Review by Fran Scott
BOB'S IN CONTROL
A strong show from a man in control of his art and his willing band. I'll
leave the setlist dissection to other reviewers, but for me the highlights
were a passionate and beautifully paced New Morning and a similarly
well-delivered Queen Jane.
Bob in black with gold trim from hat to toe, in very good voice
throughout, appearing focused and on the money from the opening bars of
Drifter's Escape, but without ever really throwing his whole life and soul
into any one song as the concert progressed. A few piano solo's during the
latter half of the evening perhaps indicating as great a musical
self-confidence as I've seen in recent years.
This latest incarnation of the band lacks an individual with the obvious
talent of Charlie Sexton or Larry Campbell but they sure can play as a
group. Dylan no longer manically directing the band - a simple nod to each
member was usually all that was required for the music to flow. And flow
it did, with It's Alright, Ma and Highway 61 sounding particularly
cohesive as they both reached thunderous climaxes.
Just as there were no real weaknesses in the set, I didn't think there
were any mind-blowing performances either. The band were on top of all the
musical arrangements with only Queen Jane making it's debut on the current
Bob's mannerisms as delightfully quirky as ever - jabbing away at the
piano, the elbows of his oversized jacket seemingly stitched to his side
throughout his 110 minutes on stage. Knowing grins to George and Tony on a
few occassions; a big "yeah man" away from the microphone during 'Till I
Fell in Love with You (perhaps trying to inject a bit of pace into a
slightly pedestrian interpretation of the song); swiping the harmonica
away from his mouth as if to say "take that" when facing the crowd at the
conclusion of Desolation Row; a few clenched fists, one held close to the
body and one pushed out like a boxer posing for a pre-fight publicity
shot, and the two harmonicas in his right hand deliberately made into a V
as the band took the applause at the very end at the front of the stage.
The sound mix was tremendous in my opinion, the band sounded exceptional
as a whole from my vantage point about 10 yards from the stage and the
individual instruments were appropriately mixed, with Dylan's voice as
strong and clear as I can remember.
Review by Graham Cole
It's going to be hard week, but when Bob comes into view, well things have
to change around a bit to ensure the annual fix gets done. Like many,
I've been following the setlists and reviews as he has jaunted around on
the European tour, and with Manchester and Birmingham shows getting such
superb notices in particular, our hopes were high for the first of the
five-night residency at the Brixton Academy.
I'd spent some of the day wondering how his Bobness was spending his day.
There would have been soundchecks and other necessary preparations for the
show, but did he go for a quiet walk in the park (is that possible when
you're Bob Dylan and there are eager fans in town maybe wanting to watch
your every move?) or stroll down Regent Street for some Christmas
Anyway, tonight was also special for Loraine and me because our son Sam
was with us, his first proper Bobby concert (he saw him at the Fleadh in
June 2004), so we journeyed the 70 miles up the M3 to the first of this
week's five shows, and now, at the other end of the same journey, some
reflections on this first London concert.
It was a really great show, not the best we've ever seen, and certainly
not full of surprises (are they still to come this week? We shall see!),
but it was very much a new, revitalised Bob with the new band members, and
the whole thing worked really, really well.
Of course, all these things are subjective, and packed with emotion, but
for me this new line-up really sympathises with the tunes Bob asks them to
play. We both regretted the loss of Larry C, a fine instrumentalist and
always looking so sharp on stage alongside Tony G. But the new boys bring
something different, and for my money enthusiastic Donny Herron's pedal
steel and, especially, violin (It's Alright, Ma .) fit completely into the
current style of Bob concerts.
The all-too familiar orchestral music started up at 7.30, and onned and
offed for ten minutes before the (new) voice intoned all that stuff about
the 60s and so on, and then, in the darkness, we could make out the six
figures walking onstage. Then Bob could be seen adjusting his hat
slightly before the lights went up big time to a great roar and the
raunchy sounds of the old Link Wray tune The Rumble, segueing quickly into
Drifter's Escape. The harmonica came out early with some gentle, though
not particularly meaningful notes blown towards the end of the tune. Then
before we knew where we were, we were into a fabulous arrangement of
Señor, which worked really effectively - one of Loraine's faves from the
evening. God Knows is not usually one I like, but after a quiet intro the
band moved into a much heavier groove and the song turned out to be a real
treat. Bob was enjoying himself from the start, and at one stage turned
full frontal to the crowd before him, almost playing the keyboards at
right angles, the detail on his jacket collar sparkling in the stage
To Ramona was the first highlight, played against a soft burgundy
backdrop, whose delicate shades matched the tone of the song, Bob wanting
us so much to have every word of the lyrics to ourselves, whilst Donny
played some gorgeous fills at the back.
