to be in for some very good singing indeed. Next was a
lovely ‘Tell Me That It Isn’t True’ which saw Bob make it to centre-stage for some harp blowing
and leg-wiggling; it’s nice to see him enjoying himself. ‘Watching The River Flow’ was another
strong showing from a band which sounded much tighter than I’d expected. Much of the soloing is
merely functional but as an ensemble they are now working pretty well. Donnie is particularly
good and adds some lovely pedal-steel licks.
The first real highlight of the night came with ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ which began a
run of songs from Highway 61 Revisited. Next, ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’ was equally good. Bob
seemed to be putting a lot into his vocals. You could still feel the vitriol behind the words.
I think they then got a little lost during the song, ‘Highway 61 Revisited’, which started
solidly but meandered towards the end as if they weren’t really sure how best to finish it.
‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ was, naturally, well received and was an okay reading but didn’t strike
me as anything special and then things started to go a little dull with ‘Memphis Blues Again’;
a song that has never grabbed me live, I’m afraid. Perhaps that’s just personal taste but I’ve
heard it done a few times now and normally look forward to the end. ‘Can this really be the
end’? It was and we were blessed with a lovely ‘Chimes of Freedom’ for our pains. I’ve not
witnessed this song live before and even though it’s never been near the top of my all-time
Dylan list, this pushed it up a notch or two in my heart. As if this wasn’t enough, Dylan
really surprised me next with an excellent, slightly rearranged, ‘Til I Feel In Love With You’.
Bob sang this with some passion and the band rose to the occasion in a suitable fashion.
So far, so pretty good. Still, what I assumed would be, the highlight was still waiting for us.
‘Visions of Johanna’ was just about perfect: a lovely band arrangement, with Donnie on some
kind of electric mandolin thing and Dylan really feeling his way through the lyric. Some of his
phrasing was unusual and welcome, drawing applause mid-song from an appreciative audience. Just
when it looked like Bob was giving Love & Theft the night off, they skipped into ‘Honest With
Me’, which was fine by me. At least it wasn’t ‘Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum’ but, on the other
hand, it wasn’t ‘Mississippi’ either. Still, it rocked out nicely and was enjoyed by an
audience that had been very enthusiastic right from the word go.
So ‘Visions of Johanna’ had seemed to be a peak…but wait; the best was yet to come. I was almost
knocked off my feet with delight to hear that ancient masterpiece, ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie
Carroll’. Bob really put his back into this one. His vocal shone all over a pretty but not
inappropriate arrangement. He really meant this one and made the song sound as relevant today as
it was back in ’64. So good it even put ‘Johanna’ marginally in the shade.
After this absolute high we couldn’t expect any better and we didn’t get it but what we did get
was a nice, if basically uninspiring, run into and through the encore. I’d be glad for ‘Summer
Days’ to be put out to graze for a while and replaced by something like ‘Cat’s In The Well’ or
an oldie like ‘You Angel You’ or ‘One More Weekend’ (the 70’s were good, too, Bob) but it serves
as a nice celebratory closer. After the obligatory but always cool line-up at the end they came
back for ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ and ‘All Along The Watchtower’. Both were fine enough but not
great. The peaks of this show had come earlier on with some more reflective songs. They lined
up again at the end and Bob looked pretty pleased, I think. He held up his harp and I’m sure I
detected a ‘thumb’s up’ too.
This was one of the best shows I’d personally seen Dylan do since about at least 2000 and maybe
even before. The band were better than I expected and when Dylan is ‘on song’ he can make the
most functional group of musos in the world sound like they are capable of playing out of their
skins. Maybe someday, this lot will. Nice one, Bob.
Review by Martin Gayford
I thought Bob's performance at the NEC last night was kinda up and down.
I found quite a few of the opening songs good but not great. Several
seemed like they could have been great, which was a little frustrating.
