Review by Ian S. Blagbrough
Lets start with some honesty here. Viral laryngitis and an on-the-day
cancellation of an 8,000-seater (at Green Glens, Millstreet, Ireland) means that
those who read the red announcement on these pages or followed threads on
bobdylan.com or at the Dylan Pool have been worried. Even encouraged by
Sheffield occurring, there was still a doubt until we actually got to see him
(the man). IMO many, and I do mean many, an artist would have packed up early
for the Thanksgiving turkey and had it away. So the review that follows is based
upon knowing about really bad sore throats, and about appreciating a long tour,
with the end though in sight, still several hours of performing away. It was a
good and solid performance, it was neither great nor excellent, but if you offer
me the refund with a cancellation, I will take the good, solid show. If you have
been following the tour closely on the pages, then there will be no real
surprises in what follows (I am firmly in the Freddy who? and why ? camp). If
you want to prepare for London's next three nights, where exchange tickets are
still available, then there are some possible pointers below.
The set-list follows on from this European tour, completely different from the
15-5 pattern and the acoustic-electric 4+4 of the previous few years. If you
wanted to get ready for a London gig then it must be TOOM and L&T that you turn
to, but re-listen to Infidels as all the mouth-organ solos by the Jokerman were
highly reminiscent of that sound to me. Before the blow-by-blow which you might
not want to read, the main thrust is that this was really good overall, few
parts were excellent. No-one would wish viral laryngitis on anyone, but it has
put paid to (ludicrous) up-singing (yes, I am in that camp too), it has resulted
in careful vocal work. In part, previous reviewers have commented upon this as
a result of the troubadour playing piano only. I tend to agree with this, there
are no real distractions, gone are those (awful) three note guitar solos and
full concentration given to the expression in the key lyrics taking centre-stage
(well, with his back partially turned, as he faces the band from stage right that
is). The voice kept going, it did not break down. In 100 minutes we had mainly
electric folk, a nod towards country, excellent R&B, a touch of lounge, but
absolutely NO R&R. Almost 3 million hits on these pages, (so Bill Pagel must
lose the tag of amateur surely), but if you were one of the 11,000 who did not
know (i.e. had not read) you would have been surprised. IF you thought that this
was going to be solid Rock or R&R, then you would be disappointed. However, if
you were prepared for an artist performing after a bad throat illness, and
performing well, but choosing lighter numbers and ultimately a lounge-style, if
you can be satisfied with what he offered that evening, and they did it well, if
workmanlike at times, then it was good.
The bottom line, if you don't want the blow by blow, the pale purple-red lounge
suits for the band set the tone. The audience is mainly wanting or needing to
be seated, but we all manage to stand on the floor (some complaints …). The NEC
Birmingham (England) is a cavernous beast, nothing better than impersonal. It
takes 12,000 with a few hundred standing, mostly faraway seats, the audience
stand in mainly respectful silence, but do not really clap or cheer wildly
(certainly not like Wembley a week ago when, in a similar scale barn, the event
was much more up-close and personal). There is no obvious difficulty with Larry
Campbell who was simply excellent on every instrument. We got the 14+3 set that
everybody gets, we did not raise our game much, they performed professionally and
then left smartly. Finally, small venues are better all standing with general
admission, get a ticket!
Last here Fri May 10th 2002 (and before that Sept 2000) from my identical position
in a block at the rear, it is a full 50 m to where the ants were performing. I
came up the two hour drive from Bath with a strong hope they would show and
perform, but then there is always room for some doubt with a Dylan gig. Thick
fog in patches adds to the atmosphere, poor marshalling of the traffic (not at all)
and the parking (not well) (did they not know 11, 000+ tickets had been sold?)
means 1,000s still to enter at 7.30. Naff merchandising is on sale (only
naff/genuine inside etc. often announced), a red-rug carrying the eye and words
Bob Dylan, for your attic or back bedroom (you would not want to have given), was
£60 in London, only a few left I suppose, as now £75 in the NEC, horrid chocolate
brown hoodies have gone up from £42 to £45, it must be somebody's birthday. At
7.45, Mr Jobsworth asks us to sit down "the show will start in 5 minutes", still
long queues to get through security and many seats unfilled. Firstly you notice
NO real smell of incense (cutting down on the particles to be inhaled on stage
if you have a sore throat?, I wonder). The black curtains have the huge white
all-seeing eye with a crown upon it (is this anything to do with Tolkein?),
8.00 comes and goes, nothing new here, the rock star must be late (will he show?).
