Some years ago, a teenage son persuaded me to take him to see
Chuck Berry. I was reluctant. I’d heard he wasn’t good ‘live’ and wanted
to preserve the impact of his early recordings. I was wrong. We went and
it was a memorable night. 8 years later, his brother persuades me to go
with him to see Bob Dylan. As with Chuck Berry, I’d passed on this
before. As with Chuck Berry, I was wrong. Apart from the odd revisit of
old numbers which I tried to appreciate, much of the material seemed to
be drawn from the recent ‘Love and theft’ CD and hence sounded more
familiar and enjoyable. The numbers vary from blues with Dylan’s voice
now sounding appropriately like Howling Wolf, to country swing and jazz
Hammersmith saw Dylan on good form, with a beezer backing band, who
sounded very like the one on the afore-mentioned CD. However, I didn’t
catch the musicians’ names and wouldn’t pay £10 for a programme. The
bass player, who played double bass at times, seemed to direct the
music. Drums were spot on and so subtle that you could only just hear
them at times. One guitarist excelled in all styles, with frequent
guitar changes and doubling on pedal steel for ‘You ain’t going
nowhere’. The other stuck to rock and blues and doubled on violin. Dylan
gave them ample opportunities to trade choruses. The resultant jam on
the Western Swing-sounding ‘Summer days and Summer Nights’ (whose riff
at the end of each chorus is more a reference to the piano playing on
Big Joe Turner’s "Roll ‘em Pete") was magical and prompted Dylan
"dancing" - walking across the stage, with his index fingers pointing
upwards or waving his hands like Al Jolson. This prompted ecstatic
Reworked oldies included "You ain't goin' nowhere" and "Dear
Landlord" and, from the acoustic days, "Girl from the North Country" and
"Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll". I don’t know what to feel about
these. I can see that he might get bored churning out crowd pleasers in
the same way, especially with the changes in his voice and delivery over
the years, but such a huge portfolio of songs ought to preclude this. On
a selfish note, the songs meant a lot to me the way they were when I was
growing up and I didn’t even like The Byrds and others tampering with
Between songs, Bob walked across to the band, apparently to tell them
what they would be playing next. He spoke to us only once all night, to
introduce the band, making an insider joke about the drummer.
Having said that, Bob came back to encore with "Like a rolling stone"
preceded by "All Along the Watch Tower" which sounded pleasingly like the
Jimi Hendrix version.
He did look odd. Stage left, at a keyboard throughout, he had the
boom microphone set at a height for him to sing into if he were sitting
down. He wasn’t sitting down, but stood and hunched into the microphone.
He wore what looked like evening dress with silver lame down the seams
of his trousers. The band wore black, like all ageing rockers (why?).
Lighting was minimal, but made good use of the backdrop curtain folds
which were raised and lowered at various times. I couldn’t see any stage
monitors - perhaps they all wore those in-ear monitors. But from where I
stood at the back, near the sound desk, the sound was excellent and the
view of legs uninterrupted. Dylan’s vocals were indeed clear, and the
reason was a single large column speaker, suspended centre auditorium
from the ceiling, with only his voice in it.
There were plenty of young people, of both sexes, in the audience
where I was. Good to see that they and my son were right. They weren’t
going to be influenced by middle-aged cynicism. It was a really good
night and I’m grateful to son Dan and to Bob.
Copyright © John Scott Cree 2003