The highlights continued with that fiddle playing on It's Alright, Ma .,
to be followed by a magnificently different Queen Jane which I thought was
beautiful version of a lovely tune.
On 'Til I Fell, I caught the feeling of a 60s R & B band, with some great
stop/start phrasing in the middle, and the retro feel continued for me
with Stuck Inside of Mobile, only this time with some lovely 50s style
bluesy guitar from Denny Freeman. Few of those around us could remember
hearing a live New Morning before, and since that album has always been a
favourite of mine, the treatment Bob gave it tonight was both interesting
and welcome, and all cued up by the parting of the stage curtains to
welcome in the song. Highway 61 seemed a bit confused in the middle, and
to be honest I sometimes think this one has run its course, but not so the
slow, almost spoken Man in the Long Black Coat. At one stage in this, Bob
moved to centre stage and blew his harmonica, and almost reprised the Bob
shuffle of a few years ago, and it was at this time that I recalled the
slightly wobbly stance of Alias in Peckinpah's great Pat Garrett movie.
Honest with Me followed, but merely made way for a terrific version of
Desolation Row. Enhanced by two lovely guitar solos, this was the
performance where Bob carefully enunciated every word as the imagery
poured over the enraptured audience. For me this was the standout of the
night by a distance, and whilst it was by no means downhill from there, it
was always going to be hard to top it. Summer Days swung, western style
and Sam just loved to see Tony Gar-ni-er twirl his upright bass ("just
like in 'Some Like It Hot'!"), and then with three minutes of hard
applause they came out to give us a twinkling encore of Don't Think Twice
from my favourite album, and the show closer AATW.
So the first one has gone, and we loved it. It was cold on the way back,
and the forecast is for a below zero week down here. Like I say, it's
going to be hard, and that's not to mention the day job as well! At least
I've got the warmth of a daily Bobby concert to keep me going a while yet!
Be seeing you, Bob.
Review by Mr. Jinx
God and women: the two great imponderables. Tonight on the opening
evening of this Brixton residency Dylan balanced tales of the Divine with
stories of an altogether more earthly kind.
God was in evidence throughout the night. Specific women kept cropping
up as well until the two strands entwined at last during a haunting Man In
The Long Black Coat and the woman in the song was borne away by
black-cloaked Death for her own appointment with the Divine.
The show began with a minute-long burst of Rumble in tribute to the
departed Link Wray then we were straight into a spirited Drifter's Escape
(as if Bob were celebrating escaping the Reaper himself, slipping the
talons once more as brother Wray went up … or down). Then God arrived
in the form of Senor and also, of course, the mighty God Knows which
despite its dirge-like tendencies retains an awesome wallop in live
performance. This being a Sunday God Knows was expected at the feast and
duly delivered its main course of warning that the end is at hand. This
was to be echoed later by Watchtower's 'two riders' apocalyptic theme.
Are you listening Mr Wray? I hope so.
The woman arrived as Ramona - a beguiling if unspectacular version -
brought cheers and generous helpings of applause from the highly-charged
crowd. The 'Ma' of 'It's Alright' fame is, of course, a woman too. She
fluffed some of her best lines but danced a merry jig to Donnie's superb
Rarely seen shy debutante woman Queen Jane drew a heart stopping
performance from Bob. He was so patently recalling a specific lady as he
sang the lines. His involvement with the song was total and the
performance worthy of any woman's love.
The new arrangement of Til I Fell In Love With You is a winner. This one
hit the mark with plenty to say about another specific relationship with a
member of the (un)fair sex. This time the girl was departed not from this
mortal coil but from the space by his side.
After a decent Mobile we were treated to a New Morning which brought
with its dawn the Almighty. Not that the song mentions God specifically, you
understand, but with it feels so much like a 'born again' anthem with its
plangent chiming guitars and joyful unselfconscious refrain that one can't
help but see it as religiously motivated.