8.02 The house-lights go out - a fanfare (not Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the
Common Man this year), and the long ironic voice over, I cannot catch it all,
"founder of electric folk in the 1960s, written off in the 1970s, gospel tours
in the 1980s, rediscovered in the 1990s, voice of a generation, I'm imagining it
now), but then the ludicrous "L&G please welcome Columbia Recording Artist …",
and we are away.
So obviously (always dangerous) it's going to be Maggie's Farm, but we get a
reworked To be alone with you (as much earlier on in November) from Nashville
Skyline and immediately we are away, Freddy gives this his work-out, the set
opens, but not with a sound check, what is happening here, they are really good
from the off! The band (stick insects) in smart pale red-lounge suits (the song
and dance man in a black suit with no hat, gold buttons down the sleeves, he
actually looks well, in good health. Certainly more country or lounge than R&R.
The concert has started. Many hundreds more decide to find a seat. So, a real
song for openers, and now from the pitch black Larry takes the pedal steel and
plays a long and beautiful intro to Baby blue. Throughout this, which ends with
a short mouth organ to its immediate cheers, throughout this song Larry was epic.
An up tempo T Dee T Dum, from the album, leaves many cold in the just
standing-listening brigade. It is all thoroughly professional, but uninspiring,
it is good, but certainly not taking off, many wondering why no guitar, some
wondering why he does not speak to us, many just wandering about (you pay £31
for this and then wander about?, but it takes all sorts …).
Now one of those option slots at #4 (hoping for a North Country Girl, but I know
he's not there to please me…). My love she speaks of love minus zero, no limit.
It was tender, it was quiet, here the absence of a guitar distraction for the
troubadour really allows that emphasis on the lyric, expressive and delicate.
This finds Freddy on acoustic, and Larry on slide, it is generally excellent and
will turn out to be a high point. The black curtains come away to reveal those
grey school curtains on which amazing tricks will be played with the lighting
rig. It's Alright, Ma gets its sad cheer for a naked president, indeed the house
light partly come up (pour encourager les autres?). Larry plays an amazing riff
on the cittern which must cut his fingers up something. Dylan is presumably
unhappy with the lack of middle, no rhythm guitar (without him) in this, and so
he has arranged for the chief guitar man (Tommy?) to come out for this, so the
5-piece becomes a 6-piece and there is much head nodding and encouragement from
Bob during this. It was typical and generally all right.
Now die-hards and addicts are not going to like this, but Bye and Bye was
extremely well done as true Lounge. We have not had any R&R, some volume in It's
Alright, Ma, but no true R&R. I am glad he is there and performing, but following
the electric folk and two acoustic numbers, this is really well done I you like
pure Lounge, many leave to purchase beer (or wine, it's quite middle class at the
NEC you know). A word here about Tony Garnier, long serving and stalwart, it
should be mentioned that he is excellent, and the double bass gets a really good
workout. So, do not get me wrong, very good if you can handle Lounge, but this
is not R&R, I put it down to protecting the voice, but actually they are having
fun and ripping it up whether we want to listen and pay adulation or not. Tony
flat hat, George Recile's beret, purple suits, double bass and brushes for the
drums, it was louche and well done Lounge.
Now this band is good, not as good as with Charlie Sexton (I never saw G E Smith),
and they want to show a side of R&R that they can do by trading through H61.
Powerful up-lighting from the computerised lighting set, Freddy takes a slide
(come back Charlie), Larry plays great lead. You see they can play R&R, but
often chose not to. The huge crowd stand mainly unmoved, it is a hard venue, and
I Can't Wait. Now we arrive at more of those optional slots on this European
tour. Boots of Spanish Leather is something that lots of the middle aged audience
have sometime to remember something by, lots of visible hugging, much knowing
smiles and nods around me anyway, delicate with Larry excellent on cittern, and
Bob working hard on mouth-organ with that Infidels sound. Boots was sublime and
will be a highlight (with My love she speaks). Now he's beginning to hear voice,
in those Cold Irons Bound trying to be R&R, being loud is not quite enough. Back
to the acoustic instruments in the pitch-black. The curtains pull away to an arch,
with a purple-haze played upon it, what would have been another acoustic highlight.