What makes Bob amazing is when he's putting everything (or almost
everything) into a performance. Ballad of a Thin Man and Memphis Blues
Again were good, and I quite liked Mr Tambourine Man (although there was a
good deal of 'upsinging'). Then the last half of Chimes of Freedom, and
all of Visions of Johanna and Hattie Carroll were truly great. The band
were fine, quite understated and with some nice solos. The emphasis
seemed to be on Bob's voice, which was great, except that I think he could
have been a bit more creative with it on some songs. And Bob, if you're
listening : a couple of solo acoustic songs on guitar (Gates of Eden?
Review by Gerry Mooney
Got into a very cold Birmingham from Belfast early morning
for my first show since Galway last year. Arrived early at NEC which was
very sparsely peopled by 7.15. However the place was full to the rafters
by 7.40 when the show began with an expected but solid Maggies Farm. I
wont to a track by track review suffice to say that the show had a weak
spell in the middle-Tambourine Man, Stuck inside Mobile and Chimes of
Freedom. Whilst it was great to hear the last of the trio it suffered
considerably from the notorious up-singing. There were strong versions of
Till I fell in Love with you, Honest with Me and Summer Days and they were
inter- spersed with what were for me two of the nights highlights,
wonderful versions of Visions of Johanna and Hattie Carroll. The first was
sung in a broken staccato form which really worked, for me anyway. Hattie
Carroll had a jazz tinge!! if that can be right. There was a great Ballad
of a Thin Man when the Boss sang just as acidly as he did when he first
wrote the song. Hway 61,and the encore numbers LARS and Watchtower did
what they always do - got the place rocking. The band may not be
Sexton/Campbell etc but they are a work in progress. Next stop Brixton on
23/24 I,m hoping for the setlist with John Brown and Masters of War in it.
Review by Andrew Edgington
Summer Days on a Wintery Day
‘Bob was fab!’ – always best to start a review with a comment from someone more objective than
yourself. My wife has seen Bob 3 times so she’s earned time off for good behaviour. So I took
Jane – who thought he was ‘fab’. She’s a pop music quiz wizard who I’d back against anyone in
a ‘name the intro’ competition. Her spare time is bathed in music – radio; CDs; shows; even
Glastonbury 2005. There are two men in her life - her husband who suffers a deeply disturbing
allergic reaction to Bob Dylan – and David Bowie.
It was definitely the coldest day I ever seen Bob – I even pitied the guys peddling dubious
T-shirts and posters – and my ears were tingling by the time we got from the car to the NEC.
The auditorium was full – I don’t think I’ve seen that on previous visits. Chatting to a few
people it’s obviously the impact of the wonderful recent TV coverage.
The huge black aircraft hangar that calls itself the NEC is good acoustically but such a drab
place. How can anyone design an arena of such vast acreage and then contrive to end up with
multiple blockage points where you can’t get from A to B without getting held up in crush of
Fed up with the security guys and the general melee of the seating on the main floor at
previous shows I chose to sit on the terraces this time. We had seats on the side stands some
way back but at least we had Bob semi facing us. The poor people opposite saw only one
instance of Bob venturing from his keyboard to play harp out front.
Behind us were some enthusiastic and garrulous youngsters who’d not seen Bob before. You feel
your age when other audience members say they’re there because their parents are Bob fans.
They asked what he’d start with so I said ‘Maggie’s Farm’ in all probability, and that they
could confidently expect ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ at the end.
For those who like to know, Bob wore a black Gaucho Spanish hat and black suit with a
sequinned turquoise shirt that occasionally sparkled so much in the lighting that I thought
at first he might be wearing one of those stupid flashy party brooches. The band wore grey
suits and dark blue shirts. George wore that black beret – was I imagining it or was it my
viewing angle but did he seem a bit more visible and less obscured by his kit?
At 7.35 Copeland struck up ‘Fanfare’ and some ‘Rodeo’ which was what we used to get a few
years ago – then the lengthy ‘haze of substance misuse’ intro and we were off to a flying
A lively and promising start - well received by a delighted audience.
Good acoustics; good sound mix throughout – Denny Freeman and Donnie Herron were both
prominent. George seemed a bit less loud – good - and Bob’s keyboard plus Stu Kimball’s
guitar were both quite low.
Bob’s voice seemed good and strong to me. His range is holding up well. I can’t sing like I
did 30 years ago so why should we expect it of him after he’s given his all throughout so
many shows since then? I sense he was back at least to the level of the 2002 shows I saw.
