September 16, 2010

Bumbershooting: Bob Dylan

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Bob Dylan ::: Photo Courtesy of Hilary Harris

Yes, that was Bob Dylan up on stage I was assured. Yes, the words were in there somewhere, I was assured. Turns out, if I’m lucky by the end of the first chorus I can figure it out. No one else I’ve talked to about it seems willing to admit what appeared patently obvious to me: If I knew this was the Bob Dylan I’d be getting, I don’t think I’d want to attend. I mean really knew. I had been warned, but this was beyond even my worst expectations.

We’d intersected with a few other writer types, and marveled at how good Dylan’s band was and the stripe going down his leg to mark him out for the eye from a stadium’s length away. But as the minutes passed and I tried to listen closely, I just didn’t experience the glimmers of recognition and nostalgia that I’d hoped he might stir up. My cohorts who’d experienced many a Dylan concert over the last few decades remarked this is the best they’ve seen him in all that time. I was powerless to argue in the face of such a response, beyond admitting I couldn’t understand a damn thing he was saying. His raspy unintelligible wail would remain unintelligible to me throughout my stay, cut short because I just really couldn’t take it any longer.

As we left the stadium and exited the gates, suddenly Bob’s words appeared with clarity out of nowhere, singing “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” The voice that I’d been straining to hear was suddenly accessible to me outside the stadium, minus the gravelly overtone. Ummm, huh? When the final reports were written recounting the set-list as a veritable greatest hits collection, it just made me that much madder.

Everyone else seems happy to give Bob a free-pass on this one, but not me. This will go down as one of the most disappointing musical experiences I’ve had yet in my nearly thirty *gulp* years. For that Bob, there is no free pass.

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Bob Dylan ::: Photo Courtesy of Hilary Harris

26 Comments

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  1. Josh #

    I barely made it through the first few songs. Nice stealth work by Hillary on the pics, though.

  2. jz #

    Disagree. If I wanna hear the record, I stay home and listen to it.

  3. Steven #

    The sound is terrible in Memorial stadium. Always has been. Everybody sounds bad there. But Dylan was spectacular. You need to bring something to him, brother. You need to bring some history and some life. But I can’t blame you for being only (gulp) 30. Sorry the bus left without you. Maybe next time you should have a puff of that weed that was floating around. Maybe your ears will work better.

  4. Todd #

    “I just didn’t experience the glimmers of recognition and nostalgia that I’d hoped he might stir up.” And there it is, Josh. Dylan is not doing nostalgia. And you won’t recognize the songs because they’re not the same. In fact the music is often unlike anything else. Blues, yes, but off kilter. Not at all familiar most of the time. It swings and there’s a lot of improvisation, but its not jazz like anything you’ve heard. It’s just Dylan and its as fresh as anything happening now. A suggestion: go back to your friends, get some recent live recordings, and then catch him next time he’s near. Believe me, you won’t leave early next time.

  5. Ben #

    Go see a nostalgia act like Mellencamp if you want predictability and spare real music fans crap reviews like this.

  6. tgordon #

    I understand your frustration with not getting ‘the old dylan’. We’ve all been there at some point. But you act as if he sounds as he does out of laziness, disinterest or flat out disdain for his audience.

    The truth is…this is how he sounds now. Perhaps, through vocal neglect or abuse, it is his own fault to some degree. Regardless, the question is; should he just stay home? Should he just stop performing because he doesn’t sound anything like the Bob of old? Is he responsible for knowing when he is no longer giving adequate value for our entertainment dollar?

    The crowds that continue to show up to the concerts say otherwise.

    He once said ‘when I give a concert and nobody shows up…you won’t see me anymore.’ I think that still holds.

