Bob Dylan - Bob Links - Reviews - 12/18/97


Los Angeles, California

December 18, 1997

El Rey Theater

Review provided Alistair Hunter

BOB DYLAN @ The El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles, Thursday 12/18/97 

Again the great intimate venue. A very lively and eager audience. Sheryl 
Crow is onstage "I'm Sheryl...I'm opening for Bob...and I'm damn glad!". 
Her band is two guitars, mandolin, keyboards, but it will later feature 
Sheryl on harmonica, keyboards, and accordian and even the band will 
swith a bit.  This is the former back up singer who clearly has energy, 
experience, pipes!, and dogone good mike technique. She is seasoned, 
confident, and experienced. She knows what she is doing and just does 
it. Some of the songs..."Heaven's Gate"; "Leaving Las Vegas"; 
"Rosaline"; "Run Baby Run"; "It Don't Hurt"; "Tearing Us Upart" ; 
"Everyday Is A Winding Road". By far she is the "hottest" opening act so 
far. The other thing that is cool about Sheryl is that she and her 
entire band come back off stage right to watch and "dig" the entire 
Dylan performance

The audience is clearly primed for Bob. But where the heck is he? He is 
at least 30 minutes late, but the polite and appreciative audience 
cheers him as he hits the stage in his grey suit and black tie. You 
kinda sense that he has "an attitude". 

And "Maggie's Farm" is out there. There is a genuine sense of 
excitement. From here on in each song tops the other and this is the 
most outstanding evening of the entire Bob Dylan Festival so far. This 
is the day that Robert Hilburn's LA Times review "Freewheeling Dylan 
Shows He's Again Where It's At: With Beck as his opening act, the 
veteran troubadour finds his focus in an inspiring set" has hit the 
streets. Hilburn has acknowledged that Dylan is fully involved, with 
clear vocals, a stellar performance, and as usual not wedded to the 
original versions of the songs.  Hilburn expresses his disappointment 
that Dylan has selected songs that "interest him..."rather than placing 
them in any dramatic context" AND is critical that more could have been 
drawn from the new "Time Out Of Mind" album...especially the 16 minute 
"Highlands" and "Not Dark Yet". Hilburn misses the entire dramatic 
structure that Dylan has set up. It is clear that he is rotating eight 
songs an evening. And this will turn out to be a very special evening 
indeed. At one point I wanted to shout out..."Play whatever you damn 
well want Bob !!!!!!!!! ". 
I didn't have to. He does. And tonight you see him actually consulting 
with the band after "Tangled Up In Blue", , and again after "Blind 
Willie McTell". Another factor may be that the brilliant new guitarist 
Larry Campbell is probably still learning some of these songs. There is 
no question he is being blown away onstage when he and Bob get into 
things. His eyes are wide and he gets a big grin, shaking his head. 
Later, when Dylan introduces him he says.."This is not Robbie Robertson. 
Somebody asked me....Oh. And this is Bucky Baxter... the former mayor of 
Bloomsfield, North Virgina". 

"I Want You" (what a surprise!); "Born In Time"; "Can't Wait"  (solid); 
"Silvio" (better and better!) ; "Stone Walls And Steel Bars" 
(traditional acoustic...damn!); "Mr. Tamborine Man" (an acoustic 
masterpiece!!!!); "Tangled Up In Blue" (the acoustic highlight that 
knocks out the entire audience); "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A 
Train To Cry" ( this is a result of the of my 
favorites and the best version I've ever heard him do) ; "Blind Willie 
McTell" ( after another cosultation...and stronger than any other 
night...there is electricity here!); "'Til I Fell In Love With You"; 
(encore) "Like A Rolling Stone" (another consultation and featuring 'The 
Dylan Had Shake'); "It Ain't Me Babe" (acoustic wonder!); "Love Sick" 
(this is better and better and a key song of the new 
stuff!); "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" ....This is the all time finale.  
Bob has faked a final encore and does this song to close out the night. 
The lights are on again. The back of his jacket is showing his sweat. 
He's earned it.  From the first song tonight he has been  'The Travola 
Dylan' . By this time he is fully 'The Animated Dylan' ...he is mugging 
the audience and milking each and every one. It is like he is reaching 
out and making eye contact. He knows exactly what he is doing.  I teel 
yah this guy is in danger of getting a whiplash from jerking his head 
around. Did I really see him "moonwalk"?

Alistair (Al) Hunter


Review provided by Tim Whittome

As I hadn't expected to either see Bob Dylan whilst staying on vacation
from London with my fiancee in Los Angeles, still less to actually get a
ticket once I realized as late as December that he was actually going to
play in LA whilst I was still here, the excitement and expectation was
all the more intense when my fiancee, Amy, turned up one day with a
ticket as a Christmas present.

That she had found it from an 'unknown source' known to specialize in
such matters made the nervous anticipation all the more intense, but
here I was for the Thursday show (18th December), sandwiched midway in
Bob's residency here. 

Meanwhile, Robert Hilburn had given a slightly tentative review of the
first show and someone on the Bob Dylan userlist had complained that the
sound was indecipherable and muddy.  Long term followers of Bob will of
course realize that such signs are either often misappropriate to the
eventual personal experience, or are amusing more for what they reveal
of the reviewer.  One could spend endless hours musing over whether
their day been a bad one leading up to the show or whether they had
arrived with a barrel of expectations only to have them surely dashed on
Bob's unpredictable anvil?

