Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My First Dylan Show
Rolling Thunder at MLG
a krewechief flashback

December 1, 1975 Maple Leaf Gardens Toronto ON

Guam opens the show. this is the name given to the supporting players collectively. usually the equivalent of a full set was put in by these guys, consisting of, but not limited to, the likes of Rob Stoner, Dave Mansfield, Mick Ronson, T. Bone Burnett, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and a gaggle of other goons. there are added guests so we get a monster show tonight.

Guam’s 16 song opening set is extended to 20 by Joni Mitchell’s 4 songs, notable for the inclusion of Coyote which was to be featured next year at the Last Waltz and her refusal to play anything else remotely commercial. the opening set also included Rob Stoner covering Dylan’s Catfish and Neurwirth taking a swing at Mercedes Benz.

this set was followed by 7 songs with Bob and the band, a solo Times, then a 4 song set with Joan.
Joan’s solo set of 6 songs is extended to 7 when she duets with Roger (don’t call me Jim) McGuinn on The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. her whole set was terrific, including Long Black Veil, Please Come To Boston and the wonderfully bittersweet Diamonds and Rust.
McGuinn then does his two signature songs, Eight Miles High and Chestnut Mare before he gives way to the night’s second special guest, Gordon Lightfoot.
Lightfoot’s set runs three songs: Race Among the Ruins, The Watchman’s Gone and Sundown, all from his recently released album.
back to Bob for 10 more songs. quite the night. that’s 53 songs by my count.

but it all started with these words:“…the streets of Rome, are filled with rubble…” as did every concert on the first leg of the RT review, save one. sources have it missing from the Nov. 2, 1975 Lowell MA show. but that show’s not in circulation so I can’t tell you one way or the other. seems a little incongruous that he would not play it at one of the few shows that are missing from the catalogue…but with Bob you never can tell.

interesting choice for an opener and more than a little cheekiness as Bob may well be unveiling his masterpiece, in the guise of the Rolling Thunder, even as he sings about doing it ‘someday’. works like a party-song, in the vein of RDW#12&35 …which is good because most of the time, Neuwirth’s with him and we can’t be depending on him to hit his cues. it’s not a big hit, having appeared only on the Greatest Hits series (and the Japanese Masterpieces) but not on any official album. tonight everyone is in control. remember, Momma Zimmerman is here, we’re in a foreign country trying not to cross the line, so we’re probably going easy on the partying. Bob misses the ‘oh’, or isn’t close enough to the mic so it starts curtly after a brief electric guitar intro. even with Neuwirth’s late entries on each harmony the song keeps its shape, eventually incorporating a couple nicely timed and placed interjections from both Bobs. first a nice run on the “land of Coca-coooola.....ah ha....(pause)....(pause)...I left Rome...” a deft little dance around the lyrics. then after “newspaper men eating candy...that’s what they do!....” everything’s loose onstage but in focus. tonight we get the ‘Botticelli’s niece’, instead of ‘pretty little girl from Greece” version. I had no way of knowing I wouldn’t hear this song live again for 22 years, not until I landed in Brussels in the spring of 2002.
no time lost between songs as the band swings into It Ain’t Me Babe. if you’re paying attention, you know things are moving well onstage, Bob is riding the crest of the wave. he dances lightly all around the song, in full control of every syllable, just waiting to drop it in a spot where it’ll have the most effect. if you’re not paying attention then the second verse should shake you from your doldrums as Bob incorporates a plethora of tricks, filling the verse with many layers, adding shadows and texture with the least effort, almost willing the song to a new life…first the extended ‘s-s-s-s-step back’…..this carry’s on to the first line of the next verse… ‘s-s-s-… not as pronounced but the points already been made. this song has never been better. much more intense than the folk delivery we’ve been used too.
next up, still with the slow songs, Hattie Carroll passes without making much of an impact. in my still-novice mind, I’ve relegated this song to the heap of ‘topical’ songs that didn’t have any meaning in today’s world. my bad.

in the fourth slot we get the new version, the powerful version, of Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You that opens with the exaltation....’throw my ticket in the wiiiiiiinnnnnnd ...throw my mattress out there too.....’ altered lyrics throughout and a heartfelt commitment to the joys of staying here with you. only played eleven times in total on the two legs of RT. a true gem that will get its due when it leads off the Live ’75 release in 2003.
Phantom Engineer is next, familiar due to its prominent placing at Bangladesh and the oft-played Highway 61 album. not to mention the alternate title supplied from the studio sessions. any memories of it get swept away by the audio assault that is Romance in Durango followed by Isis. could they play any faster? the whistling of Scarlet Rivera’s violin is still resounding in my ears as the band breaks down and we get the acoustic set.