Listen to a tape 2 years from now and we’ll all say it was a golden era. Jane was disappointed
only by his enunciation of the lyrics – she loves his poetry and I have to agree with her that
a bit more attention to getting the words out clearly would really enhance one’s enjoyment no
I was very relieved that he only did a little bit of upsinging and growling, and it didn’t
start until ‘Thin Man’ and even then wasn’t a feature throughout any one song. Dare I say it
but did I detect, in fact, a bit of ‘downsinging’ from time to time? A kind of thoughtful
gliding away from a few line endings?
Tell me that it isn’t true
A harp solo delivered from out front and some lovely lap steel – Donnie sits very close to Bob
and very rarely takes his eyes off him, he looks anxious but makes a lovely contribution to
the overall sound and balance
Watching the River Flow
A good clear introduction – Donnie was prominent again, and Bob gave another harp solo.
Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues
15 points for me in the Dylan Pool – excellent. Stu Kimball had a problem with his guitar?
tuning? capo? String?, but it didn’t spoil it. Bob’s voice was subtle and covered a good range.
Through my ‘bins’ I noticed that Oscar for the first time – I was surprised as that’s been
around since, what 2001?
Ballad of a Thin Man
First sign of upsinging and growling – but not too much and we had a nice harp piece again.
Nice clean and clear guitar from Denny.
I quite like that stoppy/starty bit in the middle – this one had all the audience clapping away.
Audience recognition and enjoyment was very high throughout.
Mr Tambourine man
Tony on stand up bass and some lilting lap steel on this one. Pretty recognisable version – I
can remember seeing him do this back in 2001 in Nashville and a long time Dylan freak turned
to me half way through and said ‘What IS this?’
Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
Highlight was a memorable clear solo from Denny. He stands such a long way across the stage from
Bob and is very undemonstrative, but I like his understated approach.
Chimes of Freedom
The red curtains parted at this point and we were treated to a lilting version with more
pleasant pedal steel.
‘Til I fell in Love with You
A new arrangement for me, quite upbeat. I’ve never had much time for this song, though, and we
had a little growling along the way.
Visions of Johanna
I think this was the high point for me. Supreme song, excellent performance. Mandolin (that is
a mandolin isn’t it?) from Donnie.
Honest with Me
Virtuoso drumming from George
Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Checked after the show and I think was the first outing for this on the tour. Nice starry night
effect back stage and a thoughtful performance from Bob.
I think the Charlie/Larry recording and live performances are too deeply ingrained for me to
enjoy other versions at present. Audience liked it though.
Line up and into encores
Like a Rolling Stone
Audience rapture as usual – followed by naming the band including where they come from in
USA.. Purple ‘eye’ logo back stage.
All Along the Watchtower
All in all a very good and enjoyable show – after Newcastle last year I even toyed with the
idea of not seeing Bob this time. But this was good – Bob is still wonderful value and when
your personal enthusiasm is validated by non Bob fans it’s a good feeling.
Review by Michael Morgan
'And Madonna she still has not showed'
Mrs Ritchie gave a 35 minute show in London on Thursday and got halfpage
reviews in the papers. Bob and his Band entertained us for nearly two
hours and don't get a mention. This was a show that exceeded my
expectations. First, the sound in the Arena, at least from where we were,
was great. Second, the new band is superb, better than I was led to
believe. Denny and Stu, the two guitarists swapped solos and weaved their
riffs in rocking versions of Maggies Farm and Watching the River Flow,
and later on some of Denny's playing was really beautiful and inventive.
The whole band were tighter together than those I heard on the 2003
and 2004 tours. They nearly lost the way on a moody instrumental break
on Highway 61 but even there they were obviously listening and playing
off each other. The set list contained some of the usual stalwarts, in
some interesting new arrangements, but there's nothing wrong with opening
with Maggie's Farm and ending with All along the Watchtower. Bob is a
showman and the set had a good mix of rockers and slower poetic numbers.
