page by Bill Pagel
Review by Graham Cole
Christmas came early to London tonight with Santa Claus in the guise of
the legend that is Bob Dylan. Just when everyone was remarking how little
he was changing the sets on this tour, what does the mercurial singer do
but go and throw everything into turmoil with a setlist that changes all
the rules for concert-going. Tonight we had a package of goodies that
nobody could have predicted. Just like at Christmas, when you think you
might get some of the things you've had for so many Christmases, only this
once all the presents, when opened, prove to be real, unexpected
But then we are talking Bob Dylan, and he inevitably does things his own
way. In fact as he made it perfectly clear in the sixth song of the
evening, Most Likely You'll Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine.
Having said from the barn that is the NEC that we wanted tonight to be a
time when we might get up close and more personal in concert, Loraine and
I found ourselves four back from the front of the Empire, a venue that is
so pleasingly smaller and therefore more intimate than the gross hangars
that Bob has played at this past week. And for whatever reason, how he
changed things with a loud, rocking set that engendered a wonderful
response from the eager and excited crowd before him. No track-by-track
listing from me - where we stood the sheer experience was probably more
important as our ears again did their best to make out the lyrics amongst
the rocking crescendos of noise. This was a night for us when we were
enveloped in the sound and vision of Bob and the band.
Bob himself got a huge roar of approving applause when he stepped out in a
dark suit and dickie bow, more English-looking than the American styling
of his recent suits. And from the opening Cold Irons Bound, although
heard already on this tour, it was clear that the tour's setlist rulebook
was being rewritten. This was not a night for note-taking, so I didn't,
but just did my best to savour the music, loud as it was, and to crane my
neck to get every possible glimpse of the Bobby-rocker at work at his
keyboard and microphone.
And how he and the boys in the band enjoyed themselves tonight. There was
laughter and grinning a-plenty, and much evidence of what could surely
become a new dance craze, at least for the generation d'un certain âge,
and which may suitably be called the Bob! He looks so well and in such
good form - the chance to see him at just ten metres away proved this, and
it was fantastic to see him enjoying himself so much. Larry and Tony too,
as they exchanged grins and words, and even Freddie, perhaps because he
didn't really come forward quite so much for the guitar solos (a plus for
us), looked in good form alongside the energetic George R.
The highlights for me of this evening of phenomenal, and unexpected
delights? Meeting up with a good friend from previous tours and chatting
to new ones before the show, the harmonica opening to It Takes a Lot to
Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry, the joyousness of Quinn the Eskimo,
matched by the sheer delight amongst the fans as they heard the opening
notes of that song, and then, perhaps above all, Jokerman, with its Bo
Diddley-like shimmering guitar work and riveting vocals. Tonight then was
completely different from all other nights on this tour, and Loraine and I
feel privileged to have been there to see and hear this master at such
creative work. The added joy is that we still have Hammersmith and
Brixton to come, and after tonight, anything could happen.
Yet again, so many thanks to Bob and the band for another fantastic
Review by Neil Millar
This doesn't need to be a long review, just check out the set list!
Those of us who've been to a lot of Bob Dylan shows often get asked
why we bother..."surely, it's much the same every night". After more than
fifty Dylan concerts spanning several decades, I've occasionally asked
myself the same question, but tonight reminded me of why I keep going
back. I'd be one of the first to admit that Dylan doesn't always give a
great performance in concert, but tonight he was quite wonderful. Perhaps
the venue helped. London's Shepherds Bush Empire is probably the smallest
and most intimate venue that Dylan has ever performed at in the UK. It
would be overstating things to say that this was Dylan at his career best,
but if you thought Dylan's set lists were becoming predicable, think
Review by Robert Wilkinson
A small and intimate venue. A set list to die for. A lively, vociferous
London audience (crowd response always seems to get dulled and eaten up in
the cavernous, alienating tramsheds of Sheffield Arena and Birmingham NEC,
Bob's last two dates). Could anything go wrong?
I sold my spare ticket for £40. The touts were selling at £75. But hey,
man, love and peace. It's only rock 'n' roll. But did we like it?