  7. Gloreme G #

    Like Todd the following line of yours hit me :”glimmers of recognition and nostalgia that I’d hoped he might stir up. ”
    If I want the Dylan from before I have days of it on my ipod. Actually if you get a tape of the show you disliked you might be surprised at how clear his diction actually is. Look at the paintings Picasso did in his aging years. They are not like the blue period. Pablo has the eyes and noses in all the “wrong” place in his later paintings. You take the position of an art critic who wants to see Picasso of the blue period. How dull if Picasso produced the same stuff all his life. Actually if you know Bobs lyrics well enough it is quite clear what he is singing- he just presents them in a new way. Thank Goodness.

  8. joe bill #

    I myself also felt the .. what song is this?? I’ve seen Dylan play a few times .. This time what i found myself liking .. latching on to oddly was his guitar and harmonica playing.. It was weird and fucked up sounding.. really actually perfect, his voice is what it is.. maybe his backing band is too polished?? ya know.. Crazy House.. the band , the dead…. hmmm… what if someone like the moondoggies or the The Sweet Hereafter backed him up. .. just a thought.

  9. Gloreme G #

    Not only that but blues singers are supposed to sound rough. He is not Pavarotti or Bing Crosby. His genre is down home rough sounding blues. THEY HAVE BEEN SAYING HE CAN’T SING FOR 45 YEARS NOW; MEANWHILE HE IS BUSY BECOMING A HISTORICAL FIGURE.

  10. Just to be clear, I’m not blaming Dylan for anything. I’m simply stating I couldn’t understand a damn thing he was singing. By playing a hits list, he was attending to his fans, caring about what they want.

    I’m more frustrated with this notion that his performance is an unassailable topic, especially among fellow music writers who aren’t usually susceptible to that kind of thinking. I’ve spent money on his most recent previous records, and liked them. From those records, I wasn’t expecting an unintelligable Dylan.

    Indeed, Dylan is and deserves to be a historical figure. He can do whatever he wants with his songs. They are his songs. But once he changes too much, they stop being significant to someone who’s built up years of memories and context attached to that music. The songs are the reason to come, but they’re unrecognizable to you, then what’s the point?

    Ultimately I’m not expecting nostalgia, but I am expecting to be able recognize more than one song.

  11. Sam #

    People who are disappointed in the live-and-in-person performances of Bob Dylan really have no clue what he’s up to otherwise they wouldn’t turn out at the venues, which is too bad because he’s the most engaging and inventive performer on the popular music circuit today and offers something truly unique and (oddly) new.

  12. Will #

    Like a spurned lover, you write with the angry disappointment of one who’s object of worship won’t be held in your hands. It hurts, I know. We want those we love to meet our needs and expectations at the expense of their hearts. Let Mr. Dylan go. Then love him all the more. You’re heart will expand, but it might hurt like hell.

  13. Amy Rogers #

    Josh, were you not popular in high school? You always seem to put the responsibility of your reviews on your “cohorts” or I fell you are trying to fit in… I think you guys should stick to covering the Pacific NW “emerging” artists, which at every show you can barely ever make out lyrics, sound is typically crap, bands playing at nearly full levels in a tiny room, competing for every frequency imaginable, but you don’t talk about that eh? It’s easier to have huge expectations with Dylan, however he is OLD, he is tired, he has done more for music than all of the bands you write about combined + their offspring. But what are your expectations of all the hipster bands you review, promote, lust after? Tight jeans and flannels? The odd girl bass player or secondary vocalist? Two drummers man, two fucking drummers!

    On a positive note, for once you have some comments here! And I admire you for sticking to the blog-o-sphere in our little bubble of Seattle – kudos.

  14. Sarah #

    Who knew it was a punishable crime and reason to get personally nasty to have high expectations for one of the greatest musicians who ever lived? That Josh was disappointed is in-line with the rest of the coverage I see here on Sound on the Sound, passionate and personally invested.

    Amy, with your charming attitude, you clearly weren’t. If you care about the number of comments go read LineOut and troll. Then find a new insulting word to use because “hipster” is as played out as your passive aggressive attitude.

    Go pick on someone who deserves it and defend a musician or band who needs your support and petty personal attacks.

