Bob Dylan - Bob Links - Review - 12/20/97

Reviews

Los Angeles, California

December 20, 1997

El Rey Theater



Review provided Todd H.


Standing on Wilshire Boulevard waiting for the El Rey doors to open on the final night of
the magical five night stand, I gazed in continued disbelief at the colored lights of the
small theatre marquee and letters posted on it: Bob Dylan, Live In Concert. What a gift!
Thank you, Bob.

Each night has had a different feel. Tonightís had been one of justifiable excitement
coupled with a slight sadness for the inevitable conclusion of the El Rey run. (If we were
to build a theatre to honor of Bob, this name would certainly be appropriate (El Rey= the
king).

Willie Nelson played with Tony, Larry, and Bucky from Bobís band. His set was filled with
genuine sentiment. From my position front left 8 feet from the stage, I could see that
Willie truly appreciated the opportunity to perform before such a musically sophisticated
group of fans. With his old acoustic guitar (it had a hole in it and had autographs
scribbled all over it), Willie rolled through a series of his famous tunes. You Were Always
On My Mind brought tears to my eyes, and I donít believe that I was alone. It was the first
time that I had seen Willie live, and it was a memorable experience. He is a guitar
virtuoso.

When Bob took the stage for the last time at the El Rey, he opened again with "Maggieís
Farm"- forewarning to all present that Bob is only doing what he wants to do, like it or
not, and is loving every minute of it. This is apparent during the jams within all of the
new tunes. Bob began playing to the crowd immediately, and these playful, curious facial
expressions continued throughout the entire evening . The "Tonight Iíll Be Staying Here With
You" perfectly communicated to the crowd that Bob too may have been feeling those sentiments
of longing, anticipation, and sorrow for the finality of these historic El Rey shows. It was
every bit as expressive as the one he played on the first night. "Cold Irons Bound" hit with
equal ferocity as the other nights. Itís a tour de force that hits you with unexpected
intensity. This next one stands out in my mind- my personal highlight. Bobís expressive
guitar work and melody during the peak of the "Under The Red Sky" jam were unbelievable. I
had seen Bob perform this twice in the past: during the tour for the album in 1990, and at
the opening night of the three Electric Factory shows in Philadelphia, December 15, 1995;
but neither had the sound that Bob created with this version. Those feelings expressed
during Willieís set continued throughout the evening. "Canít Wait" is another wonderful live
tune from the new album. Itís clear- Bob loves delivering the lines of this song and raising
this tune to its gradual peak. Anticipation. The "Silvio" from this night was clearly the
most intense of the five played at the El Rey, and very appropriate given the theme for the
night and the sense of passing conveyed in the lyrics. From my view, Bob seemed determined
to grind this one out as long as possible. The end of the first electric set.

"Cocaine Blues" was well-received by the crowd. Many had yet to hear this, since most of the
fans at the weekend shows were not present on the first two nights, given the unavailability
of tickets. Bobís delivery of "quick" and "sick" brought smiles and laughter from the fans.
And his facial expressions were hysterical.

Upon closing "Cocaine Blues", I thought I read Hollis Brown on Bobís lips turning to Tony;
but I was wrong. Close but no cigar. It was "John Brown" and it sounded wonderful. His
acoustic playing had been marvelous all week and continued through "John Brown" and another
ripping "Tangled Up In Blue" which was the crowd-pleaser each night for the shows. Each
version throughout the week demanded everyoneís attention, even the easily distracted.

I had heard that Bob played "I & I" at Irving Plaza; but no one really expected it. Anyone
who wasnít around during the Petty years (including myself) probably hasnít seen Bob perform
this one. The theme continued, "Itís been a long time since a strange woman slept in my
bed." Bob then made it clear with "Iíll Remember You". We were still listening to the
sentiments that Willie had felt earlier that evening. This was not the same show as
Thursday. This was different. This was its own. Bob made it clear with "Iíll Remember You".
Bob closed all sets at the El Rey with "íTil I Fell In Love With You". Again, itís apparent
that Bob loves delivering the new lines and extending the new grooves. His facial
expressions to the crowd and head shakes were priceless all week; but during this song Bob
seemed to enjoy them all the more.