There were enough rarities to please the regular followers - Chimes of
Freedom, Visions of Johanna and Till I fell in love with you were my
highlights - and some good renditions of the great songs from Highway 61
Revisited. Which brings me to Bob himself. He used his growly voice to
great effect to put over the words of Tom Thumb - man, they expect the
same - and Ballad of a Thin Man - there ought to be a law against you
coming around. The tunes were sometime discarded in favour of a
story-telling, almost-spoken delivery, but he was obviously fully
committed to making us listen again to his words. You felt again for the
sad fate of poor Hattie Carroll, with the mood set by some subtle guitar
work from Denny. The only one that didn't work for me was Tambourine Man
where the up-singing became irritating and distracting. There was no
sense of going through the same old ritual, Bob was clearly enjoying
himself and at one point even smiled at George. The crowd stood up in
their seats, attentive and appreciative but there wasn't much dancing.
Comments I heard on the way out were all very positive. One guy said it
was the best Bob Dylan show he'd been to for ten years.
Finally, I'd like to mention how helpful and friendly the whole staff of
the Arena were to me as a (temporarily) disabled visitor. If any of you
are reading this, thanks again.
Review by Ian S. Blagbrough
The NEC Birmingham 2005 had an excellent set list for the 12,000 fans who started the concert, many
paying about £40 a head (did Miss "Please, I need a free-ticket" get in?). The set overall certainly
did appear to satisfy the majority. It had real highlights, perhaps not one of those "worth the
ticket price alone" moments, but certainly four each worth a quarter, if you get my drift. The
audience responded well and certainly appropriately, even if we did not earn or deserve a 17th
number; the set list is spot on and we got the current 14+2 story. For those who do not want to
read the blow-by-blow below, suffice to say is was all good to very good, certainly "the voice"
is in fine form after 6-weeks touring, we were not snarled at (often), and the three small sections
of up-singing were fully understandable in their context. Lots of over 50s and many over 60s who
applauded well and right to the end (if they remained). Bottom line, the machine-gun drum beats
and drum rolls of this particular version of H61 which dropped away to only about 2,000 folk clicking
their fingers as all the lights went out save UP-lighting, and the now long shadowy troubadour gave
us this up-tempo H61 to only our finger-click accompaniment, moving smoothly back for a fine take of
loud hard-rock really won our hearts. It was excellent, you had to be there for that moment.
Intimacy in a huge 12,000 seater barn! You do not expect much when you attend the NEC Birmingham,
but this was an excellent set, without Larry Campbell and with pedal and lap-steels high up in the
mix, it is a really different sound, much more towards JWH and Unplugged, less of Real Live.
Blow-by-blow: And so we find ourselves at the great cavernous beast that is the NEC. Late November
2005 has brought the first frosts and car-parking was slightly less chaotic than usual, although the
motorway traffic still requires you to leave an extra hour to arrive here in good time. Excellent
joshing atmosphere as people move across the car-park at 6.00 pm, but these are not all Bob-cats,
and expectations are bound to be unmet, as he is not going to do anything but show his back-side to
the 2,000 folk on the left of the auditorium, nor is he going to play a note on guitar, nor is he
going to be understandable as the acoustics in the cavern will be awful. This is without expecting
him actually to speak or in that way work to entertain the may be 5,000 non-Bob-cats (who will
applaud him in anything). Still, I will stand in line.
7.30 Comes and goes, but maybe folks have read the WWW and heard that he is on on-time, as it is not
empty, and often times the NEC fills up at 7.55 (for a 7.30 start). The grey school curtains of the
backdrop are all painted in red light. That kind of red lighting of a hard-rock concert I like.
7.35 Bass drum beats start for Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. Then the voice over
introduction that seems to have been changed from the previous two years, more about his excellent
work in the late 1990s, the pause, … Ladies and Gentlemen CRA … Bob Dylan. We were all seated,
security had been persuading all at the front to retake their seats, now to a man we stand and cheer
the troubadours. Two with Stetsons, Bob all in black with a black Stetson, straight to the piano,
slightly stage right, Donnie Herron's pedal steels behind, set in a horse-shoe with George's drums
diagonal to Bob and Tony on bass across directly in Bob's eye line. This makes up a tight group of
four (as a jazz quartet formation), and does not really spread out to fill the stage, but then the
two guitars are literally out on each wing, ways away from Bob, away from eye contact or a quick word,
like football wingers they await their chance to run hard with the ball. Their chances will come,
but only from time to time.