  15. Amy Rogers #

    Sarah,

    It’s no crime, perhaps a crime of passion eh?

    Agreed, Dylan is great!

    I never said I was at the show. I could imagine that it was quite a bit of work to get in and watch an “intimate” performance at a huge stadium with a shit load of people so I thought a little harder on my choices. I’ve played that game every year @ SXSW.

    I wouldn’t call it “personally invested” but my point – there a tons of bands in this Seattle “bubble” but S.O.S covers the same ones over and over. You can’t really say you’ve discovered anyone if you are on the same band wagon as everyone else in this city and just promoting your friends, their friends, It’s who you know get it?

    But now I’ll be lam basted for changin’ the subject. Oh yea, Dylan, Dylan..

    Oh Sarah, Who deserves pickin on?

    I wasn’t aware that “hipster” is played out – recommendations? Should I return my 80′s shades or can I keep them for another summer babe?

    Don’t be so politically correct Sarah and perhaps read between the lines, if MY honest opinion is passive aggressive, then I rest my case.

    I heart music, people and freedom of speech!
    Amy

  16. Amy,

    Just to clarify, Sound on the Sound covers the same bands “over and over” because we seek to tell a narrative about bands. There are lots of blogs, locally and otherwise where you can just get the hot mp3 or video of the moment. We try to be more in-depth than that. Some people perceive it as a flaw and others as a strength, but it’s our point of view.

    And I would say we’ve ‘discovered’ some bands and we talk about many of those bands long before everyone else is on the bandwagon. Bands you see praised all over the place or in heavy rotation on KEXP like The Head and the Heart, Local Natives, Lonely Forest and The Moondoggies would back us up on that. We’ve loved and talked about lots of bands that never got press or play outside of Sound on the Sound too.

    Most of all I’d like to dispel the idea we write about friends and their friends or that it’s about who you know here. That couldn’t be further from the truth. While I think it has nothing to do with how he writes and the comment was mean-spirited, I knew Josh in high school, we were best friends. And we weren’t particularly popular, neither of us are social butterflies. We still aren’t. We write about what compels us most and because we do stick with bands and write about them more than once, we sometimes to get to know them as people. Those relationships come after the fact, not before. While nepotism, friendship and band-waggonery play a role in every community of critics, we pride ourselves in doing the best to stay above it. Critique us on anything else, but those sort of statements aren’t just untrue, they undermine the bands we talk about. We see hundreds if not thousands of bands a year and the ones that end up on these pages have earned it through their performances, not their connections.

    Oh and Dylan, right, this post is about Bob Dylan! I’ve seen him before, vocally I thought he sounded better at Bumbershoot than my first show (july 9, 2000 in Indiana of all places), though it was hard to distinguish and appreciate that with the uneven acoustics at Memorial Stadium.

    Thanks for reading Amy, hope you continue to.

  17. Amy, though I’m not sure I should respond to a commment that begins how you’ve begun, I will do so anyway.

    I’m not sure what my popularity in high school has to do with anything. It’s immaterial. But to your point, if I was really trying to fit in with those cohorts, I wouldn’t have written this, I would have given bob a free pass.

    My inclusion of the cohorts in this case is significant. They included a Rolling Stone/SPIN writer who’d seen Bob many a time over the past decades and a long time local magazine executive editor who could claim the same. People whom I very much respect their opinion and experience on such matters.

    As for expectations, when going to see new bands, I mostly expect them to suck. I’ve learned that most “emerging” bands have a lot of work to do before they can become acceptable to a wider audience. Though I may have held them up on some pedestal as a younger writer (as you seem to be doing right now with Bob Dylan) I’m all too aware now that such respect is rarely earned or deserved. That you level trite accusals about hipster-uber-alles at us pains me. From our perspective, the merit of the music is the defining factor in how and whether we talk about a band. Period. Not tight jeans. Not hot female bassists. If you see differently feel free to call us on it as it happens.