Man With The Long Black Coat, as previously mentioned, was magnificent.
It was, for me, the centrepiece of the show and the moment the themes
Desolation row was an odd performance. Bob jabbered and intoned until
the Ophelia verse (ah, those women again!) at which point he found a metre
he was happy with and when he finally connected he stopped time in the way
that only he and He can.
Don't Think Twice replaced Like A Rolling Stone in the first encore slot.
Bob gave his most impressive harp solo of the evening centre stage. He
twisted and hunched like a gremlin as the harp blew all of the sadness of
the split from the unnamed woman in question - perhaps by now a
combination of all of the women we had been introduced to - away, away,
away. 'Fare thee well,' indeed!
A deadly Watchtower and all of the women were gone at last. Only God
remained watching from the vast 'eye' backdrop as her favourite song and
dance man stood straight-faced and inscrutable, harmonicas in hand, for
the line-up. Just for a moment I thought I saw the eye wink.
Review by Jeffrey Johnson
At Euro Tour’s outset, Learned Norwegian Reviewers elicited world-wide
concern as it was suggested that He started where He left off and that He
was merely shuffling His set list. In America, we parsed their every
word for we had seen these Norwegians so prominently each and every night
outside the Bear Bar both before and after His last five-night stand, that
being at New York’s Beacon Theatre. At the Foxwoods show pre-Beacon,
we were amazed by their travel there and to Verona, New York, a
destination logistically painful from Manhattan’s Beacon-show nexus.
Ultimately, we quit reading reviews because we rationalized that these
Learned Norwegian Reviewers had deftly sheltered themselves from the
Sell-Out Stones and the Expensive Ego-Laden Beatle and probably did not
wade through even one of His understudy Springsteen’s seventeen-odd
endeavors throughout Europe. London Night One was another of His
industry standard performances that saved excitement for the ensuing four
London nights. A blues prelude appended to Drifter’s Escape started the
crowd off guessing. Senior, as always was welcome and wonderful.
To Ramona was carefully orchestrated and the night’s show stopper, if there
was one. Queen Jane started with a short harmonica burst followed by His
wandering around stage before resuming. Every one at Emily’s first show
in Montclair New Jersey spotted New Morning from the initial piano chord
dribbling out of the thunderous applause following that colonial favorite,
Stuck Inside of Mobile, currently a Euro Tour staple. While some in the
crowd grew restless, others counted and marveled at what appears to be
another ten-verse and lyrically-articulated Desolation Row.
Long Black Coat was ominous and ended with a stern harmonica lecture;
another two songs finished with more mellow center-stage harmonica jams.
A blues-infused and tempo-changed ‘Til I Fell In Love was the only
misfire of the night and was a bit of a struggle after the initial
novelty yielded to disappointment. An amazingly short encore break
preceded Don’t Think Twice, with Stu spraying acoustic off his strings,
as he did on Stuck Inside of Mobile. Once again, thanks to the only man
bigger and better than Santa Claus for getting us in.
American on a Five-Night Mission
Review by Karen Sheridan
Being a new admirer of Dylan and having immersed myself in a handful of
albums and books about him, I arrived at Brixton not really knowing what
to expect. Last time I saw him he was part of a line up for the Fleadh
which was several years ago now. I must say, on that particular occasion,
I lost interest when he mumbled his way through the set. What little I
knew of Dylan then, which was mainly via listening to FM rock in the US
growing up, made me think that he had experienced early dementia.
So I arrived with no great expectations other than my few visits to
“Bob Links” to see what others had thought of the recent shows.
I took my seat in the circle and had a good look around to see who
Dylan’s audience were. Mainly all ages were represented although
Dylan’s generation were probably most present around me. There was such
a buzz in the air and a real feel-good vibe. It seemed like there were
lots of old friends saying hello to each other as each one arrived to take
their seats. I even thought I spotted the American actress Ellen
I hadn’t sat in the circle seats at Brixton for sometime and was
reminded how much it felt like sitting outdoors with the black ceiling as
the night sky and the surrounding Grecian faux garden colonnades. (See….
this is what happens when you go to a gig on your own…there is so much
to fill your head with whilst waiting for the show to begin). I certainly
didn’t ‘reflect’ that much when I went to Motorhead’s XXX show the
So there I was killing time and had a good look at the stage. I thought
the stage set up was really interesting. It placed Dylan in the middle of
things slightly off angle. All the amps seemed, from where I was sitting,
to be vintage valve amps (which would explain the warm sound) and the
instruments similar…beautiful old guitars/basses.