There had been some walking off for drinks for the throat, Dylan's mic was turned
off, and he was clearly signing, here came "at a Baltimore hotel society gatherin'"
so we all cheered for Hattie Carroll. It was another really well done highlight,
but acoustic or electric folk (at those volumes) you see. George and his brushes,
Tony and his double bass, it was well done, but if you thought this was a ticket
for a R&R gig you went walk about. Well, I've been honest with you (Larry
excellent once again). Every grain of sand was good, but failed to make the
highlights grade. Summer days in blue and deep red light, pure R&B. A brief
mention here for Tony Garnier who manhandles his double-bass to show that acoustic
R&B has roots close to jazz. The band have fun in Summer days, long extended, the
set is ending.
Away for 3 long mins, at 9.35 the encores start, we have hardly cheered for them.
Cat's in the well, there is no R&R here, a nod towards R&B, but much more electric
folk Then one loud crash and straight into LARS, tonight not only the usual "a
crowd pleaser", (with the spot lights slowly rotating, deliberately turning to be
on us for each chorus), but a much more animated singer-songwriter. Gone is the
silly three words to one note and then a very high almost falsetto ruining,
re-interpreting for some. Well, I've been honest with you, and so there must be
someway out of here. 100 minutes and it's all over now.
At the back, un-sung hero Tony worked constantly hard with signals to George
Recile, who has nicely used brushes, and underplayed rather than the reverse.
Just my own hope for Forever Young... We yell, but not enough, and they are
away to the two purple and blacked out coaches within 5 minutes of leaving the
stage, off to the hotel with a Traffic Police escort and its blue lights
flashing in the foggy Birmingham night. I listen to Desire and L&T on the
This was generally a good show, all acoustic highlights, but it is a hard
impersonal venue. Everything was good, some a little better, the voice held up,
but I'll be queuing for Bournemouth, Cardiff, and Portsmouth tix next time. Yes,
I'll see him in anything, I'll stand in line. Thanks if you got this far in this
Best wishes to those with tix for next week. Thanks to those whose reviews I've
enjoyed, I hope this is a fair description. A line to thank Bill Pagel for
excellent, continuously excellent work. Here comes London.
Ian S. Blagbrough
Review by Graham Cole
A week tomorrow and Bob will have been with us for the first concerts of
this tour, and now, with a night off for everyone this evening, we have
the three smaller venues to look forward to. Last night saw a pretty full
NEC enjoying what was for Loraine and me, a really good performance,
without it being truly great. There were no howlers during the two hours,
even if some of the playing veered from the path at times, and he played
some great individual songs, but compared with Wembley (we couldn't do
Sheffield or Dublin) there was a less consistent feel to the evening.
After rushing up from Southampton straight from work, we were lucky in
that we managed to get into the huge barn just as Bob was coming on stage
(7.55 p.m.), so I'm not at all sure if he got any introduction over the
p.a. system. Certainly there was some loud introductory music as has
become usual, but if there was any "Ladies and gentlemen, Columbia
recording artists stuff ." we missed it, and there he was again, as we
hurried to our excellent seats (much closer than Wembley and with much
more relaxed security stewards). The crowd too seemed more relaxed,
although there is a wonderful friendliness anyway about the folk who turn
up to see Bob, and right from the start, as he launched into To Be Alone
with You, they sounded like they were there to enjoy the best of the man
and his band. Although this was good opening rocker to set things off,
the sound seemed very fuzzy at one stage to my ageing ears, but with It's
All Over Now, in its apparently customary second place on the setlist, any
sound problems seemed to have been sorted out. With George Recile already
removing his jacket (a hard rocking night ahead?), this was one of two
tunes on the night when Larry's beautiful pedal steel complemented the
vocals so sweetly, and we had our first harmonica treat of the concert
with a lovely thirty second close-out from Bob.
