Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bob Dylan and His Band
Copps Coliseum Hamilton ON

For the first time since 2000 this will be my lone
Dylan show of the year. It's number 100 and something lifetime, starting from 1975 with the bulk of shows falling into the 'Larry Campbell/Charlie Sexton' years of 2001-2002, and a ton of shows in '03 and '04 before the magic started disappearing in '05. I'd have geared down quicker if Bob wasn't continually enticing us with some "A List" opening bands like the Foo Fighters, The Raconteurs and Elvis Costello.

Bob is nothing, if not a mystery. To the untrained eye it may seem like he's riding the crest of a resurgent late-life creative period; the Theme Time Radio Hour now in it's second year, the Drawn Blank art exhibit and book, his pseudo-biographical series, Chronicles, currently stuck at Vol.1, a #1 record on the charts with Modern Times, the I'm Not There biopic, his own film foray,Masked and Anonymous, Grammy's, in a category almost created for him, Oscars, Polar, Pulitzer, a so-called 'special citation in case you don't get the sense there's a bit of a rush to honour going on here. Add to this what is becoming the perennial nomination for a Nobel prize and you begin to wonder even more. In case that don't come to pass in this lifetime Bob's already sewed up the Spanish Nobel prize.

I hope he never gets on that TV show's gonna ruin the ending for me.

With all this he spends a hundred nights a year on the road with a live show.

You'd think something's got to give, eh?

And it did.

The creative energy that went into these other projects, marvelous as they are, seems to have come from the live show. Somewhere in late '04 Bob began to hear a sound he was comfortable became the current 'cowboy band' that is mercilessly beating Love and Theft and Modern Times to death at a venue near you. It's basically taking 4 songs on the road, changing the lyrics so it seems like 16, and minimizing any musical risks.

Two words: bo - ring.

Bob's hung on to this Modern Times ennui for way to long, even as he threatens a third installment, with Love & Theft being the first, party version, of the same world. I've tried to wade through the muck that is an overbearingly oppressive sense of ... "who gives a shit", to ascertain whether songs like Ain't Talkin' or Nettie Moore are classics. Trouble is I bump into the weak minor songs, Spirit on the Water, Beyond the Horizon or the derivative Rollin' and Tumblin', and can't make it through.

In spite of this there are some who feel he's at the top of his game.

They've obviously not seen all the games.

The past couple years have seen the set list shrink in length and variety. And I'm just talkin' about the choice of songs, not the quality. He's damn near incomprehensible unless you've memorized every lyric. I don't say this as one of the multitudes who pertetually whine about Bob's voice...I loved it all those years they didn't. I'm talking from my own experience. When Modern Times was released I didn't listen to it until I was at a show, hearing the songs for the first time performed live. I could barely make out two consecutive words, never mind a couplet or verse. It was an eye-opener to me because I thought everyone could hear every subtle lyric change. It was like amping Charlie Brown's teacher: "wahh, wahhh, wah, wah-wah-wah, nettie moore."

This is not to say that Bob is mailing it in. On the contrary there is evidence he's working up a sweat every night trying to breathe life into the songs, even as the band is draining the blood out of listless arrangement after listless arrangement.

The beauty about Bob Dylan, least it has been in the past, is that if you don't like what he's doing now, just hang in there, he'll be back with something you like even less in three years. Not only does he have a penchant for peeling off one-more layer of skin every 3-5 years, he has an equal talent at hanging in with each incarnation until there's some type of 'push/shove' moment.

Folk-Bob couldn't just leave, he turned his back. Rock n Roll Bob became the most boorish prima-donna in music before his moto-psycho nitemare period. Don't even get me started on Christian-Bob. So if he's waiting until he gets to the unbearable stage with Civil-War-Bob, then the waitin's over.

As fate would have it there's been a recent shakeup in the show. A few MT songs have been dropped and more than a few classics and rarities have made a reappearance. In the week before this Hamilton show Bob has trimmed the MT back to 2 or 3 songs a show and brought out the likes of Chimes of Freedom, Visions of Johanna, I Believe In You (an homage to the recently deceased Jerry Wexler) and Lenny Bruce. Now while that's basically a return to post-Charlie, pre-cowboy band 2004, it's still a vast improvement in the "what's the chance something halfway exciting will happen tonight" sweepstakes. The odds are now at 23%

On the upside, I have 2nd row seats tonight. While that won't be great for recording it will be the optimum for watching Bob. These days you need to get close to the teacher to get your money's worth.


Ray said...

Yeah, I've had about enough with this band, but the rest setlist shake-ups have give me a little hope. But only a little. Hope you get something special tonight!

Anonymous said...

Really looking forward to reading what went down last night Marcel. I skipped the Pittsburgh show for all the reasons you cited and more, and from what i read & heard about the show it sounded like it was standard operating procedure. But recently it's seemed(at least from this distance) that there's some sort of turnabout in attitude & energy starting with the Brooklyn show (but them damn New Yawkers aren't the most objective bunch) So, here's a raised glass to hoping everyone up there got a hell of a show last night!

I woulda loved to be at that one, i just can't go to a show fully expecting to get my heart broke and walking out alone, if i had my Canadian comrades it would be a LOT easier. My best to everyone. ~Phil