Beijing, China

Workers Gymnasiuma

April 6, 2011

[Cath], [Mark Ray]

Review by Cath

I'm back from the show.
I thought the venue would be full of expats, but no. There were mostly chinese 
people, and they love Bob.  When we arrived in the venue, there was a policeman 
each five meters inside. I've never seen that.  THere was also a big table with 
very comfortable seats and cups of tea for the local VIPs.

We had tickets in the back of the venue, and of course we wanted to go to the 
front. It was a little difficult but we made it.  The security was hard. They were at
least 20 of them trying to push us back, but finally, the head of Bob security came 
and told them to let us free.

At the begining, it was a little cold (in the audience and on the stage), but it 
became warmer and warmer.  Bob's voice was really good.
Love Sick, Simple twist of Fate, Beyond here lies Nothing, Hard Rain, Thin Man... 
It was very good.  He sang one verse twice in HW61,
All Along the Watchtower was different than usual. I liked it very much.
Forever Young was special. He put a lot of effort in his singing, and the harmonica 
was great.

All in all, a very good show. I'm glad i made it.

And then we went to have a beer, and a meal. A real one you know, with a fork 
and a knife.. That was great!

Tomorrow night, we go to Shanghai.



Review by Mark Ray

Towards the end of Bob Dylan’s first show on Mainland China, a young local
handed back the binoculars my wife had leant him with the comment: “He’s so
young.” About 10 minutes later the three of us and everyone else at the Workers’
Gymnasium sat spellbound as Dylan gave us a special thank you, a stunning
version of “Forever Young” as a second encore. It was the perfect farewell to a
young, enthusiastic and knowledgable audience.

Most people here had expected a crowd of graying babyboomers with a
sprinkling of diehard local fans. The theory was that young Beijingers only knew
of Dylan’s very early ‘folk’ songs, that at almost 70 he was a relic of a
distant foreign past. Yet again China turned a plausible theory on its head. The
expats were easily outnumbered by thousands of young Beijingers who had paid a
lot of money, by local standards, for their tickets. And these guys knew their

After a slowish start, Dylan, his band and the crowd warmed up midway
through, sparked by “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”. The lyrics had the crowd
roaring between verses and suddenly the band got louder and sharper and
Dylan lifted a few gears.

Apparently it’s common for Beijing crowds to get vocal during a show but
this time they chose their songs wisely.

One was “Ballad of a Thin Man”, which Dylan sang, harmonica in hand, front
and center with a yellow spotlight producing a golden glow on his
outstretched hands, his shirt and his hat, which took on the look of a straw
boater. It was a brief vision of Dylan as a vaudeville performer, the song and
dance man. It’s a powerful song at any time but those famous lines:

“Because something is happening here

But you don’t know what it is

Do you, Mister Jones”
hit home with this smart, ambitious young generation of Chinese.

There have been reports since the Bejing gig of Dylan being nobbled in his
choice of songs by the Chinese Government. And perhaps he did agree not to
do certain famous 'protest' songs.

But, as Dylan makes plain in his memoir "Chronicles", he hated being tagged a
"message" songwriter or a "protest" singer. People who see him as only that
haven't listened to anything he's written since 1966. And theories about why he
didn't sing "Blowing in the Wind" in Beijing as he did in the first concert of
this tour in Taipei ignore two facts: his setlist in Beijing was very similar to
many of his setlists throughout 2010 and in the 100 concerts he did last year he
did that old song a grand total of twelve times.

In Beijing he got a few telling points across with subtlety rather than the
sledgehammer of "protest" anthems. He opened with the suggestively titled "Gonna
Change My Way of Thinking", but a lot of people, including those commentators,
probably don't know that song and so missed any possible significance in its
presence at the top of the setlist.

Back to the concert.

Other highlights were an early, lovely version of “Simple Twist of Fate”, a
lilting “Spirit on the Water” then the power of “Highway 61”, “Thin Man” and
“Like a Rolling Stone”. Dylan finished the first encore with a somewhat subdued
version of “All Along the Watchtower”.

The crowd stood, demanded more and got “Forever Young”, which seemed the
perfect choice for the audience.

“May you have a strong foundation

When the winds of changes shift”
produced a powerful response. It seemed as if Dylan was singing directly to and
about this young generation of Chinese who are reaching out to the world. Magic.


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