As at Wembley, Tweedle Dee Tweedle Dum is not a favourite, but tonight it
benefited from being clearer and more jangly, and Bob was really rocking
at his piano. I could have been disappointed that there was no Desolation
Row, but with Love Minus Zero/No Limit instead we weren't about to
complain! Larry was back on beautiful pedal steel, and Bob's vocals on
this tune were so measured and clear, enunciating each word so clearly,
and his "she speaks softly" seemed entirely appropriate, even if on this
evening, Dylan's vocals did sound more raspy than a week earlier, perhaps
the result of his midweek laryngitis attack. Larry's steel gave such a
tender lilting feel to the song with a beautiful break, he really was the
Regular fifth on the setlist has been It's Alright Ma and so it was
tonight, with strongly attacking drums from George and the occasional
extra guitar when Bob brings in his technician just in the wings, to boost
the overall sound perhaps when Larry is on cittern as on this tune. There
was a clear jazzy solo from Freddy on this tune, and this feel
strengthened on the following Bye and Bye. This was the first song of the
night that didn't really work for me. The arrangement was pure jazzy
swing, but dealt with far too loosely, and on this one the band didn't
seem to gel with Bob. I noticed several times in the evening how
carefully the band members (even Tony and Larry who have been with him a
good while) were watching Bob as if they were not 100% sure where he was
going, and this was certainly one where he didn't seem to hold them
together so well.
We both felt that the NEC show in general was louder and more rocky than
Wembley - is it our age that finds greater pleasure in the acoustic
material? Having said that, whilst Spanish Boots was the one highlight on
the acoustic side tonight, without any doubt, I really enjoyed next up
Highway 61, even if Freddy brought out his foul-shaped guitar!!! Bob
really attacked his piano on this one, almost leaping at it as he tore the
chords from it, and this time the band were very much together, especially
leading into a great guitar solo from Larry. Then came a menacing and
brooding Can't Wait, with a really pounding bass/drum background, and in a
flash the tone changed completely for another beautiful Spanish Boots of
Spanish Leather. This seemed to be changed again from a week ago - the
waves seemed gentler beneath Bob's crystal vocals, and as the song went
on, it struck me that, sung like this, it takes on some of the epic story
feel that I love so much in songs like Percy's Song. Just beautiful, and
with Highway 61, the best of the night.
Cold Irons Bound worked better for me this evening, and I liked the
hammered drum ending and echo sound as Bob walked off briefly, to
re-emerge with a drink in hand. I think this got refilled every now and
then from a flask in the wings (by Tommy Morrongiello)! Was it Lemsip???
- Bob certainly drank quite a lot this evening, so if it is all helping
clear his troubled throat, good for him!
Hattie Carroll has, by common consent, been an absolute highlight for so
many this week (it certainly was for us in London), but tonight it just
seemed a sprawling mess. There were bum notes on the piano, and although
things did pick up later - the vocals became better and certainly more
interesting - the backing was all over the place. Honest with Me brought
order back into the proceedings with Larry on slide guitar, and this moved
on to Every Grain of Sand. Inevitably soft and gentle, "to ease the
pain", this song worked well, largely thanks to Bob's strong piano
chording, and a brief, mid-instrumental hint that the times are
a'changing! On then to Summer Days and we knew the end was, sadly, in
sight. Tony swung his stand-up bass around on this one - he is such a
fine musician to watch - and the lights went down as the band bowed very
briefly and exited. A full five minutes for us to sit down cheering
awhile before the customary encore trio of Cats in the Well, LARS and All
Along the Watchtower took us to the house lights. I really like the way
they segue into LARS from Cats, and for both, Tony plays a lovely deep red
Epiphone bass, and furthermore, tonight the backdrop curtains for Rolling
Stone showed a neat and intriguing pattern of tracks on the ground . from
a rolling stone perhaps?
And so, Bob's only spoken words of substance for the evening came when he
introduced Larry, Freddy, George and Tony and then the final song, giving
Freddy Koella another work-out in front of everyone (for us he does this
too much) before the four musicians follow Bob Dylan off stage and into
the wings, leaving the stage dead on two hours after coming on.
So, another concert down with some great music from this iconic figure,
but how much we are looking forward to seeing Bob and the boys in those
smaller venues - a chance to get up closer and maybe just a bit more
personal! See you there maybe, and again Bob, thanks for a great evening
Review by Neil
How disappointing after the highs of Wembley last saturday.
A concert that started out with real hope turned into a real clunker.