The "Highway 61 Revisited" did not reach the level of the previous nightís performance with
Sheryl Crow (in my opinion, Bob always seems to up the ante to the presence of a lady); but
it was incredible. "Donít Think Twice" was beautiful. And the words have never sounded so
appropriate, perfect for the moment, and with the same Willie Nelson feel. Bob truly enjoys
delivering "Love Sick". I still cannot believe how well the four songs off the new album
sound when performed live. And "Rainy Day Women" added a standard closure that you cannot
get tried of hearing, to the series of dreams at the El Rey Theatre. 


These shows were certainly high-class events- from the magicians hired by the El Rey to
entertain the fans waiting in line each night, to the host of celebrities who came to pay
their own heartfelt tributes to Bob, most notably Ringo Starr on Wednesday, and Jack
Nicholson on Saturday night. 

The crowd was certainly well-behaved (except for a couple of guys who looked like they took
a wrong turn driving to the Green Day concert on Saturday night), and everyone was happy to
be there engaging in marvelous conversations with perfect strangers who happen to subscribe
to the same wavelength. To all of you that attended and who, through your consideration,
made the experience special for those around you- thank you. The performances were magical;
but you wonderful people who were there made it all the more special and real.

Todd H.


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Review provided by Alistair Hunter

Bob Dylan @ The El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles - 12/20/97

Tis is the fifth and final evening of the Bob Dylan Festival in Los 
Angeles. Lots of familiar faces in the crowd. I've met people from all 
over California, the USA, Canada, Germany, and Great Britain. Bob has 
also brought out the celebrities. I've seen Joni Mitchell, Dennis 
Hopper, Danny DeVito, Ringo Starr, and Jack Nicholson (who is holding 
court front and center on the balcony tonight as if he was at his 
favorite LA Lakers game!). Oh... and I've met Bill Pagel of the "Bob 
Links" web page!!! This may be a 900 seat facility, but I immediately 
have the sense that tonight it may be packed with twice that amount. 
Things are tight. Some VIPs have given up their balcony seats to be 
placed stage left in front of me on the riser by the speakers. They have 
been given three chairs but they will stand all evening (like the rest 
of us) and tonight I'm pushed back just a tad. Perhaps I'm 20' front 
stage center now. But this is a cooperative bunch and we all have a 
great view. Before the show begins...a rather stunning blonde who has 
gone into the soundbooth area every evening...says to me," You've been 
here every evening! ". So has she. I ask her how she is connected with 
the concert. Turns out she is the wife of Dylan's new guitar player, 
Larry Campbell. We chat for quite a bit. She introduces me to some other 
VIPs sneaking into the soundbooth area. I tell her I have seen the cue 
sheets and I wonder how they decide what to play each evening. She tells 
me that there is such a body of work that they get together each day and 
they play a bit together and decide on the possible songs for the open 
slots that evening. Bob will make his final decision on stage. These are 
the consultations that I have seen before some of these slots during the 
last few evenings.

Willie Nelson is onstage and he is joined by Bob's band members...Larry 
Campbell, Tony Garnier, and Bucky Baxter.  But Willie has brought his 
own harmonica player, the remarkable Ricky Rafael, who adds that special 
touch to each of the Willie Nelson songs. This is an acoustic group. 
Willie with his battered old guitar and the guys with him all the way. 
Willie goes right into "Whiskey River"; "Two Timin' Man"; "Buckets Got A 
Hole In It"; "How Time Flys Away"; "Crazy"; "Angel Flying Too Close To 
The Ground"; "You Were Always On My Mind"; "Milk Cow Blues" ( I have a 
recording of a young Bob Dylan doing this one!); "Pretty Papers"; "Me & 
Paul"; "Mama Don't Let Your Baby's Grow Up To Be Cowboys". The audience 
loves Willie. There is a sense of wonder here. He and Bob have actually 
written and recorded songs together. Will there be "special" guests? 
Will Willie join Bob onstage for the encore like Sheryl Crow did last 
night? All in all, Willie makes it look so very easy. At One point an 
audience member calls out for a song, and Williw just says, "OK"..and 
breaks right into it. Willie thanks the guys and he is gone. This is 
magic time.

