Sunday, September 23, 2007

The jingle-jangle morning after

Bob Dylan has got a major racket running. I can't say for certain how long it's been going on, since I only recently bought in, but Mr. Zimmerman has surely been laughing all the way to the bank for at least the last few years.

Last night, Dylan performed at the Arena at Gwinnett Center, a mid-size venue north of Atlanta that's part of a larger convention center complex. With a capacity of 13,000, there was plenty of room to spare. Initially this surprised me because of Dylan's iconic status, but he is forever touring, which probably cuts down on his per-show draw.

Now, I don't consider myself much of a Dylan fan -- I don't have any of his albums, and I probably only know his big hit songs -- but I felt like seeing Bob Dylan is one of those things any reasonably well informed music critic should do before the man dies or stops touring, whichever happens first. What sealed the deal was the opening act: Elvis Costello. With these things in mind, I approached Saturday's concert with high hopes for a legendary concert -- or at least a good one. The odds were in my favor after Costello's stellar opening set, but it was immediately apparent once Dylan mounted the stage that this was not to be.

His arrival onstage was heralded by a bizarre, garbled announcement over the sound system. Tottering across the stage on toothpick legs, Dylan, in a black suit and tan cowboy hat, assumed his position front and center before a five-man backup band attired in matching gray suits. A guitar hanging across Dylan's shoulders on a glittering strap went mostly unplayed for two songs before he gave up that charade, opting instead to pretend to play a keyboard. Thereafter he stood bobbing up and down at a gray console that gave no evidence of being plugged in. Each song came in one of two forms that dominated the eventing: insipid, adult-contemp balladry or a sloppy, soulless 12-bar blues.

The audience clapped and howled its approval every time Dylan reached a chorus (oh that's what this song is...Woooo!) or blew into his harmonica. The second tune of the evening was "Don't Think Twice, it's Alright," by all previous accounts an excellent and poignant song. Here, however, Dylan croaked along arhythmically while his band barreled through, throwing in half-hearted guitar licks and nonsensical drum fills wherever they saw fit. The musicians seemed to be each in his own different world -- but as bad and unmusical as the whole outfit was, the drummer was unparalleled in his hackdom, hardly able to maintain a steady beat. (A cousin or nephew, perhaps?) And, just for the record, the way Dylan sang "Just like a woman" will give me nightmares for weeks.

The songs kept coming in much the same manner for the next hour. I know the man can't really sing and has famously indecipherable diction, but he truly made no effort. Not at playing, not at singing -- or even at being a gracious host. Not once did he address the audience members, who had shelled out at least $40 a pop to see him.

After nearly an hour of unrelenting aural assault, I asked myself what I was doing still there. I had hopes that the band would depart the stage, leaving Dylan alone to strum his guitar for the audience. Or maybe Costello would return and a mind-boggling collaboration of two rock greats would unfold before my very eyes. At this point, it wasn't worth it to me to find out.

It's shocking that someone known for controversial and pointed lyrics doesn't seem to care if anyone understands what he has to say. Dylan clearly doesn't perform to serve his texts, nor does he strive to serve the music -- that was woefully apparent through the band's uniform treatment of every song. The only thing Dylan is trying to serve here is his bank account, and he's got a pretty good scam going.

On the upside, Elvis Costello was excellent. On stage alone with four guitars to choose from, he delivered straightforward, honest, impassioned music, making the vast room feel a little more intimate. He addressed the audience -- he even went so far as to specify the arena's Duluth location, avoiding the general and assuredly more common "Atlanta" designation -- and thanked the crowd before leaving the stage. I feel truly sorry for those who showed up late and missed the opening set.

Costello almost made it worth the price of tickets, but not quite. If any of you were planning on catching this tour, save your money. Go buy Dylan's acclaimed albums instead, and then wait for Elvis Costello to announce a solo tour.


Brock said...

Good to know. I was thinking about trying to see them when they come to Charlottesville.

Anonymous said...

I guess we attended different shows since I found this to be a great performance. Sure his voice isn't what it was years ago, but the man still puts on a great show.

paulandalicia said...

Why go to a concert of an artist you don't like? Do you eat in restaurants where you don't like the food. Even worse, why write about your self inflicted bad experience?

Kathleen said...