Nothing that Bob or the band did could lift it off the ground last nite -
I don't fully understand why not..perhaps it was just one of those nights.
After the initial pleasure of recognising that Bob was gamefully
tackling "To be alone with you"...the version was pleasing without
being spectacular. The highlight of the whole evening was the third
song, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, a superb version, the one song of the
night where Bob and the band worked well together, bringing verve and
meaning to its delivery. After that, by and large, it was downhill all the
way. At times, as I looked around me towards the back of Block A, the
audience near me had a look on their faces which resembled the grim faced
determination that people assume when they've been waiting too long at a
I won't forensically dissect each song, except to say that I felt that Bob
tried his hardest, but something was fundamentally wrong - was he still
feeling ill (he certainly looked far more ill at ease than at Wembley, and
was drinking a lot more liquid)? The band really were out of sorts
tonight, and kicked up a racquet - like a pale imitation of Charlie
Quintana's band that played on Letterman in 1983.
I hope Bob's feeling better for Shepherd's Bush tomorrow...
Review by Hugh Barney
Very, very glad I made it fourth time around.
The sound of the band was consistantly good but the quality of Bob's voice
varied a lot throughout the evening. It was impossible to tell if this
was due to his recovering from laryngitis, deliberate rasping through
some songs, being seated right at the back or just bad mixing. I think it
was a combination of these factors at different points.
From what we could see, Bob and the band were really enjoying themselves.
Bob did some Charlie Chaplin type walks across the stage to talk to the
drummer every now and then and appeared to loose his way at one point
after going off stage for a moment.
I'd never seen Bob on piano before, but had read good reports about it.
It definitely works. I would like to see Bob do more solo stuff though.
None of us had any idea what the first song was. It was only later that I
read it was 'To be alone with you'. We couldn't make out a single word
(mix problem). The band then went straight into 'Baby Blue' which Bob
rasped his way through sounding pretty rough. It was totally redeemed by
Bob playing a harp instrumental, a rare treat these days; and we got at
least three other harp instrumentals throughout the night. I didn't
make a note of which songs.
Tweedle Dum and Tweedle was perfect, better than the version on Love and
Theft. The mix finally seemed to be sorted out. Love Minus zero was also
good but Bob seemed to be rasping again. This was followed by a Budokan
version of 'Its Alright Ma' in which you could hear every word. Both Bob
and the band put loads of energy into this one.
Highway 61 was truly 'Electric'. I've not enjoyed this song before at
previous concerts but it was the highlight of the evening for me. The
band was so tight, that stratt sound, the riffs, the mix, the bass, the
lead guitar. It was Hendrix, it was the Keith Richards, it was pure
heavy rock/blues. Absolutely blew me away - worth the 4 hour drive and
the ticket price on its own. I hope Columbia release a live album of this
I really didn't care for the Elizabethan interpretation of 'Spanish
Boots'. I felt the band were taking the ... here. I almost expected
Rowan Atkinson to start leaping about the stage in black tights. Maybe I
could get used to it if I heard it under better conditions. It often
takes a while to tune into a new interpretation of a song but I felt the
band were totally unsuited to this kind of Dylan song. I felt it would
have been much better as a Dylan solo. Same for 'Hattie Carol' and 'Every
grain of Sand'.
'Honest with me' and 'Summer Days' sounded great. Not sure who was the
mystery fourth guitarist on the left of the stage behind Bob during
'Honest with Me'. Maybe one of the roadies fancied having a go.
The encore was a tight set of 'Cats in the well' which neatly ran into
'Rolling Stone' with the stage lighting being made to ripple across the
heads of the audience during 'how does it feel ?'. All Along the
Watchtower was an anti-climax but totally forgivable given Highway 61.
Good luck to Steve and Clair with the new jobs down south.
Review by Bernie Davies
Dissapointed. I was at the NEC Birmingham on 21/11 for Bobs
concert. The man did not look well and was obviously suffering from the
efects of his laryngitis. Unfortunately his band played far to loud
drowning out the great mans voice on 95% of the vocals. During some of the
songs it was hard to work out what particular song he was singing the
backing was so loud. Like me the crowd were begging him to strap on his
guitair, take centre stage and sing to them properly, but alas this did
not happen and he slouched behind his piano for most of the show. In all I
feel Bobs sound crew got it all wrong that night and spoilt a chance of a
lifetime for me....... If I'de wanted long heavy guitair riffs in the
middle of each song I would have booked for Status Quo. In conclusion far
to much band and not enough Dylan
Bernie Davies [57yrs] England
God Bless Bob Dylan.