starts with a crowd pleasing The Times They Are A-Changin’, with Joan Baez dueting. this was a magical segment of the show. got no idea what was going through their minds but for us it was like the universe was unfolding as it should. a little confusion in my seat as the second song opens just like the first, but it’s Dark As A Dungeon, unknown to me, most likely I took a mental break or started chattering throughout the song to friends.
back from that revelry as Bob and Joan wrap us up in one of the greatest love-song-duets ever written, the late, great, Johnny Ace’s Never Let Me Go. both are totally in the moment with this song, the passion is palpable.
just in time we get a sexually neutral rendition of Joe, no, that’s later, right now it’s I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine, a favorite of mine and a nice respite from the intensity, though it’s a song steeped with dire warnings about co-dependence.
not for long though. I Shall Be Released gets livened up by a well-timed interjection by Joan who, off of Bob’s ‘I remember every faaaaace’...she tosses in a little tremolo...’ including yours...’ ... smile inducing. Bob’s hitting his stride as Joan’s wailing harmony slides all around his words. she joins him on an extended ‘faaaaaaallllll’ and ‘waaaaallllll’ rhyme, their timing is perfect. nobody sings with Bob like Joan does...nobody.

long break in the show, the Bob-part anyway, where Joan, Roger and Gord get their sets. Joan’s got a lot of nerve playing that Diamonds & Rust song but Bob deserves it for putting her through the Don’t Look Back embarrassment. her whole set is strong with an a cappella Swing Low, a reprise of St. Augustine, er, wait, that was Joe Hill, a composition of her own, then Long Black Veil followed by a sweet, if a little syrupy, Please Come To Boston.

Roger’s set is a little more electric, a couple old war horses, among them a Chestnut Mare and Mercedes Benz.
then we get a little added extra, three songs from Lightfoot, Race Among the Ruins, the best of the three, though Sundown, a vicious break-up song about that chick that was with Belushi when he died, got the loudest response as it was the single from the new album.
back to Bob.

another treat, one of only 4 versions of It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, done on the Rolling Thunder tour, both legs included, and the tour debut. quick on its heels, a lovely Love Minus Zero Over No Limit and another crowd pleaser...the first song from BOTT, Simple Twist of Fate. the only song from BOTT tonight. I mean, what is up with that?

by this stage, the band is pretty well warmed up and it’s time for some real music.
an absolutely powerful Oh Sister, with the longest, most excruciatingly aching, pause following a lung draining “mysteriously SAAAAAAAAAAAVED...pause...pause...pause... pause... Oh Sister...” the energy and passion in that one transition was played as well as any instrument.
hard on the heels of this, the reason for our gathering, the single: Hurricane. and no amount of calling for it since has made a difference. a crowd pleaser and a rollicking song, happy I got to see it once, glad it’s not a staple.

as great as it’s been to this point, it’s about to get better. the next three songs are spectacularly beautiful. first a moody, mysterious story about a girl, her sister, her father and an unbridled caffeine, it got crowded in this song. One More Cup of Coffee (valley below) starts almost stunted, a quirky rhythm, some bongos then the silky smooth sounds of Scarlet’s violin wrapping around the narrative. just a hint of the gospel voice, as he pours out the story. an almost hypnotic allure as you strain to follow the tale.
then a simple beauty...Sara. with altered lyrics...not that we knew it since the album wasn’t out yet. the “fought for my soul” verse didn’t make it to the album. a singular song in his vast repertoire. if all songs are biographical, on some level, this one is an MRI of the soul. and a ‘name check’ for the ages with the mention of Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands. a real gift.

but he’s not spent yet. my personal BEST EVER Just Like A Woman is next. Bob at his most transcendent. instantly recognizable on the opening word....’nobody’......’feels any pain’. still got Scarlet’s violin, got the back up vocals, got Bob just diving into the song with a long extended.... ‘breaaaaaaaaaks, just like a little girl’. the guess/blessed/rest rhymes are delivered with a slight quaver, almost tremolo. but the bridge is where this song takes total control...’whatsa worse, is this-a pain in here’. a pregnant pause after an exasperated ‘ain’t it clear?????’ leads into a soft, resigned but not defeated, just accepting.... ‘I just don’t fit’....” game.set.match.

