Review

Stavanger, Norway

Viking Stadion

May 30, 2008


[Espen Aas]

Review by Espen Aas



I left a sunny Oslo and landed at a sunny Stavanger airport two hours prior to 
when Dylan and his band was supposed to start. One hour later, I was at Viking 
Stadion and a large portion of the approximately 20.000 ticket-holders had 
arrived.

The Norwegian opening band “Hellbillies” was halfway into their set, and I bought 
myself a pint of the local beer “Tau” (which to me tastes more water than beer) 
to cool myself down in the lovely summer temperature. “Hellbillies”’ performance 
was showed on big video-screens halfway down on the football-pit, but I 
reckoned that Dylan wouldn’t allow the same thing, and after finishing my drink, 
I moved out of the drinking-area and down to the front of the stage, probably 
15-20 meters away.
 
After “Hellbillies” had left, Dylan’s crew quickly moved in to do their bit, the Oscar 
statuette was placed on the amplifier, the keyboard-stand set up and so on. 
What was a bit surprising, was five or six big heaters that was placed around the 
set, it was quite hot, and knowing Bob and his band, they would all wear fairly 
warm suits…
 
Anyway, after a couple of local drunks had done their bit to destroy the nice 
mood in front of the stage (and forced away), the music CD was suddenly faded 
out and the familiar opening came through the speakers, approximately 10 minutes 
earlier than scheduled!
 
Dylan, wearing a black suit and hat, and his band – all wearing grey suits came out, 
and broke into “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”. Never been among my favourite 
songs, but as an opener it was perfect – it warmed up both Dylan & the band, and 
no doubt the audience. I felt ready for a nice rock’n’roll show.  Dylan had a selection 
of harps behind him on the amplifier, and one was picked up and played towards 
the end. It all sounded very well indeed.
 
Then, rather than continuing with more rock’n’ roll, they slowed it all down with 
“Don’t Think Twice”, another crowd-pleaser, but far from his best version, and 
again a harp-solo.
 
More rock’n’roll again with the upbeat “Rollin’ And Tumblin’”, Dylan seemed to enjoy
it very well indeed, and a surprisingly large portion of the audience where I was 
standing, seemed to know the song.
 
Blushingly, I must admit that I have way over 300 different versions of “Tangled 
Up In Blue” in my collection, but I did use some time before I recognized the riffs 
on the next song, but of course it was the opening song from “Blood On The 
Tracks”. I wasn’t too impressed by the arrangements though; Dylan kind of 
dragged the song along. A down-point of the show for me, I’m afraid.
 
Next up was “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”, and we were no doubt having lots of 
“greatest hits” tonight. I’ve never been a great fan of the song, and this version 
didn’t convince me either.  New harp-solo from Dylan.
 
Then the highlight of the evening for me, “High Water”. The band and Dylan was 
so tight and great on this and with Donnie Herron’s mandolin going on and on 
throughout, it was perfect! I must add that Dylan’s singing voice was in a very 
good shape this time around, better than I’ve heard for quite some time. I spoke 
to people after the show that had problems hearing him where they were 
standing, but from my position, the mix was great.
 
More from the “greatest hits-package” after that – “Just Like A Woman”, and it 
was back to the audience-sing-a-long version that he did quite often two years 
ago. And the audience sang with him, all the way – and Dylan smiled and played 
around, tried to trick the audience a few times as well. Maybe he was so into this 
game, that he forgot what harmonica to use? He picked up one, blew a few 
notes, but quickly found out that he needed a different harmonica, and the 
solo at the end was very brief.
 
The harp was given a rest, and they turned up the fuzz-sound again for “Honest 
With Me” which Dylan also seem to enjoy playing. Again, not among my favourites, 
but it works well on stage.
 
It was all slowed down for a nice “Spirit On The Water”, and I was surprised of 
how many in the audience who shouted “no” to “over the hill/past my prime” 
lines… Judging by Dylan’s face, he heard the “no”s  as well… A nice harp-solo too.
 
They seemed to enjoy playing fast-slow-fast-slow songs, so next up was another 
often-played song, “Highway 61 Revisited”. It was fine, it seems to me that the 
band plays best together on the faster, more rock’n’ roll songs, rather than the 
slower ones. This was another example, with great guitar-playing by Denny 
Freeman in particular.
 
Back to slow-mode again, and for one of my favourites from “Modern Times”, 
“Workingman’s Blues #2”, it still sounds pretty close to the album-version, but 
with more feelings in it, and I was very happy to hear it again.
 
The crowed was very pleased with the next number, “It’s All Right, Ma (I’m Only 
Bleeding)”. I was hoping to see Donnie Herron’s violin, but it never came out this 
evening. However, people seemed generally very happy with this one, as they 
where when I saw him last year, in Oslo.
 
Then they jumped more than forty years in time, and played a disappointing 
version of “Beyond The Horizon”, which no one on stage seemed very into to 
be honest, and people around me was not all that into it either. A guy next to 
me asked how far we’d got, and I told him it was four more to go, and he left…!
 
However, with “Summer Days” everyone was very well awake again. It’s been 
stuck on the setlist for quite some time, but it works very well indeed, and Dylan 
obviously enjoys it.
 
I was quite surprised at the next number, “Masters Of War”, not because he 
chose to play it (he did that in Canada too), but what a strange version it was… 
The vowels were dragged out in almost every word, and the band seemed to 
be at least half a note behind all the way through, and I was SO disappointed. 
It has been done in so many great versions, but this was just odd..
 
It was time for the band to leave the stage, but was heavily clapped back in 
(and even sung in, as quite a few people started singing “Mr. Tambourine Man”!) 
and gave people value for their money with “Thunder On The Mountain” and 
“Like A Rolling Stone”. People where all over, jumping, singing and clapping.
When Dylan and the band did the formation on stage at the end, Dylan waved 
to the audience and seemed very happy indeed.

For my part, I found the show to be “ok”, nothing special, apart from a couple 
of great highlights halfway through the show.  I still disagree with myself to 
what I feel about this band; when I saw them in March last year I thought they 
finally had found themselves, after this show, I’m not that sure. Pathetically 
enough, I arrested myself in missing the Sexton/Campbell combination – five 
and a half  years after they did their last show….  I often wonder why the band 
members nowadays are placed in the background on every show, I would have 
loved to see them play more around. Both Donnie Herron and Stu Kimball are 
standing behind lots of the equipment and gear, rather than out front with 
Dylan.
 
Anyway, the newspapers next morning, both locals and national seemed to 
give a careful “thumb’s up”, most of them landed the dice on four out of six 
eyes, I guess I was around that too… I’m as always glad that I went of course! 
Btw, surprisingly enough, Dylan’s performance WAS shown on the video-screens…

Espen Aas
  

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