Review by James Glover
Awesome bobby d show in birmingham last night, but traffic getting into
the nec was horrendous causing myself and many others to miss the start of
the show. The band must have come on at 8pm and I arrived at my seat on
the flat floor one block from the stage half way through the second number
baby blue. Immediately i was taken aback by the position of the musicians
on stage with bob on the far right hammering away on his tiny piano,
directing the band with waves of the hand and nods of the head. Bob seems
extremely relaxed on this tour, wandering and weaving around the stage
inbetween and sometimes in the middle of the songs! This band is
absolutely incredible, the perfect rhythm section allowing freddie and
larry's reigns to be let loose by bob, and he frequently pointed at
freddie in particular to let go as much as possible(why do one solo per
song when five say so much more!). Indeed freddie was often looking at bob
during his solos as if to say: want me to stop yet? but bob would not
start the next verse and the guitarists would be off again, freddie looked
like he would explode when this happened at least three times on its
alright ma, honest with me and of course summer days. George recile seemed
really in tune with bob last night as well, the latter wandering over to
the kit and demonstrating things with his hands, george nodding and
crashing on. Bob clearly wants to push his most recent bandmates as far as
possible and his switch to piano and position on the stage reflect this
wish to have a great band going wild and winging it while he concentrates
on his vocal.Speaking of which their were a few fluffed forgotten lines
last night but the general atmosphere on stage was so loose it just didnt
matter and when he got his vocals right they were great. Highlights? well
the slower numbers were a revelation. The voice was cut out for the first
lines of hattie carrol but the problem was corrected straight away leaving
bob to give a deeply heartfelt rendition with every word enunciated as
though he had never come across them before, making a 38 year old song
sound amazingly fresh. Boots of spanish leather got the same treatment; i
closed my eyes on this one and let bob and his band take me to a
completely other place.Bye and bye and cold irons were great to hear but
highway 61 and summer days took the show for me.The encore couldnt quite
keep up the pace but cats in the well really is an inspired arangement and
bobs stopping and starting on the last verse of watchtower and freddies
response was great improvisation.The band intros and a "thankyou friends"
and he was off, leaving me ecstatic at having been blown away by a 62 year
old artist still as vital to music as he was 40 years ago and his
marvellous, wonderful, incredible rock n roll band.
Review by Martin Gayford
I thought Bob looked and sounded quite ill during the first 2 songs - To
be alone with you did not resemble the song on Nashville Skyline. His
voice on a few songs was much rougher than it was at Wembly, but
ironically these were some of the night's highlights - Love minus zero
became great after a shaky start, and It's alright ma and Hattie Carroll
were also great. Bye and bye was quite long with lots of harmonica and
was lovely to hear, and Boots of spanish leather was lovely too. Can't
wait was quite good. I would love to hear my favourite Love & theft songs
though - Floater, Poor boy, Highwater, Mississippi - indsead of the
regulars. Bob's mood seemed to improve during the show - from Love minus
zero, but he wasn't enjoying himself as much as at Wembly. And regarding
Freddy - at Wembly I thought some of his playing was really good. Last
night at the NEC I thought he was really awful - he just didn't play like
a professional musician. He might have ruined several songs had Bob's
singing not been so good.
Review by Alan Davis
As I sit here typing this, I find myself asking: why did I travel a 300
mile round trip at the end of a hard day's work, and pay £30 for a ticket,
and £6 to park, to subject myself to that?
Was the performance any good? Well for most of the time I can't honestly
say, because from where I was standing in the middle of block B, the bulk
of the show was just a deafening roar of sound in which every instrument,
together with Bob's voice, blurred into the general mass of horribly
distorted noise. Sometimes I persuaded myself that I could hear Bob's
piano. It rarely seemed to be either in tune, or in time, with the
unspeakable roaring noise that the rest of the band were producing.
Somewhere in this appalling mess was Bob's voice. Sometimes a few words
could be distinguished. The volume level was such that I seriously
wondered whether I was doing my ears permanent damage. When the volume was
hiked up yet again for the encores, I decided the answer might really be
yes, and so I just watched with my hands over my ears.
