Sunday, May 03, 2009

Together Through Life

Well well well....oh well.....

Mrs Wife, myself and our friend Chippy went to see Bob Dylan at the SECC in Glasgow last night. Chippy had seen him before at Stirling Castle back in 2001, but for Mrs Wife and I, it was our first time in the same room as Mr Zimmerman.

I'm a big fan - I've got 20 of his 33 albums - and Mrs Wife knows enough of Dylan's music to be aware which songs are "the big ones".

Chippy and I went along knowing full well that this wasn't going to be a note-perfect rendition of Bob's classics from the 1960s and 1970. We knew that a lot of the songs are unrecognisable until he and the band hit the chorus (and even then some of them remain a mystery). We knew that his voice is essentially buggered beyond repair, although it still sounds vaguely passable on his two most recent albums.

When he and the band arrived on stage slightly later than expected (we had been told he would begin his performance at 7.30pm sharp), Bob burst straight into Maggie's Farm. And it was good. Not "wow that sounds just like the version on Bringing It All Back Home" good, but good enough that we could recognise it.

The band were good. No, correct that, the band were REALLY good - as tight a blues band as you'll ever see. But Bob seems to be enthralled by the country/blues sound at the moment, and each song was twisted to fit that template.

Far be it from me to tell a man who started performing before my parents were born how he should be singing his own songs, but when 12,500 people have shelled out fifty quid each to see you, I'd be of the opinion that you should perform your best-known songs, and perform them in such a way that they're in some way connected to the originals.

Like A Rolling Stone was horrendous. And I think Bob made it harder for himself than he needed to. If he'd stuck to the original arrangement so that the crowd could keep time and sing along, all he'd have needed to do would have been to sing the "How does it feel?" line, and the audience would have drowned him out on the rest. But it was too slow and too bluesed up. Still, at least he played it....

....which is more than can be said for most of his back catalogue. OK, he has 500 or more songs to choose from. And he must be bored of playing some of the older ones. But there were few concessions to history. All Along The Watchtower (which started with the band playing opening bars so thunderous that Chippy and I were both convinced that it was Hurricane) rolled out, and it was one of the highlights of the show, alongside The Ballad of Hollis Brown from The Times They Are A-Changin', which has long been one of my favourite Bob songs.

But. But, but, but, but. There was no It Ain't Me Babe, The Times They Are A Changin', Subterranean Homesick Blues, One Of Us Must Know, Rainy Day Women, Hurricane, Knockin' On Heaven's Door or Mr Tambourine Man.

In the case of the latter, that's probably just as well. Blowin' In The Wind closed the show, and it was the undeniable lowlight, the simple beauty of the acoustic peace anthem ripped to shreds by a band overplaying and a singer-songwriter no longer able to sing.

If any other band or artist mutilated their back catalogue the way Dylan did last night, they'd be pilloried. Imagine if Paul McCartney charged fifty quid a ticket, played two Beatles songs and another two hours of songs from his two most recent albums, all the while singing like a stroke victim. Or if Michael Jackson decides to freshen up his back catalogue at his London shows this summer by giving them a hip-hop overhaul. In either instance, there would be condemnation.

But it seems that with Bob, the very fact that he's a catankerous old bastard, and a living legend, seems to forgive to all sins. I heard countless people leaving the SECC state that the gig had been incredible.

I'm not entirely downhearted - I've seen Dylan. When all is said and done, I can say I've seen the man in the flesh, and heard him perform Like A Rolling Stone and Blowin' In The Wind. If I ever visit the pyramids in Egypt, I'll do so in the knowledge that I won't see Tutankhamun wandering around and lording it over some slaves. And I suppose it's the same with Bob - I didn't go along expecting to see the man at the peak of his powers, but instead just wanted to say I'd been there, just once, when Dylan played in Scotland.

Now I can.

(As a post script, I address this to Bob - If you're charging people fifty quid a ticket to see you, let them take photographs. I had three Group Four security guards tell me that photographs were banned by Bob himself, two tell me to delete photographs I'd already taken (aye, right) and one jump in front of me with his arms outstretched with the express intention of ruining a photo.)


Anonymous said...

While Dylan the chameleon has changed faster than the light, I guess the audience is still behind him just as they were in -66, or -79, or in any other year. Never second guess the man, he is always going to challenge you to the max. Once he is gone, you'll be proud to tell your great grand children you saw a legend as important as Shakespeare - even if it wasn't the very best year. But, you wouldn't question having actually seen an original performance of one of Shakespeares lesser plays performed for the first time would you?

Anonymous said...

You would have been there booing in the 60's. Dylan is a truly amazing performer. Listen to the Cd's if you want the songs to sound like they do in your head - otherwise except that you're watching a man create in front of your eyes. I saw him in Liverpool and was blown away. Even if on my favourite song of all time (It's alright ma) it took me until the 2nd verse to realise what it was....

Old Gray Mare said...