Music was pumped out of the system around 7:30ish. It was a very famous
piece of music which escapes me now but certainly reminded me of space and
the Apollo launch. I thought this was pretty funny. It had a real sense of
humour about it…..and then of course when the ‘Price is Right game
show’ host’s voice came over the speaker announcing Dylan’s
arrival-“60’s troubadour, man of the people …..lost in substance
abuse in the 70’s, back in the 80’s...blah blah blah”….indicated
Dylan as a man who had a great sense of humour and could take the mickey
out of the iconic mantles which had been placed on him throughout his
life. I warmed to him instantly.
They arrived on stage and the stage set was beautiful and simple. Curtains
which changed subtly from song to song, incense burned at the back wafting
out over the stage. Dylan was in his Rhinestone Cowboy suit with his black
cowboy boots and shuffled on his tip toes at the keyboards. His fellow
musicians wore a combination of zoot suit meets Chicago gangster. All in
I’ll leave it to the long-time admirers of his music to dissect the
songs as I don’t have the knowledge to comment on how they think he
interpreted them this time around. What I will say is that my overall
impression, taking the band purely at face value, were a group of
incredibly experienced musicians who made it all look so effortless. They
covered all ground. The music ranged from country, blues, jazz,
rockabilly, big band, rock----you name it. And all executed beautifully.
The sound was amazing and the one thing which struck me, as I’ve read so
much about how Dylan’s voice isn’t up to much these days, was how
strong it was and perfect for what he is doing. Everything came together.
All in all the show looked and sounded a million dollars. I walked out
into the night air and thought to myself that that was one of the best
gigs I’d seen in a long while and I wished I had tickets for some of the
other shows. Dylan is modern and on the mark and I don’t know why he
still appears to worry about being conveyed as a nostalgic 60’s
troubadour. He is firmly in the present. I’ve bought a few albums and a
few book,I’ve seen him live,again…he has a new audience who is now
paying attention and will join the already converted. I'm just one of
them. Long may you roam Bob.
K. M. Sheridan
Review by Steve Haynes
I'd been hoping for an improvement on the Nottingham gig. One of the key
reasons being that I've dragged Tina, my wife, to "ordinary" shows (if
there is such a thing) at the NEC, whilst she's missed some crackers
(Cardiff 2000, Hammersmith Apollo last UK tour). Luckily on Sunday it
pretty much all came together - great venue, sound well mixed, and Bob in
good voice. As a measure for me the strong performances from Nottingham
(It's all right Ma, Highway 61) were performed just as well - but didn't
really stand out. What did stand out for me were an absolutely superb
Desolation Row and a masterful Don't Think Twice and a very enjoyable New
Morning - not one I'd heard before. There was some fantastic Harmonica
playing and echoes of the curious and very funny walk / dance. Bob's
piano playing was further up in the mix and sounded good in it's own right
and seemed to drive some songs through. Was Tina convinced how great it
was? - nearly ! - although she reminded me of the open air set we saw at
the Phoenix festival in the 90's , and a Wembley performance in the 80's
when Clapton and Van Morrison came on to join in - I suddenly realised
there's been 3 of us in this marriage for a long time! - Being selfish it
was great for me to be there with her, maybe next time one of our son's
will get the call and do a tour of duty with me. Thanks to Bill for the
continuing excellence of the web site - I'll be fascinated to read how the
"Brixton residency" continues.