a sing-along with McGuinn on Knockin’, which I probably enjoyed more at the time than I let myself remember and a group grope through This Land and we’re back out on the streets.
I’m thinking I might catch this guy next time he comes through town. I didn’t know I could just follow him.

leaving the venerable confines of Maple Leaf Gardens, trough urinals notwithstanding, there were so many things about this show that I wouldn’t come to know for years. first off, that I’d never hear Hurricane, Sara, Isis, Romance in Durango or Oh Sister live again. after the second Night of the Hurricane in January 1976, not many people would hear any of those songs again. I wouldn’t hear When I Paint My Masterpiece until 2002. would only get one more outing of One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below). you can’t repeat the past...or can you?

it might seem I’ve got a very good memory or I took copious notes. neither really. I’m able to relive these far-distant moments due to the work of many in the Dylan community who have kept the spirit alive and the tapes and cdr’s flowing.

some strong memories linger from this show; the stage being set up like a living room, Joni and Gord’s presence, they being Canadians, is another. recognized all the big hits, and there were more than enough. the BOTT song was among the highlights…along with Sara. other than that though, it was all a blur. you gotta remember that Desire wasn’t even released yet so songs like Romance in Durango and Isis would have just blown by as a series of images and a half-baked story. Hurricane was on the radio and the highlight of the show, raison d’etre, at this point, of the tour.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ronnie Hawkins Talkin'
35th Anniversary of The Last Waltz

The Hard Rock Cafe in Toronto hosted an intimate 1 hour interview with Ronnie Hawkins this past Thursday. MC and Interviewer was the iconic radio legend,David "Mars Bar" Marsden , who didn't seem to have his little green bag with him this evening. While it was ostensibly a celebration of The Band's last show (the complete Band)the topics of conversation covered much more.

The story of The Hawk is well known up and down the Yonge St. strip. He may be the most astute evaluator of talent that's ever lead a bar-band...or he's as lucky as all get out. He's introduced us to, well, The Band of course, but also John Till of Janis Joplin's Full Tilt Boogie Band, Ken Kalmusky, bassist in Ian and Sylvia's band The Great Speckled Bird,Robbie Lane and the Disciples, on to Pat Travers, '70's guitar virtuoso. His own career, now spanning over 50 years, has garnered him a place in rock n roll history as an influencer of many, and an innovator of sorts as he exploded onto the scene with a live act that got him the nickname 'Mr Dynamo'.

I'd imagine it would take a few consecutive weeks of non-stop talking to cover half the mileposts in this guys life. While 1 hour won't do it, it goes a long way to hitting some of the highlights.

The evening started with a Thanksgiving Dinner, just like Bill Graham served up at Winterland in 1976. As dessert was being cleared from the tables the familiar chords of the Last Waltz Suite streamed over the PA system while a young couple waltzed around the tables. That was our signal that the upstairs facility was open for business. Ronnie was holding court at a side-stage table, signing autographs, posing for pics, and glad-handing with the fans and the dignitaries. He was in terrific spirits, giving as much attention to the album-toting fans as the name-dropping in-people, maybe more. In keeping with the spirit of the evening I brought along the artwork from the bootleg Lost Waltz DVD to get signed.

The format of the Q&A was a little, well, informal. Dave Marsden broke the ice, laid the groundwork, then deferred to whatever insanity Ronnie wanted to add to the story. Political correctness took the evening off. While it was terrific watching Ronnie laugh and cackle about his mispent youth I was pleasantly surprised by the unexpected twist Dave brought to the party. And it had nothing to do with his standing as Toronto's Best DJ Ever; from the time he took over at CFNY until Brad McNally left, that radio station was the BEST EVER! As a youth managed a Stratford based band, The Revols, who where fronted by Richard Manuel and were so good that Ronnie decided not to compete with them, but to hire them to play in his establishment in Arkansas and tour other southern bars. This releationship was the source of most of the stories told tonight. But we get a lot more than that, we get personal insights into moments with; John Lennon and Yoko, Bob Dylan, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, oh, and The Band, of course. But that ain't all either. Let's revisit.

Ronnie on Robbie

Ronnie on Bill Clinton's 65th birthday party

Ronnie on Richard Manuel, this one is bittersweet

Ronnie on Eric Clapton

Ronnie on Van Morrison

A little tip of the hat to Canada

Ronnie on the first time he met Dylan

Ronnie on John and Yoko