Bob is on with the obligatoty warm up ... 1) "Maggie's Farm" (but 
already he is playing the audience!); 2) "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here 
With You" (the second time he had done this electronic version this 
week); 3) "Cold Irons Bound"; (carefully placed here...a sonic 
intro...the boom da boom boom...and an appreciative applause from the 
audience); 4) "Under The Red Sky" (a total surprise but there are "new" 
sounds here too); 5) "Can't Wait" (the second of the new songs that gets 
strong response from the audience); 6) "Silvio" (Bob loves jammin' with 
this baby); 7) "Cocaine Blues" (traditional acoustic...a gem...and the 
beginning of the acoustic masterpieces); 8) "John Brown" (another 
delight...strong acoustic work...with much more impact than the 
"Unplugged" album version); 9) "Tangeled Up In Blue" (every night this 
has been better and better...this is the peak of the 16 song set...there 
are sounds from the guitar and from Bob's delivery that haven't been 
there before...and he does it again...the crowd is hooked...can he top 
it?)' 10) "I & I" (another surprise...I've heard the original recording 
and the 10/2/93 Hollywood Bowl version...again this is 
different...better); 11) "I'll Remember You" (there is a theme running 
here); 12) "'Til I Fell In Love With You" (he tops each of the songs 
with this finale from the new album); (the encore) 13) "Highway 61 
Revisited" (my favorite version...not quite as strong as Thursday's 
version with Sheryl Crow...but the theatre is alive); 14) "Don't Think 
Twice, It's All Right" (acoustic...and I'm in tears on this); 15) "Love 
Sick" (powerful and touching from the new album); 16) "Rainy Day Women 
#12 & 35" (Lights! Camera! Action!...Bob Dylan aka John Travolta...the 
guy is all over the stage...milking the audience and bringing it all 
back home).

Emotionally I am exhausted after this whole experience. I've witnessed a 
legendary series of intimate and special performances by one of the 
great singer/songwriters who is clearly still in his prime. And I've had 
a helluva fine representation of the Dylan repertory. Over the last five 
nights The Bob Dylan Festival has given me: 

Maggie's Farm, Cold Iron;s Bound, Can't Wait, Silvio, Tangled Up In 
Blue,  'Til I Fell In Love With You, Highway 61 Revisited, Love Sick,
& Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.

Within that structure it has also given me at least one version of the 
following:

Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You, You Ain't Going Nowhere, Cocaine 
Blues, The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll, Stuck Inside Memphis With The 
Memphis Blues Again, This Wheel's On Fire, Forever Young, Senor (Tales Of 
Yankee Power), You're A Big Girl Now, Roving Gambler, One Too Many 
Mornings, White Dove, Blind Willie McTell, My Back Pages, I Want You, Born In 
Time, Stone Walls And Steel Bars, Mr. Tambourine Man, It Takes A Lot To 
Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry, Like A Rolling Stone, Man In A Long Black 
Coat, Just Like A Woman, O Babe It Ain't No Lie, Love Minus Zero/No 
Limit, When I Paint My Masterpiece, Knockin' On Heaven's Door, Under The Red 
Sky, John Brown, I & I, I'll Remember You, Don't Think Twice, It's 
Alright.

Forty One (41) songs all in all. Not bad. And maybe some of the best 
performances ever. And Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times thinks 
there is no dramatic structure? Obviously he doesn't have any 
backgrouind or expeience in theatre!

Alistair Hunter



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