Once inside, comin' in from the cold, away from the rain and the wind, the
drunk guy in the queue smashed through the safety tape and we nearly ended
up in the boiler room. On ther floor, a buzz of expectation and a whiff of
dope. Bright-eyed young kids and the craggy, lined faces of old hippies.
Lone geeks and obsessives. (Hi to the Belgian fan who'd seen Bob 85
times!) First-timers and old hands. Husbands and wives.
The familiar eye of Horus looked down on Bob and his band as they ripped
into Cold Irons Bound. With Quinn the Eskimo at number 2 we knew what we
had hardly dared hope for - it was going to be a night of surprises. And
so it proved to be. (Just Like Thumb's Blues, Million Miles, Tough Mama,
Dear Landlord, Jokerman! Don't you wish you'd all been there?)
It was loud. Very loud. Bob's voice at times struggled to rise above the
wall of sound. There was a strident, Chicago-style blues edge to many of
the songs - due to Koella's low-down, mean and dirty guitar. There's an
unlovely tension in this band between the staccato, withheld style of
Koella's - further heightened by Bob's crashing keyboard chords (often
supplementing the overall texture, but at times simply tiresome and
predictable) - and Campbell's rock-solid, driving, lyrical country rock
approach to which we've all become accustomed. Thank God for Garnier, as
ever the backbone of the band, neatly winding up numbers at Bob's bidding,
keeping Recile in check. For me Recile's too much in the foreground. Of
course he's a good drummer - but sometimes you long for a Keltner-like
restraint. He's sometimes haphazardly all-over-the-place.
Bob's continuing belief in and commitment to his repertoire is still
astoundingly passionate. Something happened around slot 11 - Dear Landlord
- when Bob suddenly seemed to become more energised and everthing took
off, through Tombstone Blues, Jokerman, and finally Silvio, which
positively rocked. Phew, what a scorcher! Loved all the eccentric stage
walks - they just made me smile. What about the time when he marionetted
to centre-stage, crouched down facing the audience, then touched his toes?
Wonderful - Chaplinesque and surreal. The ambivalent edge between
performing and living, illusion and reality, keeping-it-all-in and
heart-on-the-sleeve. Reminded me of the Kerouac grave scene (and many
other moments) in Renaldo and Clara. When does the embarrassment of
faltering human reality become art? Interesting...
Sadly after the break the gig never rescaled those heights. But it was
still pretty damn good. Just look at those words, those tunes - those
songs. There's no one else within a million miles of competing. Last night
we had an inviolable demonstration of the strength of the huge,
unassailable back catalogue and the continuing brilliance of more recent
compositions from Time out of Mind and Love and Theft. It's all a
continuous project, an ongoing process, a constantly under-rehearsed
reinterpretation and renewal. The country-folk-rock equivalent of a
literary stream-of-consciousness or a Beat Generation jazzy prose.
Last night wasn't pretty and it wasn't subtle, but I loved it. Bob
ramraided our hearts and minds yet again, and came away the victor.
Review by Mark Sturgis
What a fantastic venue and what an incredible show. I arrived at the
venue at just gone 7.00 p.m. - the weather had been particularly miserable
all week-end, with my spirits only being lifted on Saturday by the result
of the rugby world cup and the prospect of seeing Bob Dylan in an intimate
setting. I must admit that on my way up to London I had wondered whether
he would alter the set at all. Being such a small venue I would like to
think that Dylan would have realised that the hard core fans would make up
the vast majority of the audience. However, I don't think anyone in the
audience could have possibly imagined or hoped for such a wild and varied
I attended the Wembley Arena show and thought that Dylan's performance
that night was incredibly good. The set list wasn't that inspirational
but we should all know by now that the set-list only tells part of the
story. From the outset of the Shepherd's Bush show I was taking a mental
note of the songs and, incredibly, the only three songs repeated from
Wembley were the three encores.