Editor's note: In saying I'm not much of a fan, I don't mean to discount his music that I do know. I just don't have any of his albums. I am a proponent of good music, and I know for a fact Dylan has produced a ton of it over the years -- hence my interest in seeing this show.

steve said...

Didn't see this one, but I've seen many Dylan shows over the years, many were trancendant, none less than fascinating. Sounds like you need to save your concert dollar for lip-syncing Top-20 dance acts. They're less challenging and don't require as much concentration.

Anonymous said...

Bobby is singing great and the musicianship of his "cowboy band" is beyond question. I think you only wrote this to be controversial. You should stick to shows that you don't have to actually listen to. Plus where were you sitting, for $40? Try getting a good seat.

Emily said...

For all those quick to run to Dylan's defense by insulting either the taste or intelligence of the author here...I saw Dylan perform over 7 years ago in a small venue up in New Jersey, and had a similar experience: little to no audience interaction and a performance that bordered on unintelligible at times. Now, I am a fan of his work and own several albums, and I'm glad I had the chance to see him perform live. But lets be honest, we're all going to age - at some point each of us will be past our prime - and that includes legendary figures like Bob Dylan. Sad but true, folks.

Andrew said...

were you "reasonably well informed" before or after the dylan show?

maybe you just don't "get it"?

Henry Porter said...

don't serve wine to one who can ony appreciate grape jiuce.

Anonymous said...

Dylan is as Dylan does. I've been into Bob since his first album. I'm 54 years old and can play many Dylan songs on piano and guitar, having covered many of his obscure songs (Dirge, Senor) at open mics. I also know he is the best poet rock music will ever be graced wwth. That being said, I've seen him in the span of a few weeks at The Beacon Theater and Radio City in NY back in the 80's when his band included G.E Smith. One show was amazing. The other I couldn't believe I was seeing and hearing the same performer. Some nights Dylan is on, and others he is off. He is like the girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead. When she is good she is very, very good, but when she is bad she is horrid. It comes with the territiory when you dig Bob.

Anonymous said...

I have seen Dylan concerts that were magestic and the next night has been a shambles but thats what a work in progress is all about.You must go to another show and you'll get it.He works at a much deeper level than the pop groups etc that you're probably used to seeing.

Anonymous said...

YOU consider yourself a music critic? HA! Next time Bob comes to town, do us all a favor and just stay home. Maybe you should wait for the Eagles to come through so you can hear the same old tired greatest hits that they always play and you can THINK that you're at a great concert. I bet that's your idea of a great concert - something you can just sing along to. Pathetic!

- Kevin Macdonald

Anonymous said...

you can question bob dylan all you like but to label him is to label yourself which you have clearly done. he's an enigmatic artist he don't look back. he won't give you what you want. but will keep making you question. if you can be bothered to keep asking new questions. he is both the best and worst live performer there is and he is not afraid to be either. and you can't program him to be either.
i hope i haven't labelled him to much

hudson roper

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, Elvis Costello said he's loved Dylan's performances in Nashville and Duluth. The three of us who went did also.
Gee, Kathleen, guess it might not be up your alley. But maybe once Brittney Spears gets her health back, she'll hit the road and you'll catch a show you can really enjoy.

Anonymous said...

You call yourself a "reasonably well informed music critic" yet your blog clearly shows how ill informed you are. I suggest a bit of homework would have helped, and perhaps Bob at 66 years of age shouldn't be criticised by someone like you because of the shape of his legs nor for the fact that he suffers from arthritis in his hands which is why he moves to keyboard after a few songs! His hands hurt him because he is human, and his songs make us, who get what he's giving, feel more human.

I went to 2 of Bob's recent shows in Australia and he was as magnificent as ever. For those of you wondering whether you should attend, you'd be better off reading the masses of reviews published in more credible websites than bother with the ignorant rantings of this foolish blogger!

UkuleleElvis said...

A music critic who doesn't own ANY Bob Dylan albums?! That is unforgivable.

Althea said...

You never said what you thought of his new material from "Modern Times". Or did you not know that he put out an album last year?

The 60's stuff he choses to play usually don't sound the same as when he first recorded them at the bright young years of twenty and twenty one. Even if he tried, I bet he could not sing them the same way as he did back then. If you a well-informed music critic, you would have read his autobiography Chronicles where Dylan is quite open about his vocal limitations and his struggles with it and his way of working with it instead of against it. Amazing to me how that problem still doesn't stop him, he applies creativity even to his bad voice.

