Monday, July 18, 2011
Bob Dylan and his Band in Southern California (including a very slight interaction with "his Band")
Here's my take on two Dylan shows I attended at the end of last week. I've previously posted these reviews on the Bob Links website.
Flew down from Seattle to catch the Southern CA shows, seeing Bob is skipping the Pacific NW this time around. You gotta do what you gotta do to see Dylan! Drove up the coast from Santa Monica, through Malibu and around Point Dume, where I hear the man has a home. Walked up to the top of a hill on the point and looked at the incredible view, a wide beach below and the sea, but I couldn't tell which of the fine gated houses might be Bob's. I thought there was supposed to be a copper dome, but it wasn't evident. Maybe I had the wrong spot or maybe the dome is gone or hidden, who knows? Slightly stalker-ish, but Hey, I just wanted to see the view Dylan sees during his rare times home in CA. And Bob himself has been noticed on pilgrimages to the childhood homes of Lennon, Neil Young and Springsteen!
Anyway, on to the Santa Barbara Bowl, a lovely amphitheater, up another steep hill, with views of the ocean. In summary: really great show. As fine an example of elder Dylan you will get, just everything good. The sound in that amphitheater is a treat. His voice was in fine form. "Forgetful Heart" was chill inducing good. His tone and phrasing was clear and playful and harsh too, of course harsh, excellent harsh. But he really SANG well. Smooth when he wanted to be.
The band was tight and delicious. Sexton seemed to have a more freedom than in the shows I saw last late summer. He and Bob had great interplay between the guitar and keyboard, lots of focused jazzy jam. I could complain about a few choices in the set list, things we've heard so much, but when they are performed this well, jeez, I'm almost glad to get it one more time. Isn't that why I keep coming back? For example, Hard Rain is a song I thought I was done with long ago. But Bob really made it new and scary and also tender tonight. I thought hard on my own "darlin' young ones." I loved hearing it. Heavy on the apocalyptic overall this evening.
What else can I say? On to Costa Mesa, and speaking of hell and damnation, through LA traffic. If tomorrow is near as good as tonight, it will be worth it.
On the discussion boards, I read the question, "What was Dylan's last really great year?" Right now!
Last night in Costa Mesa Bob Dylan and his band performed a solid, if somewhat erratic set of the artist's classics, new and old. I don't know if was the sound in the amphitheater, or my own ears, but this show lacked the clarity and cohesion of the previous night's performance in Santa Barbara. One song might be brilliantly focused and tight, the next shambling and loose to the point of falling into pieces. Vocals moved from ragged and nearly careless, to nuanced and sublime, and on some tunes, like the current stand-out "Ballad of a Thin Man," immensely powerful.
What a surprise, eh? The bandleader does it his way, and sometimes it doesn't quite work. Songs that featured stellar interplay between the musicians in Santa Barbara lacked the same chemistry and magic in Costa Mesa. Sometimes Bob leads the guys into marvels with the keyboard, other times up the creek. And then Dylan straps on the guitar and they blaze through a super hot "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'." That one put me in mind of the glory years of Dylan, Sexton And Campbell, standing in one line with guitars, smokin' through the rockers. Of course, back then they didn't have that particular great song to work with.
Then straight into a less than inspired version of "High Water," certainly a far cry from the controlled frenzy of the night before.
"Tangled Up in Blue" was appreciated by the crowd for it's place in their heart, but also uninspired to my ears. "Forgetful Heart" was gorgeous, again. Being a fairgrounds show, a size-able share of drunks and casual fans (or less) were on on hand, which never adds to the ambiance. People blabbered through the quiet songs and left for the bathroom. Some of the older folks in the audience are aging gracefully, like Dylan; others act like fools. Some are laid-up in wheelchairs, and Bob must be an inspiration of vitality for them, kicking his legs at the keyboard and going into a deep lean on the harp solos. Not to mention the strength that is undiminished in the music. Of course, things have changed. The younger set who meant to be there were adoring, the ones who were pulled in by forces beyond their control appeared bored and confused.
It might sound like I didn't enjoy this show but really I had a blast. Before taking my seat I found myself looking down over the loading zone ramp for the venue. And here comes Tony Garnier walking in: "Hey Tony," I shout. He looks at me and I give him a big thumbs up, which he returns with a smile. A couple minutes later, Donnie Herron rambles down, grey jacket in hand: "hey Donnie!" He looks wildly around before he sees me grinning at him. I give him the thumbs up again and he returns it with a big smile, and says, "hey man, how are you doing?" "I'm great man, but you rock!" Okay, sort of lame, but I meant it. Another big smile. Well, I'm already satisfied but a few minutes later here comes George Recile, looking a little drowsy or irritated, walking down the ramp. I don't want to bug him but hey, the drummer needs to be appreciated, too. Softly this time, "Hi George." I give him the positive force and get a little smile out of him, and the thumbs up back.
Well, I know Bob isn't coming down that ramp, but what do you know, there goes Charlie Sexton back up it, carrying something bizarre, looks like a water balloon or an udder, wrapped in a piece of cloth. It looks heavy and wet and it seems to be troubling him. Jeez, I don't know what it was. Five minutes later he comes back down, tucking in his dress shirt, smoking a ciggie, looking all disheveled. By this time I am well into my rock star appreciation cadence: "Hey Charlie!" He smiles up. "You rock, man!" (creative as ever, I know). But he smiles again, appreciative. I say, "Hey, ask Bob to play "I and I!" At this his smile grows bigger: "Yah, right," he says, shaking his head and still grinning. I knew it was a crazy impossible request, hasn't been played in over a decade, but the song was on my mind. I doubt Bob takes requests, even from his lead guitarist. I guess I was thinking if they did play it, I would know it was at my suggestion! No such luck. But it was fun seeing those guys and I felt like they were happy at the acknowledgment, instead of bothered.
Have a good time at the shows everyone. Might be a while before I catch another, back home in the Great Northwest.
Finally, here's a link to a really fantastic review of Costa Mesa, from the Orange County Register. A great example of someone who understands Dylan in performance today. The reviewer and I had different takes on the show, but that's the magic of Dylan, when you are really listening. He hits everyone in slightly different spots at different times. And hey, even if you can't find that magic in the shows, you can always find it in the records!