7.40 We are in business.
1. Maggie's Farm, but no sound check this, as so often these first numbers have been. Recent
reviews on this WWW site are spot on, the vocals are prominent in the mix, you can actually hear
and understand who is or is not doing what on this farm. She says she's 24, and this not the only
taste of BIABH.
2. Tell me that it isn't true (from NS). Will we later get others from NS? Tonight I'll be staying
here with you (as yesterday in Glasgow?), Lay, Lady, Lay (as two days ago in Manchester?), a slice of
Country Pie? (Oh me, oh my, I'm a wanted man?). Nevertheless, we have an electric country feel
sound, not really that loud, but all bathed in red with 6 pencil spots shafting down to highlight the
3. Smoothly moving (that of course means with not a word), into Watching the River Flow (from NM).
The lighting has not changed, there was no great pause (others will remember those mid-stage group
huddles where "one from three options" on the set-lists where chosen at various points, criticised on
this WWW site previously as Dylan using the band as a personal juke-box to make selections at each
time point). We get the only real dancing away from the piano with the harp solo, so that was the
chance if you were seated on the left so see his front, if you did not take it there and then, it is
soon gone. Huge house-spots have come on at the end of each of the first 3 pieces to tell us when to
cheer. The first lines are coming out quickly then the gap, rather than a gap earlier with a garbled
line or a gap in the middle with a tailing make-up, now it is a rapid "What's the matter with me" - and
if you did not catch it, the moment is gone and you will have to wait to know you are watching that
4. Now to H61R, we are lost in the rain in Juarez (also out at speed) and its Just like Tom Thumb's
blues. We will be back here (H61R) 3 more times (including LARS), even without those Tombstone Blues
or Desolation Row. No change in the staging, no real movement, swiftly and with style in to the next
piece, annunciates clearly I started out on bur-gun-dy, (pause), bit soon hit the harder stuff … A
comment 2 days ago from Nottingham said here "Oh you can tell which song is which?" Well I was not
present at Nottingham (may be an excuse is it's a new venue on this tour?), but the sound in the
cavern of the NEC was fine, we were half-way back on the floor on the extreme right, and we new about
the bur-gun-dy. If you had listened to the albums you would certainly have been fine, if you only
knew Mr. Tambourine Man and BITW, well you were unlikely to hear those, so maybe any song would be
hard work. Actually, the voice is holding up well, clearly present in the mix, and well, singing,
cats will know what I mean. No puns about I do believe I've had enough, but shorter adults
(under 5'6") are starting to leave. The NEC was full, folks are moving away already, he is not
playing guitar, nor introducing the songs … our floor tickets (I think for the first time) were
printed: "People around you may stand up for this concert, Not Tiered" - how right that is, we did.
5. The red back-drop has drifted smoothly a little to magenta. Now louder is the Ballad of a Thin
Man, Mr. Jones. We got it all from the clear F. Scott Fitzgerald's books to the one-eyed midget
(You're a cow!), ending with (what sounded like), a law against you comin' around … next time bring
some earphones! This ended in purple light, but not deep, and with a nice controlled harp solo.
The H61R feel is not really here, it has the first examples of up-singing, it is more electric
country (folksy bluesy), certainly loud and electric, difficult (really impossible) to say what is
classical Dylan, but little heard from the Fender guitars compared to lap- and pedal-steels. It is
certainly not Larry Campbell and the young Austin gunslinger of two years ago. Of course theirs
(his) is the right to move on musically experimenting, and so the current incarnation is now
dominated by steels, rather than 3 or 4 standing together in the middle for those Fender
machine-head parties that we so metimes got.