Frankly, I think he's asking to be boo'd. At least one last time before he sees his Maker face to face. Especially in this sick day and age where everything is so f***ing perfect and slick instead of heartfelt and real.

Really, if that was what you felt, why didn't you boo?

He's old. He's shown me that beauty does not belong only to the young, but also to the used, antiqued and broken down.

I've been to two concerts last year and I'm going again in a few weeks. Can't hardly wait.

Maybe his voice will finally give out by then, and you know, I would still give him a standing ovation.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I don't really like Picasso but I thought I'd better have a look at some of his paintings and, guess what, the eye is on the wrong side of her head and one doesn't look like a woman at all.

Sara said...

Do you really think Bob Dylan needs the money? With a song catalogue like his?! hardly. Bob's touring is no financial racket at all. It's a continued exploration through song and it's his lifeblood.

El Fusilado said...

What?! Bob didn't chat with the audience and say it was great to be in your town? Good heavens!

Anonymous said...

He not busy being born is busy dying. If you want to hear the recorded versions of Bob's Back Pages, buy one of his albums. I've got my tickets to see him in a few weeks, and I can't wait. I know people love Pink Floyd, but I wouldn't walk across the street to hear the Aussie cover band. Not my cup o' tea, and Bob's not yours. Sorry you missed it.

Azor said...

I've seen Dylan numerous times and will hopefully see him numerous more. I know he's not for everybody, though, so I can't object to someone not liking him (but it's comical how some people go into a Dylan concert expecting some kind of oldies, greatest hits revue where Bob chats with the audience between every number).

All that aside though, I don't understand the criticism of the opening intro. It's the best intro ever. (It's meant to be enjoyed ironically, as Bob took it verbatim from a newspaper review)

Anonymous said...

you had enough kathleen or do you need some more?


Kimberly said...

You know, I read this post, completely disagreed, was about to add my two cents but saw that most of the points had already been made. Then I decided to do a little more research on the discover it was no one other than my college neighbor. Kathleen, what in the world?! If you wanted to learn a little Dylan, you could have hopped across the hallway of good ol' 720 Clark Street and I would have shared all that I had so that perhaps you would have enjoyed the concert more. I've always had a tenuous relationship with ol' Bob but the other night, I completely "got it." I found the performance a rollicking good time, the best I've ever seen him, and his band was absolutely scorching.

He's a polarizing figure. You don't have to like him. But you have to respect what he did, does, and continues to do. If you hadn't read any Shakespeare but knew he was an important figure and felt compelled to see one of his plays, you might not be so happy there either.

It's a shame we couldn't have added Dylan 101 ti your Northwestern education.

Hope you're well (despite my complete disagreement with your critique),

Jon Ross said...

"Maybe his voice will finally give out by then, and you know, I would still give him a standing ovation"

This, perhaps, is the problem. The cult of Bob. People cheer nomatter what. It's kind of embarrassing.

Anonymous said...

Wow! you call yourself a music critic, but you have NO idea what you are even talking about, much less what you are hearing. When Dylan passes, and I hope that isn't for a very, very long time from now, he will easily join the top ranks with Elvis, Frank, Ray, Roy, Cash, Miles, etc. When people like you just open there mouths a crack, it puts a big smile on my face and makes me laugh out loud in a pretty gloomy world.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathleen, I love Dylan and probably halfway agree with your critics here. But there's no reason to write you a "Have with You to Saffron Walden" as is piling up here.

Bob has proven himself a thousand times over, and in 410 years "Hard Rain" and "Blind Willie McTell" and the rest of 'em will be much better remembered than Thomas Nashe's old masterpiece of invective is today.

My best wishes!

Anonymous said...

Aw, honey, if you thought His Bobness was such a pathetic old guy, nothing was keeping you from beating traffic, and going home. Tell you what: since you call yourself a "music critic" although you own no Dylan albums at all, have a listen to "Blonde on Blonde," "Highway 61 Revisited," and "Nashville Skyline" before you ever presume to write another music review of anything or anyone.
Sorry your main gal let you down so hard on the "Gimme More" lipsync. Or were you into that one?
Best, and good luck,

Althea said...

jon russ--

What's embarrassing is when your friend writes a blog about something she knows nothing about and gets posted on "Expecting Rain", a list of links to everything on the internet about Dylan read all over the world.

