Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Musings on Dylan - 10/28/06

The faithful gathered this weekend to see Dylan on his Never Ending Tour, at the Sears Centre, a new venue northwest of Chicago. Built for hockey, the sound was surprisingly good, and with the smaller size (11,000), this could be a nice alternative for a number of performing artists. God knows nobody needs to endure another show at the Allstate Arena.

To see Bob Dylan in 2006 is to see a living legend settled into a comfortable position in a very good band. Perhaps too comfortable. Most fans long for the days when we could expect an acoustical interlude in the middle of the set, with Bob at center stage armed with guitar and harmonica. These days, Bob has his back to one-third of the audience as he directs the proceedings from behind an electric piano. Theories abound. Bob has arthritis and guitar playing is questionable. Or he’s simply lost his chops. Others think Bob has begun to struggle with his own lyrics and is able to use a crib sheet more covertly at the piano. Is he tiring at 65? Or is he simply determined to march to his own drummer, and to hell with what the audience wants? Whatever the reason, for the time being we are in the age of Piano Bob.

Not that this is altogether bad. Perhaps the comfort of the piano and the lack of the center spotlight allow him to focus on his vocals, which have become a thing of great beauty and wonder. On Saturday night Bob took us on a journey through 40+ years of his songwriting, and to my ears he has never sounded better. With a voice ranging from pleasant crooning to a mellifluous growl, he continues to breathe new life into both his oldest and newest songs. Here’s the concise but amazing set list, with the vintages for you newbies:

Maggie's Farm (1965) – A rollicking, if somewhat predictable opener, with Bob flubbing the words a bit. I swear he sang the line ‘Everybody says she’s the brains behind Pa’ at least three times. So much for the crib sheet theory. Still, the words were as clear as a bell and I instantly liked the venue. The song is a little too repetitive for an opener though, and it had me itching for the next song.

She Belongs To Me (1965) – A great song with a nice harmonica solo by Bob. Bob’s vocal phrasing and delivery were beautiful. He sounded warmed up already, which doesn’t always happen this early in a show.

Lonesome Day Blues (2001) – The band kicked it in gear for this blues tune from Love and Theft, and Bob became quite animated behind the piano, pouncing on the keys and growling some great lines: "He's not a gentleman at all - he's rotten to the core, he's a coward and he steals” in his inimitable way. Loved it.

Positively 4th Street (1966) – Many people’s favorite Dylan song. He’s stayed pretty true to the melody but slowed the tempo and sang without the contempt of the original recording. Another nice harp solo at the end.

It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) (1965) – I’ve seen this song performed live several times. Some of Bob’s most vitriolic lyrics, but it didn’t knock me out on this night. The arrangement with the violin accompanyment is interesting, though.

The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (1964) – This gorgeous song from The Times They Are A-Changin' is about the death of a barmaid at the hands of the privileged William Zanzinger. A social protest song from a year that probably seems like another lifetime for Bob, it was majestically delivered on this night.

Rollin' And Tumblin' (2006) - From the early 60’s to 2006, via Muddy Waters. Again the band rocked and Bob was really into it. The first song played tonight from the new album, I was really hoping for Bob to pick up the guitar.

Ballad of Hollis Brown (1964) – The band expertly backed up Bob as he told the grim tale of a South Dakota farmer who killed his family and himself in desperation. The banjo and surging arrangement were chilling, matching the growing dread as Bob recounted the tale.

Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine) (1966) – The highlight for me, as Bob and the band barreled into one of my favorite tracks from Blonde on Blonde.

Joey (1976) – This one is an overlooked song from the Desire album, but a favorite of the die-hard fans. The song, about New York gangster Joey Gallo is not often played, and it was a solid performance.

Highway 61 Revisited (1965) – Another barn burner, this song seems to be more of showcase for the band than for Bob, but it’s enjoyable.

Workingman's Blues #2 (2006) – Many of the songs on the new album are derivative, 12-bar blues or Dylanized versions of Muddy and Chuck Berry. A few songs are a little too similar to the material on Love and Theft, too. What makes the album another masterpiece are the purely original songs that are interspersed. Workingman’s Blues #2 is one of them and I was thrilled to hear it on this night.

Summer Days (2001) – This is another song that can raise the roof, and has been heavily played the last few years. It’s a blast and I’m not tired of it yet, and apparently neither is Bob, as he danced and pounded on the keys once again.