Review by Mick Bamford
Just back from London and can't really believe what I've been reading on
the reviews. These 2 shows were 2 of the best I've been to in the past 5
or 6 years. The set list, as was expected, brought out some crackers and
the audience responded in a way that must have pleased Bob, he looked
happy enough. Highlights on Sunday were Senor and beautiful Ramona, an
excellent Queen Jane and one of the best versions of Desolation Row I've
heard live. My daughter loved the set list which was chalk and cheese
compared to Nottingham on the opening night. As for Monday, when my wife
came down to join me, well Hoo-ee .......Million Bash done as a calypso
was amazing we were in the middle of a contingent from Sweden who went
into raptures over this one. Down along the cove rocked along with Bob
apparently making verses up as he went along, Boots has always been one of
my favourite and tonights version didn't let me down. The one I didn't
recognise was a country waltz, which you have listed as Waiting For You,
which slowed things down ready for a ripping Highway 61, my wife was
particularly happy with this as it meant no Summer Days. What a shock when
the boys came out and went into Londons calling perhaps this might have Mr
Reciles idea as he and Bob shared a good laugh as they went off after
Watchtower. I also thought Rolling Stone had more effort in it tonight,
the crowd around me at this point were in raptures and really rocking
along. All in all an expensive but very satisfying long weekend in the
capital. Hope the shows over the next few nights go as well as these did
pity I won't be there !
Review by Martin Maw
This was an astonishing evening.
I walked up from Brixton tube station, past a street preacher testifying about the fallen
world in the twilight, and stood about five rows from the front. Dylan looked nowhere
near his age. He played the piano like a favourite pinball machine, and clearly relished his
dapper Civil War outfit. He used to say he'd taken his name from Matt Dillon in
"Gunsmoke": fifty years on, here he was impersonating him again.
The first few songs tested the water. The snatch of "Rumble" was a neat tribute to
Link Wray; "Drifter's Escape" and "Senor" began to stretch his voice a bit; and, though
it was lovely to hear "To Ramona," Dylan decided to filter it through one of his hammier,
sob-story vocals. "It's Alright, Ma" wound along on that riff lifted from "Superstition,"
but Dylan got lost in the torrent of words at one point, and it started to look if this was
simply going to be a good, not a great, performance.
Then he woke up.
The band started a gentle, countryish air. It could have been "Just Like a Woman."
Instead, with unbelievable grace, Dylan sang "Queen Jane Approximately." Everybody
I could see was dumbfounded: we were watching genius. "Til I Fell in Love" and
"Memphis" seemed a little routine after that - but "New Morning" roared, and
"Highway 61" turned into an incredible piece of r&b, with Dylan finding a wonderful
descending keyboard scale that was half an eleven-year-old at the piano, half
Fats Domino, which seemed to surprise him as much as it did the band.
By now, it was hard to tell who was enjoying this more - audience or musicians. Dylan
was grinning and shooting wry glances at the band. Those who weren't deadpan
couldn't stop smiling. "Man in the Long Black Coat" and "Honest With Me" glided by
without upping the feel of the evening - but all that changed with "Desolation Row."
Previously, Dylan's treated this as a tired war-horse of an anthem, forgetting lines and
omitting verses. Tonight, all that changed. In the middle of verse two, he started
prising the words apart like warm toffee, stretching some, cutting others off: in short
he was doing his best "Bob Dylan" impersonation. He was laughing; the band was
laughing; people around me were in hysterics. But behind the laughter, he sang every
verse, perfectly - then left the piano, got a hand mic and a harmonica, and ambled
centre stage to solo. The backdrop changed to projected stars, and he did a weird,
slightly arthritic square dance on the spot in time to his own playing, an old cowboy in
new boots. If anyone ever doubted what it's like to "dance beneath the diamond
sky," here was the answer, right before your eyes.
Following that, "Summer Days" was a huge rockabilly romp: the whole audience was
yelling. The band lined up for a bow, Dylan straight-faced and looking like a modest
hombre who'd just played a reasonable game of poker. The applause brought them
back, and they went into quiet country mode for "Don't Think Twice" - time hung
still. "Watchtower" was all menace and crawl. Then everyone lined up once more.
The drummer couldn't wipe the grin off his face; nor could I. Dylan stood poised with
a couple of harmonicas in his right hand, and seemed almost ready to play one
more - but in the end, he made a small gesture and everyone filed off.
This was not only the best Dylan show I've seen: it was also, I think, the best gig I've
seen in 30 years of watching live music. Being close enough to see Dylan cueing the
band and laughing with them was a bonus - but even without that, it's obvious the
man is totally empowered and ready for fun: the hall seemed to fill with flowers. And
the astonishing suspicion starts that he might, just might, produce a new cd that
would equal or better anything in his back catalogue.
I walked out absolutely stunned, thinking: anything's possible; and - whatever next ..?
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