I mean, her ignorance is pretty obvious here, and her arrogance about being a music critic is entirely laughable. Is she, like, 16 years old?

What I choose to applaud is about what I know in depth, and the more I learn, the more I appreciate it. Really don't give a rip about how I might embarrass you. Your own prob, man.

Brock said...

Wow, a bad review of Bob really brings the music snobs out of the woodwork!

And it is amazing that so many people can claim to know how Kathleen's experience actually was. A review is just one person's opinion. And I have no doubt that, as some here have said, that Bob has his good performances and his bad performances.

I agree with you, Jon Ross. Just because Bob is a legend (and deservedly so) doesn't mean that everything he does is amazing.

By the way Kathleen, I didn't realize you were such a Britney fan! We should catch a show sometime!

Emily said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily said...

Althea -

I'm curious as to how the phrase "music critic" automatically translates to "disciple of Bob." Surely you'll concede that there are all kinds of music and musicians out there in the world. Furthermore, the realm of art and performance depends not only on what the artist is expressing, but what the audience takes away from what is put before them. There's lots of room for interpretation, and none of it is "right" or "wrong." It's entirely personal and it's merely an opinion.

Regardless, at what point did Kathleen claim to be an expert in all things Dylan? And who are you to judge not only her but others who might express opinions that stray from your own? If nothing else, applaud the fact that even at this late stage in his career, Dylan is still pulling in new listeners. They might not love him or his work as much as you do, and there's nothing wrong with that. Nobody said you had to agree, but you certainly don't need to be insulting. Chill out.

King said...

I agree with several coments listed here on each "side" of the issue. I happened to be at the Dylan concert in question and I happened to enjoy it quite a lot. I think that several of the comments have gone to the extreme in attacking Kathleen for her failure to appreciate Dylan's performance. Surely we all agree that Bob is not for all tastes. Nor is his music easily accessible in a mainstream pop sort of way. (There's really nothing wrong with mainstream pop music, by the way. It is what it is.) On some level, it's heartening to see that he can still elicit as wildly varying and passionate responses as he ever has. (Recall the "Judas" accusation from the Royal Albert Hall performance in '66. And Dylan's response? Aside to to the Band, "Play f***in' loud." It's probably the most legendary performance in the history of rock.)
Among the most pointed and interesting of the above comments are the analogies to a viewer of Picasso's art or Shakespeare's drama who is insufficiently educated on the artist's methods or intent to make any real sense of what they're seeing. I think the lesson provided by this blog and it's (often overheated) responses is that we should take care before we presume to make any "authoritative" critique of something without first properly educating ourselves on the material in question.

Ralph Hitchens said...

As a longtime & fervent Dylan fan I appreciate your constructive criticism. I think the man is past his prime, which is nothing to be ashamed of given the staggering magnitude of his prime. I've eschewed his recent work and stay away from live concerts on principle, finding them too expensive and too much trouble to attend. The videos I've seen of his recent performances seem consistent with many of your comments. Hope you weather the abusive comments without losing too much sleep.

Carl Yost said...

Dear Kathleen-

Eat poo and die. You wouldn't know good music if it scratched its beard in your face.

XOXO forever,


Althea said...


Read the post again.

I'm not saying anything about what Kathleen tastes are. I'm not saying anything about her having to like things I like. I just don't think she did her research on Dylan--who he is nowadays not in the 60's-- so it really shouldn't surprise anyone that she can't figure out what his audience responds to.

Now, that I've cooled down from feeling provoked at Kathleen's insults about Dylan and his audience, I see where you're coming from.

I even went to a concert last month without expecting to have a great time--I was sick, had a tough day at work, was tired, got lost in Ypsylanti...I was needing time to relax not in a concert party hardy mode to mindlessly listen to an aging old man croak his way through his music. But I did anyway, I really did. I did not give a standing ovation throughout every song, I sat and listened and got something out of what I heard, and even a little perspective on my life.

And really, that's all what matters to me. So, Kathleen and all her friends, my apologies. I hope that my insults fell lightly and are quickly brushed away and that we all come to understand each better even though we don't agree.

Althea said...

And, my thanks to Emily for helping me see how I'm coming across!