Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dylan and the Blues

Since commencing the Never Ending Tour back in the mid-Nineties, Bob Dylan has amassed a volume of new work that has slowly worked its way into his performances. The artistic successes of Time Out of Mind (1997), Love and Theft (2001), Modern Times (2006), and Together Through Life (2009) -- along with last year's superb bootleg series release, Tell Tale Signs --have formed a second comeback worthy of the one fueled by Blood on the Tracks back in 1975. As a group, they convey Dylan's often dyspeptic vision of a world gone wrong, albeit a vision leavened by dark humor and love songs. In fact, humor and love dominate Together Through Life, an album on which Dylan sought his muse in the ambience of South Texas bodegas and dance halls.

In concert, Dylan has moved away from the neo-bluegrass sound that served so well to reinterpret his standards: As his emphasis changed to new material, the music moved in the direction of the blues. By Monday and Tuesday, this had taken the form of a crack band led by protean guitarist Charlie Sexton and (often) Dylan's keyboard, which often recalled the contributions of Al Kooper on Highway 61 Revisited. As a result, Dylan delivered the best and most rocking arrangement of "Like A Rolling Stone" that I've heard him perform. This time, it didn't sound like a pro forma version of a great song that he didn't quite know what to do with. It rocked from beginning to end, as it should; if Dylan's delivery didn't bite, it searched for an answer to the great question: How does it feel to be on your own?

He opened both shows his gospel number "Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking," an implicit challenge that the audience lay aside its expectations of the show and take in the spirit of freshness. Oh, he'd make it go down easy: There would be plenty of the great old songs ("Lay Lady Lay," "Stuck Inside of Mobile," "Highway 61," "Ballad Of A Thin Man," and a Hendrixian "All Along The Watchtower") and the new ones would be delivered in an extremely palatable blues-rock package.

The second show, despite the sepulchral atmosphere of the WaMu Theatre, was a hair better than the first night's effort at the Moore, an old brown shoe of a venue that better suited the occasion. The band, however, was a bit tighter on the second night, plus Dylan constructed a set list around four songs from Together Through Life. That show had greater cohesion than the first night, although that performance was farther ranging, reaching back as far as the early Sixties with "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" and successfully referencing the late Eighties with a beautifully rendered "Shooting Star."

On the first night, Dylan did display his incomparable gift for the blues ballad through startling renditions of "Shooting Star," "Not Dark Yet," and "When The Deal Goes Down." On both nights, he showed his incredible connection to American song forms, moving seamlessly between folk, rock, country blues, electric blues, and amalgams of any given forms. The second show offered a more variety, especially among the up tempo numbers, which added to the strength of that night.

On stage, Dylan moved easily from keyboard to the guitar to sometimes simply fronting the band, clutching his harmonica like a security blanket while striking song-and-dance man poses. These last moments forged an oddly touching bond between singer and audience which, after all, wanted so much to hear the time timeless strains of Dylan's harmonica. We got that and more: A great artist who had finally found a sound he deemed worthy of his new material.

Set Lists
10/4/09 (Moore Theatre)
1.Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking (Bob on keyboard)
2.Shooting Star (Bob center stage on harp)
3.Beyond Here Lies Nothin' (Bob center stage on harp, Donnie on trumpet)
4.Don't Think Twice, It's All Right (Bob on guitar)
5.Lonesome Day Blues (Bob on keyboard)
6.I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)(Bob center stage)
7.Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum (Bob on keyboard)
8.Not Dark Yet (Bob center stage on harp)
9.High Water (For Charley Patton) (Bob on guitar)
10.When The Deal Goes Down (Bob on keyboard)
11.Highway 61 Revisited (Bob on keyboard)
12.Nettie Moore (Bob on keyboard)
13.Thunder On The Mountain (Bob on keyboard)
14.Ballad Of A Thin Man (Bob center stage on harp)
15.Like A Rolling Stone (Bob on keyboard)
16.Jolene (Bob on keyboard)