6. H61R (true cats will know when the last time was we got three together from this album, and we
know LARS is still to come) has up-lighting, but not up-singing. The machine-gun drum beats and
pounding drum rolls of this version of H61R then dropped away completely, revealing about 2,000 folk
clicking their fingers as all the lights went out save up-lighting, and the now 12 feet tall shadowy
troubadour gave us an up-tempo H61 to only our finger-click accompaniment, in this jazzy nightclub,
moving smoothly back in for a fine take of the loud hard-rock version. It really won our hearts,
was excellent, you had to be there for that moment. Intimacy in a huge 7,000 seater barn!
7. Cheering to the rafters, Dylan is already playing some totally indeterminate piano chords, what
is it? We are still cheering, and it's Mr. T. Man. Unbelievable! People stop leaving to listen to
a sweet version with up-singing that was needed from time to time, and in silence about 6,000 folk
think back over passages of their lives in the 60s and 70s when they first heard this rasping sound
and how the lyrics got inside them. Folks smile at one another, almost inaudibly we sing along at
the proper time, it is intimate and it has gentle, pedal steel making all the difference, electric
folk, it gets its deserved huge cheer.
8. Back to those fast first lines, Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again (B on B), I
do not think I have ever heard each syllable so clearly sung, with a little up-singing, but we are
ready to forgive or tolerate almost anything at this point. The voice is sounding good.
9. Another Side of Bob Dylan is the Chimes of Freedom. The school curtains are pulled away to each
diagonal corner to make an arch, the curtains in red, the archway in purple. Chimes are sung with
real feeling, it is a majestic performance, heard in absolute silence, a real highlight, perhaps not
one of those "worth the ticket price alone" moments, but certainly worth a good percentage. Tolling
for the aching ones, for the strung-out ones an' worse, for every hung-up person in the whole wide
universe … we responded well and certainly appropriately, many over 50 stand and applaud each clear
verse, whilst taking in (almost drinking even bathing in) each verse, clear, beautiful and majestic.
So, he's not going to do Tambourine Man or Chimes? … it is already a great set-list, are there more
gems to come? Will it be all TOOM and L&T from now on? Surely we are not going to get away without
T Dee T Dum?
10. 'Til I Fell in Love with You (possibly the list following Zurich last week now, TOOM 1997).
11. I did not realise when I heard Visions a few years ago (Cardiff May 2002) how rare each outing
was. We were treated to an acoustic version of Visions of Johanna, Tony's outstanding acoustic bass,
often commented upon here on this WWW site makes a huge difference, here together with electric
mandolin. Not a word to use to often, but it was sublime. I wondered, without wanting to be (too)
selfish if Just like Woman would make a (B on B) appearance, but this seemed unlikely after
yesterday's outing in Glasgow. The moments during and after Visions were glorious. It ends with
the archway all speckled and moving towards a net of Christmas lights.
12. Here comes Honest with Me - enough of the electric country folksy, they are here to prove they
are honest rockers trading licks. This they do.
13. We know an acoustic number will fill slot 13, if not Just Like a Woman, will it be Forever
Young? It is to be The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, it again gets 6,000 listening to every
syllable, even from 50 yards away there is intimacy, he is so angry with the Judge, showing that the
courts are on the level, so much injustice. About 18 years ago I heard this performed here at the
NEC (backed then by Tom Petty and the Heart Breakers), but then just by Dylan on an acoustic guitar
(I could have dreamt this with the passing of time). This was equally excellent, and made you want
to seek out Lonesome Death and play it over and over (wear the vinyl thin, I don't know a CD
analogy). It was wonderful. Just look at this set list, and then compare it (favourably) adding
in the previous 4 nights, with 50 different songs written and performed by one artist, and those not
including: I Want You, I Threw it All Away, It's All Over Now Baby Blue, Trying to Get to Heaven,
Knockin' on Heaven's Door, Desolation Row, Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat, Tombstone Blues, TUIB, BITW,
nor Forever Young. Stunning.
14. At 9.05 pm (it's an early night for all us ageing rockers) it is the jam session that is Summer
Days. The stand-up double-bass gets spun around twice in ONE move, just show-boating now, the
Michael Jordan of bass playing, 9.12 pm we get the Stare from the Formation (lots of 'phone cameras
are held aloft), loud applause. The band go off for a good long while.
