Friday, 11 November 2011

DYLAN Live: A Discussion.


I was listening, the other day, to 'Sugar Baby' from Hanover - and it was terrible: just terrible. So bad I felt almost bereft. And then I said so, in private, to the estimable Rainer Vesely of Vienna, and he sent me this response, which seemed to me so admirably expressed that I asked (and obtained) his permission to reprint it here. He wrote this:

Back from Innsbruck and all the way on the road I was thinking about how to describe for you why I really liked the concert. Even more: why I was deeply impressed... I think what he is doing now, and maybe since 2010 - since he crawled out from his hiding place behind the keyboard, where he ducked away from 2005-2009 - is staging a 90-100 minute drama, in which he puts much, much more emphasis on his physical presence than ever before. He really acts(!) and recites, gestures, mimicks, uses – very consciously!! – his weird way of walking, knee-bending, staring, half-closing or wide-opening his eyes etc. and not only when being center stage but also behind the keyboards. And this presence is so overwhelming, especially since he looks so trim and fit again, that you (well, me and many others) just don’t mind the bellowing and raspy sounds coming out of his mouth.
I understand very well that just listening to a CD or mp3 of the concert can make one shiver with embarrassment. The thing is: where in years long gone the singing, real singing, has been the main attraction, the recitation now is just part of the whole experience. There’s no use any more in recording it: you have to see it, have to be there. Also, the moments that stick in one's mind after the show, and that are exchanged with friends, have shifted from “Oh, when he stretched those vowels over five bars …” to “ Oh, when he pressed both fists to his chest when singing ‘Don’t get up gentlemen’ and then opened his arms and eyes wide for ‘I’m only passing through’”. I dare say, Michael, that even you would have loved it if you haad been with us in the front.
So I guess we really (once again) have to change our expectations and our views of what a Bob Dylan concert is.

posted by Michael Gray | 6:13 PM

Anonymous said...
My feelings exactly. Also, his band is terrific. Not *The Band* but a great band nonetheless. It's still a wonderful show and tell me anybody of stature who doesn't just play the hits. I'm a Geordie, nigh on 46. Wish I'd seen him in 65/66, 69, 74, 78. Missed them, too young. But saw him in 81 and many times since. Just one show I hated, the rest a dream. Like going to a corrida, part of the thrill is you don't know if you're going to get a slaughter or a profound dance.

6:35 PM
Singing Bear said...
Is there any other artist who would be forgiven for singing like a rabid dog and praised because he now makes funny gestures and wiggles a bit? This is simply ridiculous. Let me state clearly now that I am a Bob Dylan fanatic. No artist means as much to me or has given me so much pleasure and food for thought since I first encountered his work in the 70's. Also, I've seen him live many times and, on the whole, had a fun time. Having said that, let's call it as is: he now sounds pretty dreadful (and being a musical artist, how he SOUNDS is what really counts). His voice, as least in the live context, is shot to pieces and the constant touring doesn't seem to have done his muse too many favours judging by the quality of the songs on 'Together Through Life'. I find it ever so slightly disturbing that so many Dylan fans don't seem to accept what is happening (here) - the great man is grinding his art into dust. Also, take a look at the set lists for the recent tour - how many times do we want to hear these songs? How many times does he want to play them? It's the same old thing, night after night. This is a crying shame bordering on artistic tragedy and it's high time we admitted it. Still, I know I will be a lone voice: the Boblings will never admit he's now wearing the king's new clothes. Bob, do yourself a favour, get off the road, write some songs and enjoy life a little.

9:57 AM
Glenn said...
Well, I loved that Sugar Baby ... But yes, being there is so much better.

9:57 AM
Anonymous said...
I have always thought his records were about the words and his concerts were about the music. Not too much anymore. Concerts are now about seeing Dylan live and acting out his songs. The band is good but seems to sleep walk thru many songs. His singing is barely tolerable. But the entire package of his performances are still remarkable.

11:18 AM
Anonymous said...
Does this: "I dare say, Michael, that even you would have loved it if you had been with us in the front."

suggest that if one is further back one does not or cannot enjoy it?

11:34 AM
Rajan Mahadevan said...
Dylan still lives through the words he wrote at any time when he sings them anytime on stage. The emphasizing may differ, but the dramatic effect is there for him to feel, for others to see. Already knowing the words by heart, most in the audience hardly complain when Dylan is incomprehensible, they follow the words nonetheless. At this rate, songman Dylan stands to end up one day like dance-man Mr Bojangles, about whom no attention is paid these days.

11:59 AM
Anonymous said...
Its great that Dylan is still doing it. Dylan was never really great live. Even though his years with The BAND were his best live. Now its rather pathetic at times. His voice is just horrible his arrangements are rather poor. But his ego many times stands in the way too. I heard one song he wouldn t even let Mark Knoffer do a lead. If Dylan was really brilliant he change it though. Talk his song rather than try and sing them and play them less loud maybe more accoustically.

12:09 PM
Anonymous said...
the trouble is all that gesticulating only plays to those very close. when he starts playing venues the size of my living room, i'll start going to watch.


  1. He ought to play The Habit.

  2. They should just be grateful to be in the presence of genius (Bob, I mean principally, but maybe Da too...)

  3. Sounds like people looking very hard for reasons to be cheerful.