Everything was given the same treatment. Boots of Spanish Leather? It's
all over now, Baby Blue? Forget words like 'tender' or 'delicate' or
'feeling'. The approach to everything was 'Smash it out at the punters
with eardrum-splitting volume as if every song was Summer Days'.
I've loved Bob Dylans' performances in recent years, but this was nothing
like anything I could ever call music. It was not like anything I could
ever call entertaining. Someone might be able to argue that it had value
as some kind of anti-art statement I guess. But personally, I'd have had
more fun spending 2 hours in the most dangerously deafening corner of a
Review by Ian Corbridge
After the rolling emotions of the previous day, not knowing whether Bob would
make it to Sheffield or not, I felt happier that Birmingham would go ahead and
that the journey down the tortuous M6 would not be in vain. Suffice to say that
I was not to be disappointed by Bob's performance in the cavernous NEC.
Make no mistake, Bob put in a great performance in Sheffield in what was my
first live experience (bootlegs aside) of this new band this year and the
rockier edge he had put on a number of songs. He was not helped by poor sound
or below par acoustics which did his recovering vocals no favours at all. There
were also moments when the band appeared a little edgy as if the short break
from performance had taken away some of the slickness and spontaneity that we
had come to know and expect, in spite of the ever changing set lists that they
have to cope with. Nevertheless there were many great moments in the show to
remember it by and the lively crowd clearly seemed to enjoy the whole occasion.
Anyway, having negotiated the biggest car park in the world (that is the M6,
not the fogbound NEC!), Bob and the band appeared on stage at 8pm to a
rapturous welcome (having said that, I thought that the Sheffield crowd were
more up for it than they were tonight). To Be Alone With You kicked things off
and was a slight surprise after such a long run of opening with Maggie's Farm
but it proved to be a storming start which I for one very much enjoyed.
Baby Blue followed in what I considered to be a much better version than the
night before. At this point I knew we were in for a good night and it was
obvious that the sound quality and mix from the stage were going to be an
improvement over the previous evening.
After the usual Tweedle Dee, in which Freddie's guitar work really does work
well, we got a very nice version of Love Minus Zero, which has always been
one of my favourite songs. Conversely It's Alright Ma has never been top of
my want to hear list. However I have to say that the rocking version on this
tour is one of the best I have enjoyed and was one of the highlights of both
shows I attended.
Either side of the guitar duelling that comprises Highway 61 (which takes me
back to Wembley Stadium 1984 when Mick Taylor put his own mark on this song…….
and I don't care what the average Bob fan thinks but I really enjoyed that
tour!) we had a couple of surprises in Bye and Bye and Can't Wait, more from
the fact that these hadn't been performed for a little while.
Boots of Spanish Leather always comes into the nice to hear category and
tonight's performance did not disappoint. A version of Cold Irons Bound
followed in what appeared to a very similar style to the 2002 shows. It was
then a little unfortunate that we missed the first 2 or 3 lines of Hattie
Carroll due to Bob's mike not being switched on, but in view of the
improvement in the overall sound from the previous night I am prepared to
forgive that slight error on the part of the sound man.
We then progressed through the now established closing sequence of songs with
an exciting Honest With Me, a delightful Every Grain of Sand and the ever
breathtaking Summer Days which is continually being taken to new levels of
rockabilly heaven. Man this guy can rock the house!!
The standard encore routine followed. I have to note that I really like the
version of Cats in the Well which, like It's Alright Ma, really rocks better
than it has ever done before. LARS as ever got instant recognition from the
crowd and the ever present Watchtower brought the 2 hour set to a fine finish.
All in all I felt that the performance as a whole was a few notches up on the
Sheffield show. The band just seemed to gel throughout and Bob was strutting
around the stage in a far more positive mood. I guess this had a lot to do
with the greater certainty he had that his voice would hold out.
Since my first live experience of Bob at Earls Court in 1981 (the "Bird's Nest
In Your Hair" show), I have witnessed some awesome performances. Whilst I
would not place these 2 shows in this category, Birmingham was a solid
performance and was great fun and very entertaining. And, at the end of the
day, isn't that what it is all about?
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