15. Back now for LARS, crowd lighting, we sing it straight, as he does varied tempo. The backdrop
is the crowned purple eye of Horus (maybe symbolic of protection, the bringing of wisdom, our
ability to see with clarity and truthfulness - just how much junk is out there on the WWW?). Band
intros, Stu Kimball (somewhat subdued) from Boston, the great powerhouse of George Recile (drums)
and Tony Garnier on bass, both from New Orleans. None of those limp Bob jokes, just brief Intros,
brief bows, hats doffed, all over continued background strumming, and then straight into …
16. Watchtower (but without Larry's humorous Intro of the Exodus movie theme). Once through, down
and dirty, many stay to cheer. Stu (not subdued) has a fair enough stab at the Hendrix version, but
Charlie Sexton he is not. We are straight away, and indeed the two black, purple, and silver
(German plated) tour buses pull out past us by 9.40 pm and they are off to the Motorways for London,
with the Rock and Roll Trucking pantechnicon moving in to position by 9.41 pm, the guitars are
already in cases and the sound system is being broken down. Many remain in the dark cavern
wondering if they will come back? as we thread through the many T-shirt salesmen (of the night) £5
all sizes available, £2 a poster, "genuine". They look the same to me as previous NEC-ware. I
forgot to mention the merchandise inside was naff (as ever) and expensive at £20 a bright green
(or at least there was grey) T-shirt and £35 a hoodie; the brown toilet carpet rug (still £60) has
not sold yet.
It remains another step on the NET. Of course, it will be totally different at Brixton, London with
only 2,000 (max) and standing-up close. The all-standing intimacy of Bournemouth or even Cardiff
International Arena is never possible at the NEC unless you have block ABC tickets. Those who paid
but left early will not agree, those who sat still surrounded by standing bodies, or who stood, but
could not see (being less than 5'6" tall) even the Stetson hats on stage will have had the presence,
sound, and atmosphere .. will that have been enough? Those of us who could see, only saw large ants
50 yards away, Brixton will be different. Thanks for reading this far, the bottom line: it was a
special night, a splendid set-list, actually a great sound. Now on to Brixton and The Point, I'll
see him in anything, I'll stand in line.
Ian S. Blagbrough
Review by Gordan Bosnjak
I don't want to start this review with familiar "this show was the best show since...". No. There is no
"since". This show was the best Dylan show I have ever seen and witnessed. Through eighties when
we did not have internet and Dylan's touring schedule was hard to find, I used to travel 1000+ miles
to see Bob performing and since then I saw 35 shows. I have seen 5 shows in NEC, all average and
this time I wanted to skip this venue. What would I miss if I had!! I went to Nottingham and it was
good, I went to Manchester and it was magnificent. I went to NEC and thought "Well it will be one
of those average nights like many times before". How wrong I was!! Every single song was a dream,
every song went somewhere that has never been before. I was waiting for this kind of show for
many many years and I finally got it. Chimes of freedom and Ballad of a thin man brought some strange
feeling that I have neved had before at Dylan show. I was in block A and 9 rows away from the stage
and all people around me had that strange grin on their face saying "thanks Bob for that, only you can
do this". At the end Bob in front of the audience holding up two harmonicas in the V shape nodding
his head. Yes Bob, that was victory and you know it. Thanks Bob for the unforgetable night.
Review by Mark Simcox
I am not a heavyweight Dylan fan, and probably could not name all the
songs he played like your very knowledgeable reviewers, but have listed to
him over a great number of years. Both myself and my brother in law ( a
very strong Dylan fan) had seats about 20 rows from the stage. Having read
the reviews about the concert on Friday saying such things as "celestial",
"single greatest show I have ever seen", "a show that exceeded my
expectations" I was just wondering if they were at the same gig. This is
the first time that I have been to see Dylan and to say that I was
disappointed in his performance is an understatement. The words of his
songs for most part were incoherent the odd solo played by Dylan on the
keyboard were not very sound and wrong chords played in at least 2 places.