I had tried to ignore my own clamorous expectations and the comments of
those further back along the line, but as I stood to the side with a
clear view of the raised stage and as close to Bob as I have been in
years, it was clear from the fractured but tender blast of 'I Want You'
that we could be in for quite a show.  'Maggie's Farm' had been a
tentative and poor opener as if Bob had really just 'woken up' not long
since and was momentarily confused.  He had after all been late arriving
at the El Rey and the crowd had become restless.  Even the glittering El
Rey chandeliers were impatient and like the rest of us had pushed
forward with eager anticipation...  

By 'Cold Iron's Bound', though, Bob had shed whatever remained of
sleeplessness and launched into one of the evening's many show
stoppers.  I had scarcely been prepared for quite the venom, energy and
almost violence of this performance as both Dylan and the band shook the
El Rey and its chandeliers as each blast cascaded through the whole
auditorium and maybe out onto a busy Wilshire Blvd.  It was sheer drama,
theater and, to listen to, electrifying.  People were stunned and tears
glistened in the odd eye as Bob wrenched this performance with an energy
that looking back on it resembled ISIS from Renaldo and Clara, but which
at the time, left me standing and wondering where Bob can get such furor
from both at his age and so recently after his near fatal illness.  It
was obvious that he was actually glad to be alive and poised on what he
so often regards as the brittle edge between sanity and insanity - both
of which could be seen 'smashing up against his soul' on a night of
brittle and charged wonders that alternately broke their chains and

'Born in Time' was sheer relish, all tenderness and remorse having
either long since gone, or at least gone for the night but it was great
stuff, each word symbolizing a last statement or the promise of a
clearer future un-befuddled by past chains.  The electricity then poured
into 'Can't Wait' and from where I stood, I could see Dylan's face
contort into a grotesque mask as he announced to some past victim that
it was all because 'he cared'.  Perhaps he had recently watched the
Phantom of the Opera which is also playing in Los Angeles, but either
way, Dylan was showing once more how the writing of so many of his
gloomiest songs can actually be transformed into a relish of gleeful
self-redemption or the sheer annihilation without compunction of some
hapless victim when played live.

'Silvio' remained as 'Silvio' but as Dylan showed little sign of the
seeming endlessness of its performance and rigid set-list location down
the years, it was forgivable - just!

The fire glowered more sweetly during a committed acoustic set and even
the old chestnuts of 'Tambourine Man' and 'Tangled Up in Blue' were
wonderful, Bob's unique phraseology never deserting him.  How different
the latter was tonight compared to a few months earlier in London when
from half-a-mile back in a dense Wembley Arena, I could only view this
as just another song that had to be almost endured in a long line of
older hits and worn gems.  

Dylan was moving well, looked well and was dressed well as if he had
just arrived back from the Kennedy Honours or from a meeting with other
important world dignitaries - the smart suit belying his younger and
more rebellious public appearances.

Then it was into a great version of 'It Takes A Lot to Laugh' - perhaps
an appropriate song on the night as there was indeed little humour
beyond what I would describe as Hamletesque glee and tormenting
sarcasm.  A restrained but menacingly understated band performance of
'Blind Willie McTell' served to enhance the chill of this brittle tour
through the darker shadows of America's past, Dylan clearly enjoying his
identification with Willie McTell as well as his knowledge of the roots
of so much of his work in both the Blues and the imperfectly painted
past that is American history.

The main set closed with another stunner from 'Time out of Mind', 'Till
I Fell in Love With You'.  Again, there was no subtlety but only more
glee, but the crowd loved it and bayed for more until Dylan returned
with a four song encore of yet more energy and commitment that was
nothing less than extraordinary for one of his age and when set against
a background of his recent illness.

'Love Sick’ was infinitely better than it had earlier been in London and
far less tentative, Dylan having absorbed the meaning and of course the
hidden energy of the song's doubt and longing.   As is by now customary,
the song would end and 'Rainy Day Women' would begin and end with its by
now traditional inconclusive and perhaps irritating jamming.  Dylan
appears to still love this but here we must part company for just one
song - only the second of the 16 that were played and which either
didn't or still don't work for me. their pointlessness reinforced by
their reiteration.

However, let not the odd blemish ruin the impression I want to give of a
wonderful show, full of the kind of fire I haven't seen from Bob for
some time, and certainly not in London just two months earlier.  Of
course, the unpredictability is why we still all go and still love going
to these shows - two months apart, but two performances as different in
all aspects as London is nearly 6,000 miles from Los Angeles and
moreover a city where people drive on the left whereas in LA they drive
on the right.  Down the years, there have obviously been many great
shows, but whether it was the intimacy of the theater, the fact of
seeing Bob in a far off City that I am still getting to know, or the
beauty of having a loving fiancee prepared to treat me to a higher than
face-value ticket, I do not know, but this was a mesmerizing performance
from a performer who can dazzle and inspire as well as frustrate and
negate.  Truly the air burned....

Tim Whittome

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