10/5/09 (WaMu Theatre)
1.Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking (Bob on keyboard)
2.Lay, Lady, Lay (Bob on guitar)
3.Beyond Here Lies Nothin' (Bob center stage on harp, Donnie on trumpet)
4.Spirit On The Water (Bob center stage on harp)
5.Honest With Me (Bob center stage on harp)
6.I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)(Bob on guitar)
7.My Wife's Hometown (Bob on guitar)
8Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again(Bob on keyboard)
9.Forgetful Heart (Bob center stage on harp)
10.If You Ever Go To Houston (Bob on keyboard)
11.Highway 61 Revisited (Bob on keyboard)
12.I Feel A Change Comin' On (Bob on keyboard)
13.Thunder On The Mountain (Bob on keyboard)
14.Ballad Of A Thin Man (Bob center stage on harp)
15.Like A Rolling Stone (Bob on keyboard)
16.Jolene (Bob on keyboard)
17.All Along The Watchtower (Bob on keyboard)

All day I face the barren waste without a taste of water, cool water...

The bailout explained in terms that anyone can understand...

This has to be a joke. Doesn't it? Someone, anyone, please tell me that it is. (Thanks to Kathy at Stone Soup Musings for uncovering this particular bit of lunacy)...

Graveyard Tunes #1: Robert Frost's Banjo observes Halloween month with a tribute to songs about death and devil...


John Hayes said...

Hey fun for you checking out Bob on consecutive nights! Dylan's grounding in traditional music has always been one of his fundamental strengths & what he's done with the blues form over the years has always had that great mix of innovation & groundedness--"Stuck Inside of Mobile" is a song that shows that off from an earlier period, & there are a bunch of other examples--"Black Crow Blues" from the acoustic period & "Meet Me in the Morning" from Blood on the Tracks for two.

Glad you liked the Graveyard Tunes--thanks!

Kathy said...

Dylan is one of those rare artists whose voice leaves much to be desired, but his greatness lies in his ability to touch listeners with words and emotions that connect to their life experiences.

At least, that's been my experience - "dyspeptic vision of a world gone wrong" and all.

Bill said...

Ha, sadly Conservapedia is 100% serious.

I'd imagine the people behind the Conservative Bible Project are the same type of people who claim that the Oxford English study bible is flawed because it goes so far as to explore the historical changes to the language language of Bible over time, rather than claiming that it was all compiled at once.

Go to the amazon.com reviews of that to see some priceless drivel on the matter.

Scrumpy said...

Check out the entry for liberal, it starts...

A liberal (also leftist) is someone who rejects logical and biblical standards, often for self-centered reasons. There are no coherent liberal standards; often a liberal is merely someone who craves attention, and who uses many words to say nothing. Liberalism began as a movement for individual liberties, but today is increasingly statist, and in Europe even socialistic.

K. said...

John, Kathy:: I never miss Dylan when he's in town. Although there were times during the second night when I thought to myself, "I'm getting too old to do this two nights in a row." Then the show started and those thoughts went away in a hurry."

Bill, Scrump: Logical and biblical standards? As I implied in an earlier post, substitute "conservative" for "liberal" in that definition, remove "logical" and the last clause, and you have the definition of today's conservative.

Editilla the Pun said...

I should warn of my mother's peoples, but have to rely on your own savvy or Fox's nose to suss it out due to the inherent risks of placing so infamous a moniker on the Internets... en lieu of taxes so to speak which ain't fair either) Suffice to say I ain't named Bruce for nothing... well I'm not. You know all them Scots have the same colored soul.

"It's All Over Now Baby Blue" is the first song I learned of Bob's and about the 3rd in line after "Needle and the Damage Done" and "You've Got To Hide Yer Love Away".
Though I did dallied with "Tambourine Man" way back then too we won't get into that right now ok, I still perform Baby Blue, the slow way like Van Morrison did but with the lyric speed closer to Dylan.
I have spent the past few years working on "It's Alright Ma"...
--yeah, but hey, we took a year and a half on the first chapter of Gravity's Rainbow so there. Jus'sayin... Bob spelled backwards is Bob but that don't mean it gets any easier.

Thanks youz