Anon2, I can pay a tramp 50 pence to shit on a pile of banana skins and I'm watching a man create in front of my eyes. I saw Dylan at the SECC a couple of years ago and after the initial "oh, oh look! it's Bob Dylan! look!" feeling had worn off I found myself bored out of my tits. I'd rather waste my money elsewhere, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Pretty much agree with your review.My wife and I "enjoyed" the show but as a long time fan, I wish Bob would try the old arrangements of his songs.Even with a shot voice I believe we'd all enjoy them more than the often unrecogniseable form they take these days.

Go and see Bruce Springsteen at Hampden and you'll see the show of your life - 14 July 09.

Anonymous said...

I believe that Dylan's attitude has always been take-it-or-leave-it. You are there to see him; if it isn't to your liking then do not return. I've seen him 10 times and plan to again. I find him perpetually worth seeing because he does not play songs like he used to. I've already heard them that way and I'd be bored senseless. The point of the touring (for Dylan) is to constantly remake one's self and the songs each night. I've seen Tom Petty live and he plays the songs exactly as he did on the album. Why bother? The first time I saw Bob Dylan I was struck overwhelmingly by this thought: "This is not the Bob Dylan of 1963, or 66, or 75 or even 80; this is the Bob Dylan of 2002." No nostalgia. Looking forward, not backward. If it isn't great every time, fine. But that's better than regurgitation and boredom.

Anonymous said...

The groaning jock is a joke, if you were so deluded as to expect that a 68 year old man is capable of reproducing songs he originally wrote and performed in his twentysomethings then you should have spent 50 quid (obviously got your ticket from a tout) going to see Paul McCartney (a deed beastie). Next time, leave Bob Dylan to his fans. Enjoy westlife matey

Groanin' Jock said...

Thanks for all the comments so far, looks like my opinion on Dylan stirred up a bit of feeling on both sides. It's a pity so few of you put your names to your comments though, but I'll address them nonetheless.

Anon 1: Yes, the audience was largely behind him, and as I said in my review, there were some great moments. And I am delighted to have seen and heard the great man in the flesh.

Anon 2: I wouldn't have been booing in the 60s and I wasn't booing on Saturday night. I didn't expect the songs to sound like they did on the night, but when even hardened fans with scores of concerts under their belts are struggling to recognise the arrangements being played, I'd suggest it's a reworking too far.

Old Gray Mare: Sounds like the concert you saw and the one on Saturday night shared a lot of common features. Apparently he was better in Edinburgh the following evening.

Anon 3: At least someone else who was there thinks the same! I think Bob was making even his long-term fans work a bit too hard on Saturday.

Anon 4: Yes, that seems to sum up his attitude. As I said, it was good to see him, I did enjoy certain aspects of the show and I thought the arrangements of Hollis Brown and All Along The Watchtower were excellent (I'd actually put the arrangement of AATW above his own recorded version).

Anon 5: I'm a joke for having an opinion? For daring to criticise your God? Or for simply hoping that a professional musician charging at the door should at least sing in tune? As I said, I am a fan, and I wasn't the only one who thought the concert left a bit to be desired. And as for your final point, it's a tad childish to suggest that someone who didn't see a Bob Dylan concert as the second coming is therefore more suited to being a Westlife fan.

jack fate said...

i saw him a few years back at SECC and again on Saturday. He was better this time around for what i recall although I agree, he murdered Like a rolling stone.
At least last time around you could sing a long.

As for not playing the classics, he rarely does play many of them. Defo not Hurricane, don't think thats been played in decades. Tangled Up in Blue would have been nice though.

jack fate said...

p.s. I thought he was amazing on Saturday, thought i'd add that.

And also in his autobiography he examples how why he sings the way he does on tour now.

Anonymous said...

I agree, I left after 50 mins, the worst gig I have been to. The audience applause is pure sheep mentality.

Archie said...

Never saw Dylan in my puff but think he was no bad 40 odd years ago, Lay Lady Lay and all that. Haven't been to a big concert for years, since I worked in Glasgow Apollo, Blondie Hogmanay 79 gig two nights in fact. Ran my own studios after that till 92. Recorded hundreds of bands including two of your favs. Oasis and Primal Scream before they took off. Got my head done in eventually by all the crap that spoils it all. Can't be arsed with gigs anymore, I do my own stuff in the hoose noo when I can be bovvered. All the best, oh by the way do they still have the pitch and putt at Montrose? Was there my hols. 67 and 68 when I was a 12 and 13 yo (heid)nipper. No a bad swimming pool an a. Cheers the noo. Archie from the Other World.

Archie said...

Golly gosh, I almost forgot, I saw the Stolen Bones at Hampden in late 80's and some trendy studenty band at the Usher Hall in Ed. Big disappointment both. The Stones had a blinking generator, a big wan at that, behind the stage and all the mics. picked up the noise so there was a continuous hum all through the gig. We wondered wtf it was and only spotted the jenny at the end on the way oot. The acoustics in the Usher Hall were absolutely kerrapp for a rock band, perhaps ok for trumpets and other acoustic intruments but electric bass guitar - a pure racket, couldnae tell wan note fae another, jist a continuous rumble. The rest of the audience (students?) thought it was fantabulous and we thought they must be daft. Jist thought I would let you know in case you thought I was an odd-ball. Hoots-mon the noo.