His interaction with the audience was non existent apart from on his one
single encore ( not encores) where he introduced the band and for this the
most audible was "from Austin Texas". His only saving grace
was the band who were very competent and stuck around some of Dylan's
mishaps and moved the music on. Dylan has fine songs where the words mean
something and this has now spoilt my whole impression of a very unique
artist. All I can say to those people who made the comments earlier must
have very low expectations of mega artists like Dylan actually is.
Review by Gail
Only my 5th live experience of Dylan in 10 years..the others left me
feeling like I'd loved & lost (not due to his performance though..they
were all superb), but not this time..maybe because I'm younger now :) I'm
still snuggled in the warmth of Friday night (even though it was freezing)
& think I always will be.. The whole set was a highlight, but zoomed off
into space with Hattie Carroll..I was the girl in block 1 stooped forward
& holding my head up with my hands for fear of floating off during this
sweetest rendition of the sourest of stories..& was surprised to be the
only one standing around me when it came to a close...it took all of
Summer Days to pull me back into unreality.. Anyone with tickets for the
remainder of this tour..be prepared to fly!
Review by Arthur Deakin
Thanks to John (again), yea even --- many thanks to John (again!) - I had
the privilege of attending 4 nights of Bob's 2005 tour - wish I could do
more, Bob, but like you I do have to do work.
But my work is not as strong or significant or long lasting as yours: your
legacy is assured..
Nottingham was a kinda ok show, Manchester got better (more harp, more
commitment, more interest?) , Sunday in Brixton hit the spot well
(amazing "Queen Jane" & New Morning & Desolation Row") but somewhat
distorted sound in a great venue (first time for me in Brixton, but
hopefully not the last) detracted from the overall impression ... BUT
Birmingham on Friday was something else.
I don't do nostalgia (honest) & I try desperately not to look back, but -
but, Bob, what you did in Birmingham was a damned near to (but different!)
to what you did at Sheffield Gaumont in 1966 - your took your unique
material and melded it through interaction with your multi-talented band
and your incredible voice & phrasing & tricky changes in timing, to create
an evening of superlatives.
It is hard to pick a highlight, but I will offer "Ballad of a Thin Man" as
I could go on "..but I won't" .. just to say - thanks Bob, it's great that
you are not only keeping your day job, but also that you are growing into
it and extending it and improving on it (as Picasso did?) as the decades
Here's looking forward to the next album, the next book, the next tour,
.....the Nobel Prize, ....the honorary knighthood or whatever.
You have contributed so much to C20th AND C21 century culture - long may
you rock on & above all, long may you enjoy it..
Comments by Genny Chopourian
Having been a Dylan fan for nearly 40 years, I finally got the chance I
thought I would never had - to see him live in concert. What a joy. The
NEC was packed with us 'old folks' and the music was outstanding,
especially All Along the Watchtower which took me back to the psychadelic
days of my youth. There is only one thing which disappointed me greatly -
Bob's lack of communication with the audience. Not even a Hello or Goodbye
& Thanks. After 40 years of admiring this man - the least he could have
done was acknowledge the audience.
Comments by Michael Szarowicz
Just about everything has been said – even so, I would like to add one
brief message. I want to thank Bob for delivering one of the best shows
I’ve been to. Why only ‘one of ’? …Well, the venue is the reason. If the
NET chiefs put their heads together they’d come up with either a more
soulful location or, they could send in their boys to direct the NEC staff
to be more friendly. Of course everyone at the back wanted to see the
stage, me included, though not everyone was as stupid as me to try and get
up near the front. So I struggled with the crowd and the stewards for a
short while and ended up back in my seat feeling slightly burned. The
monotone delivery of Tambourine Man and others doesn’t do too much for me
– especially when we know that the pure rock is there if he feels like it.
Finally I would like to say a mammoth thank you once more to Bobby for
staying sober ( ish ) It made the night a memorable one because he played
brilliantly and so the band did too. No tantrums and a great setlist (even
without Idiot Wind or Masterpiece). The show two years ago here has been
laid to rest. I don’t think I will go back to see another concert at the
NEC; the rout in the parking lot, the stewards, everyone after your
wallet… it’s all too much. The good work goes on, Stay cool.
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