I think that this is a show where Dylan fans from around the world will
look incredulously at the set list and check the date to ensure that it's
not 1st April. But, as I said above, the set-list only tells part of the
story. There were indeed some fantastic highlights. For me, it was Quinn
The Eskimo, Down Along The Cove, Positively 4th Street, Dear Landlord and
Jokerman. The performance of Dear Landlord, always one of my favourite
Dylan songs, was worth the entrance fee alone. What was also fantastic to
see was the response of the audience, particularly those close to me, who,
when they recognised the intro's to songs like Jokerman and Dear landlord
went absolutely nuts. Let's hope this enthusiasm got to Dylan and he'll
do similarly diverse sets at the Hammersmith and Brixton. However, what
seemed to let the show down was the middle section of Tough Mama and Under
The Red Sky, where Dylan and the band were far from confident and
struggled to find any semblance of a groove. I thought that they had lost
the momentum they had previously built up in the earlier part of the set.
Tough Mama in particular was poor - the structure of this song doesn't
give Dylan the space within which to open his lungs and sing. Not to
worry, Dylan returned to form with a brilliant Positively 4th Street.
If I saw bootlegs of the Wembley Arena show and the Shepherd's Bush Empire
show and didn't know anything about the tour I would plump for the latter
show on the basis of the set-list alone. Having attended both shows I
think that I would plump for the Wembley show (providing that the
highlights from the Shepherd's Bush show were also included!).
Review by Christopher Richmond
I thought I knew what to expect but I was wrong.The pace was relentless
and I gave up waiting for something slower and quieter. I was impressed by
the tremendous energy and enthusiasm. They needn't have played in such a
small theatre but there were smiles on their faces and they were obviously
enjoying themselves and giving their all.
I could hardly understand a word but it didn't matter. Dylan looked
slightly Dickenian in his long black coat and conducted and shuffled about
in between singing and playing.
He came across as rather shy when he took a bow and perhaps he needs to
hide behind the music.
Review by Jim Scott
One correspondent criticised those of us who praised the Wembley concert
last week for wishful thinking and failing to dole out justified
criticism. I can't agree. It was quite outstanding. And even after the
second 2003 London concert, within a stone's throw of the location where
we did indeed see that terrible concert at the time of the 1st Gulf war,
there are no grounds for criticism even although I felt the latter was
hardly a patch on the former.
The set list as all readers will by now know was fairly eclectic. I'm sure
I hadn't heard him do "Quinn the Eskimo" before. Likewise "Down along the
cove." Solid workmanlike performances. But in no way inspired.
Is it fair to expect inspiration at all his concerts? If not then at what
It seemed that he was determined to show the Londoners just how many songs
he had in his knapsack. Not a single repeat from the previous week in the
initial 14. All rock/blues or however you want to categorise them but
without a single ballad though 2 ballads had been the highlights of his
Wembley show. (Why not? Saving his voice? I hope so. The artist's right to
present his work as he chooses on his own terms and let the ticket buying
public go hang? I hope not.)
Quite a preponderance of songs from the Highway 61 album. Yet no real
passion anywhere I thought. Even "Positively 4th street" was muted.
Overall there was much less harmonica this time than last time. Less
passion when it was played. Only on the intro to "It takes a lot to laugh"
did he really go to town with that instrument, and even then relatively
briefly." Under the red sky" was one of the highlights and reminded me of
the strengths of this generally overlooked album.
So to the encore. "Tweedle Dee" is not my favourite but I enjoyed it and I
feel that the current versions of the last 2 songs continued to display a
vitality and sensitivity that have been missing on many occasions.
And I didn't mention "Jokerman" which he did play with passion and with
drive. With inspiration, in fact. Done to a particularly staccato reggae
beat. Not quite "out of this world" but quite wonderful nonetheless.
What a grotty venue.Bars opening on to the auditorium which were open all
through the performance.
In summary, even an "ordinary" Dylan concert is still a memorable
experience. In summary, 12 years after the 1991 concert mentioned at the
start, it is amazing he can tour the world non stop because all the signs
then were that he was washed up as a live performer and his voice on that
occasion seemed shot to pieces beyond any rational hope of recovery. In
summary, I thought his demeanour tonight was much less stilted than at
Wembley, his interaction with the audience seemed more natural and if the
price for that is a less good performance, I'd rather eschew the bear-pit.
page by Bill Pagel
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