    Bottom line, I call it like I see/hear it. In general most shitty performances aren’t worth spending the time or effort to rag on in this forum. In this case though, I thought a reality check was sorely needed.

    Judging by intensity of the responses, and how they’ve quickly degenerated into attacks on my character instead of an adult conversation I seem to have hit a nerve.

  18. Simon #

    You were after “the glimmers of recognition and nostalgia” even a casual fan would know Dylan doesn’t do nostalgia.

  19. No nostalgia, really? #

    Dylan doesn’t do nostalgia, really? This was his set list from the show in question:

    1. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
    2. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
    3. Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues
    4. Just Like A Woman
    5. Rollin’ And Tumblin’
    6. Desolation Row
    7. Cold Irons Bound
    8. Tangled Up In Blue
    9. Highway 61 Revisited
    10. Simple Twist Of Fate
    11. Thunder On The Mountain
    12. Ballad Of A Thin Man
    13. Jolene
    14. Like A Rolling Stone

    I’d say only four of those songs aren’t all about nostalgia. Even a casual fan knows not to expect record-versions of the songs, which I don’t believe the author stated he did. But Dylan, even when he re-imagines his songs does do nostalgia.

  20. This discussion is interesting and I understand the Dylan fans’ defense of their hero. Clearly, in a career that has spanned nearly fifty years, Bob Dylan has earned our respect and he can do whatever the hell he wants and if he wants to play 100+ shows a year, good for him. I hope he continues to play shows for as long as he enjoys it.

    Having said that, what Dylan has earned more than our deference and respect is our honesty. No matter how important “Like a Rolling Stone” or “Hurricane” or the countless other timely and relevant and amazing songs Mr. Dylan has written and performed make patronizing him any more acceptable.

    Moreover, Josh has an obligation to both be honest with Mr. Dylan and with his readers as well. I don’t think anything he wrote was dishonest or reveals any agenda to discredit Mr. Dylan’s work but genuine disappointment in a show he saw. While it may be true that the sound can be difficult in Memorial Stadium, I didn’t have the same issues making out the lyrics when they were sang by Rivers Cuomo, Courtney Love or Mary J. Blige through the same sound system.

    When I’m asked who my favorite rock and roller of all time is, my instinct is to say Little Richard. I don’t know if his claims to invent rock music are true, but I desperately want to believe them. When he does die, which I hope will be in many, many years, I will probably need to take the rest of the day off from work so I can get drunk, cry and listen to “Long Tall Sally” on repeat – but not necessarily in that order.

    I had the pleasure of seeing him perform at the EMP in the Sky Church several years ago (it was their one year anniversary so someone could do the math on how long ago that was) and his voice was beautifully preserved but it broke my heart that he didn’t seem to know the words to any of his verses. Hearing him sing the chorus to “Tutti Frutti” was one of my very favorite live show moments in my life, but that doesn’t change the fact that he couldn’t sing a single verse or that he frequently called EMP “EMI” (and sang “EMI, my my my” repeatedly that night).

    It was heartbreaking to think that maybe he was playing shows like that because he had consistently been ripped off for money he was due for his work (see state of music business 1955-present). Also heartbreaking: listening to Pat Boone’s cover of “Long Tall Sally.”

    The writer and critic and reviewer in me was right to treat that show (and Dylan’s, which I was also at and my reaction was similar to Josh’s) like any other that I see several nights a week, but the fan in me will also always remember that I was in the presence of my absolute rock and roll hero and that’s pretty fucking amazing.

  21. Thanks for basically calling me stupid Simon. You’re really upping the discourse here. My leaving early has disqualified me from true fandom, and now my apparent lack of proper knowledge for Dylan disqualifies me even from casual fandom. Who should I be returning my Dylan CD’s too? It seems someone has decided I’m not worthy.

    For the record, I’ve been very aware for some time now of Dylan’s disinterest in playing the same songs the same way over and over again. I was going into this show knowing that I wouldn’t be getting the recorded Dylan of yesteryear. Since the music was guaranteed to be completely different, I needed to be able to latch onto the words, I needed to be able to distinguish words, to find some context for enjoyment. That night for me, from where I was standing, it was an intractable task. Period. Before nostalgia even enters into it, I was just looking for recognition. There was none to be had.

