Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dylan's High-Water Mark in Osaka

I finally made it to my first Bob Dylan concert last night (March 15th) at Zepp Osaka. My excitement was tinged with trepidation as reports from friends of mine of attending Dylan concerts suggest he is wildly inconsistent either putting on the best or worst performance they have ever seen and I feared the grey drizzly sky of Osaka was a dark omen.

That nagging worry lasted a few seconds into the concert after he strode on to stage in his cowboy hat and began playing at the keyboard. I wondered, “What on Earth is he playing?” Well, it was unfamiliar to me but it didn’t matter, the song rocked and I knew then it was going to be a good night. Later that night I Googled some lines from the song and it seems to be Watching the River Flow – a 1971 single that never appeared on any regular album.

The next song was far more familiar - if unexpected – territory, Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power), in which Bob took centre-stage on harp.

Señor, señor, do you know where we’re headin’?

Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?

Now, his voice has always been the subject of much debate and he has many detractors because of it. Over the years some heretics have even suggested he cannot sing at all, while those who once thought he could have committed a kind of apostasy by declaring he no longer can. Well, while his voice has changed over the years almost as much as his musical style it was and remains one of the most compelling aspects of his music. As he croaked out, “sen-yor! sen-yor!” I wondered how to describe his voice. I could only think of a Japanese word which seems to capture the right nuance and that is shibui. Shibui has a number of meanings, sometimes referring to wine which has an abrasive or rough character, but paradoxically it can also mean refined or - more colloquially – it can simply mean “cool”. Well, tonight his voice was strongly shibui.

The next song was I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight and it was a rare performance with the guitar (he seems not to use the guitar live so much these days).

Well, that mockingbird’s gonna sail away,

We’re gonna forget it.

That big, fat moon is gonna shine like a spoon,

But we’re gonna let it,

You won’t regret it.

I can’t tell you the names of any of Bob’s backing band, but the most prominent of the five was the energetic lead guitarist and a versatile banjo/lap steel/keyboard player. The bassist alternated between acoustic, electric and double bass and they came to the fore particularly in one segment which consisted of songs from his most recent era. I date this era from Love and Theft in which Bob’s music has tended to be some kind of mixture of blues and Cajun (?) music. The highpoint of this was High Water which has some amusing lines:

I got a cravin’ love for blazing speed

Got a hopped-up Mustang Ford

Jump into the wagon, love, throw your panties on the board

I can write you poems, make a strong man lose his mind

I’m no pig without a wig

I hope you treat me kind

Things are breakin’ up out there

High water everywhere

The best section of the show was one in which Bob hopped from keyboard, to harp to guitar on, respectively, Desolation Row, Stuck Inside of Mobile (With the Memphis Blues Again) and the brooding, Man In the Long Black Coat. On Stuck Inside of Mobile, Bob proved (as if proof were needed) what a great harmonica player he is with a mesmerizing solo. The final lines were interspersed with toots on the harp:

Now the bricks lay on Grand Street

Where the neon madmen climb

They all fall there so perfectly

It all seems so well timed

An’ here I sit so patiently

Waiting to find out what price

You have to pay to get out of

Going through all these things twice

Oh, Mama, can this really be the end

To be stuck inside of Mobile

With the Memphis blues again

The album, Highway 61 Revisited, was well represented with four songs being played from it: Desolation Row, Ballad Of A Thin Man, Highway 61 Revisited and the first song of the encore, Like a Rolling Stone. Next was Jolene, one of the best songs on the new album, Together Through Life, and one of the most popular songs of the night judging by the audience reaction.

Finally, Bob addressed the crowd to introduce the band but as he did so a guitar was passed up on to the stage with a letter attached to it. I know very little about guitars but to my untrained eye it appeared to be a Fender Stratocaster. Bob looked momentarily bewildered and said his lead guitarist will love it. Then he told the audience member who had given him the present he was just kidding and said that he liked it a lot before the band roared into a blistering Hendrix-esque All Along the Watchtower to round off a fantastic set.

Any fears that he wouldn’t be at the top of his game tonight had been completely banished and as I stepped back outside into Osaka’s wet weather I pledged to be there the next time Bob Dylan comes to these shores.

Best Song of the Night: Stuck Inside of Mobile (With The Memphis Blues Again)

Overall Rating: 8/10

Update 1: Bill Pagel has put up the set-list on his "Boblinks" website.

1. Watching The River Flow
2. Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power)
3. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight (guitar)
4. High Water (For Charley Patton)
5. The Levee's Gonna Break
6. Tryin' To Get To Heaven
7. Cold Irons Bound
8. Desolation Row
9. Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
10. Man In The Long Black Coat (Bob on guitar)
11. Highway 61 Revisited
12. Spirit On The Water
13. Thunder On The Mountain
14. Ballad Of A Thin Man

15. Like A Rolling Stone
16. Jolene
17. All Along The Watchtower

Altogether there are five songs from the albums Time Out Of Mind and Modern Times, neither of which I own, sadly. That explains why there were a few sections of the concert where I didn't know what Bob was playing.

There are two more reviews up on the same site from people who were also there. They seem to agree with my take on the night and have some extra details about the Great Guitar Incident!

Hopefully, some pictures and maybe recordings will also surface. If they do I'll try and update this post again. If anyone already knows of any, please feel free to tell me in the comment box.

Update 2: Super-uploader, Hide, has made this whole show available to download at dimeadozen.org (Free registration required).

Update 3: "decastro3" has made Señor available individually. More songs from the tour have been collected here. These have all been originally uploaded by Hide. So, many thanks to him!

Update 4: Blogger, Shiffi Le Soy, has a couple of great photographs from the night which seem to really capture the mood. Please also read Shiffi's excellent review here.


shibui said...

Thank you, how refreshing to read such a balanced review of a Dylan concert. And I love the word "shibui", it's one I will remember, should come in very useful. Glad you had a good time.

angrysoba said...

Thanks for the comment. Yeah, I definitely did have a good time and think I was lucky to go to a concert where there was an unusual event (in this case Bob getting a guitar as a present!)

His reaction was quite funny as he seemed quite caught off guard by it.

angrysoba said...

Okay, this isn't from the concert I attended but two days before. It's a very cool re-working of Shelter From The Storm.

Shiffi Le Soy said...

Hi please go ahead and use my pics...wish they were of better quality but I was a ways away!

angrysoba said...

Hi please go ahead and use my pics...wish they were of better quality but I was a ways away!

I think the pictures are great. I was a little too scared to take any because I feared being thrown out!

Do you have any more by any chance? I was wondering if you caught any of Bob playing the guitar on I'll Be Your Baby Tonight or Man in the Long Black Coat.

What I remember of that song is that a spotlight in front of him cast a huge long shadow of Bob on the back of the stage of him playing the guitar and wearing his cowboy hat. Very cool, I thought!

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Well, it was unfamiliar to me but it didn’t matter, the song rocked and I knew then it was going to be a good night.

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Then he told the audience member who had given him the present he was just kidding and said that he liked it a lot before the band roared into a blistering Hendrix-esque All Along the Watchtower to round off a fantastic set.

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I am so jealous that you were able to see Bob Dylan!

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