    Maybe it was just a bad mix from where I was standing. Maybe it was some leftover lingering sickness that Bob had from the days previous. Maybe I need to get my hearing checked. Maybe all of these things. Fact of the matter is, if I could’ve found the words in the mix, I wouldn’t have written this.

    Will is Right. Like a spurned lover I’m left to come to terms and let go, hoping that my heart will expand through the pain and confusion left in wake of the departure. Most of these comments don’t seem to get that I wrote this because I actually cared. I cared maybe too much.

  22. Steven #

    Josh

    Apologies if my comment early in this thread was harsh. The fact that you appreciate Bob in any form or period is cool. I’ve always found that the thing about Dylan is that you find your own thing about Dylan.

    I was in Yakima the night before (where, by the way, the set-list had a 7 to 7 modern to ‘nostalgia’ ratio),and it was a much better performance, with tremendously better sound than Bumbershoot. The thing I wanted to mention though, is that you could hear his voice getting worse over the course of that evening. It was hot and he was sweating pints in his fancy get-up. I was worried about him for a few minutes. I mean, the guy is going on 70! Can you imagine, with the life on the road, and the way he still rocks?

    So, yeah, at Bumbershoot, his voice, a gravel pit to begin with these days, was tired, but considering that, he still did pretty well with the phrasing. I also agree with comments above that his band is brilliant, but to the point of sometimes difficult listening. Off-kilter, bizarre jazz blues. I didn’t really enjoy ‘Desolation Row,’ one of my favorites, in that incarnation. But the following song, ‘Cold Irons Bound,’was thrilling, frightening and perfect. Like I said, often it’s where you meet him personally.

    And if you want perfection of voice, well that’s available too, but not at the end of a long tour. Instead, listen to ‘Cross the Green Mountain’ on the Tell Tale Signs LP. Tell me then that Dylan’s voice is anything short of sublime and pure magic.

    Feel the pain and confusion, brother. Then feel the music of the best musician alive.

  23. Todd #

    Josh, you put your heartfelt reaction out there and for that alone you have my utmost respect. You obviously care. That’s why I cared enough to respond. If Dylan’s live performance today is anything, it is music for right now. Try it again just on that level. Because you care, you should hang in there. If you can, accept that there’s not much to recognize. Not much context. Not many obvious reference points (and then, when you do hear one, you’ll smile, and you won’t be outside the venue wondering if some weird acoustical trick was played during Baby Blue.) What you heard or didn’t hear at the show — for better or worse — is exactly the sound Dylan wants. He is settled in with this lineup. Embrace it without expectation and your disappointment might turn to wonder and then joy. Really, try it.

  24. poor todd. how many dylan shows have you seen.if you had seen the campbell/sexton version every show since has been a disappointment. it is fairly obvious that bob is forced to tour out of some financial obligation because it is the only reason that makes sense.

  25. Sheila Fisher #

    I had the misfortune to be disappointed by Bob Dylan performing for the Amazon.com 10 year anniversary show held in Benaroya Hall about 5 years ago. He was just awful. I couldn’t make out a thing he said and didn’t recognize a single song, and I love Bob Dylan’s music. You’re not alone in your disappointment. I’m with ya.

  26. Audry #

    Josh, I gotta agree with you. I just saw him in Orlando last night and I couldn’t understand or recognize more than half of the songs. I didn’t expect him to do them verbatim, I’ve been to enough shows to know they change up songs. But I feel you’re getting a little of the “emperors new clothes” here with these comments.
    It’s like, “We’re all so cool because we “get it” and you don’t”. Puleeze. You guys know you would have enjoyed it much better if you knew what freaking song he was singing! Oh, wait…no, you’re all too with it. Josh…evidently you and I are just losers.

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