Thunder on the Mountain (2006)
Like A Rolling Stone (1965)
All Along the Watchtower (1967) – After a brief break (1 minute, maybe) the band kicked into Thunder, which is basically Dylan’s spin on Chuck Berry’s Let It Rock. It’s a good song that really sounded great live. The obligatory Rolling Stone and Watchtower closers were adequately performed but too ‘by the book’ for me. Crowd pleasers for sure, but I’d rather hear some more rarities that Bob doesn’t feel obligated to play.

All in all, I enjoyed this show even more than the shows in 2004 and 2005. Go see him now. If you’re on the east coast, you’ll also get the Raconteurs as the opening act.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Essex Green

More new music to share with you, but first some ranting about the increasing commercialization of music. I've gotten used to hearing the classic rock tunes I grew up with on television commercials. I tolerated the Vertigo/itunes tie-in, and was even amused by the Dylan/Victoria's Secret plug. As I type this it's Black Sabbath and the Nissan Titan. But this latest thing with John Mellencamp and Chevrolet crosses the line with me. I'm sitting here watching the World Series and there's John singing his new nauseatingly patriotic and derivative Our Country in the pre-game, with the new Chevy Silverado in the outfield. I've already seen this commercial with John and the trucks too many times to count in the last few weeks, and now again, in every inning. Is is just me, or does it seem like Chevy went to Mellencamp and said "John, write us a real 'American' song and help us sell our new truck. We'll even let you put it on your new album, if you want to." I really doubt that John wrote this song without any endorsement in mind and that troubles me, my friends.

Let's get to some honest music. Lately there has been a resurgence of psychedelic pop, folk pop and various hybrids. Artists like My Morning Jacket, New Pornographers, Secret Machines, Sufjan Stevens, The Decemberists and Neko Case have released some terrific music recently. The Essex Green is a band from Brooklyn that mines the same territory as the New Pornographers. Benefiting from alternating male and female lead vocalists, this band offers a variety of catchy pop music with a hint of folk lyricism. Great vocal harmonies and punchy guitar, without the overbearing lyrics that can sometimes bog down folk music. Their new release is Cannibal Sea, on Merge Records.

Don't Know Why(You Stay)


Sunday, October 15, 2006

Free Tune Sunday

I’ve been a subscriber to e-music for about six months, and so far I’m reasonably satisfied. 50 free mp3’s for signing up, and 20 mp3s a month for $9.99. I figured Apple’s got enough of my money, let’s give something else a try. It’s all independent labels, so you won’t find very many mainstream artists, but to me that’s part of the appeal. There is also a nice selection of jazz, blues and soul, largely owing to the catalog of Fantasy Records. Tip: Heed the member reviews closely, they will steer you away from the bad recordings, like misleading remakes and a few poor quality recordings. Mostly, though, there is a ton of good stuff to be had, for ½ the price of itunes.

Here are a couple of tracks that were offered free on an Pitchfork Music Festival sampler, so I’ll share them here with no guilt. Maybe this will turn you on to something.

Spoon – The Beast and the Dragon, Adored This smart pop band from Austin has hovered just below my radar for a while. Can these guys really be from Texas? Their most well known tune is probably The Way We Get By, and I Turn My Camera On is a funky track cut from the same cloth as Emotional Rescue. I find that I get a little bored with an entire album, but taken in small doses (just a spoonful?), Spoon is too cool to be ignored. This track is from their 2005 Album Gimme Fiction.

The Futureheads – Skip to the End Hailing from Sunderland, UK, this relatively new band is part of the current British pop scene. Think Kaiser Chiefs and Franz Ferdinand. Their sound is also evocative of The Jam and early XTC, which could explain why I immediately liked this song. The e-music reviewer called this movement ‘angular pop.’ If so, the sharp syncopation and catchy melody of Skip to the End could be the new angular pop anthem. From their second album News and Tributes.


Monday, October 09, 2006

October 9

Well faithful readers, today is my birthday (43). There’s really nothing very interesting about that. What is interesting to me are some of the people that share my birthdate. These three have made a bit of an impact:

John Entwistle, aka the Ox, born October 9, 1946. The anchor in an otherwise out of control rock band. The eye of the hurricane. For proof, see the photo in the Live At Leeds booklet; while the other band members are a blur of unbridled energy, only John is in focus. John’s songs with the Who always seemed like token gestures, like the Ringo or George tracks on the early Beatles albums. I always liked John Lennon, born October 9, 1940. What can I possibly say that hasn’t already been said? A true genius, and possibly the greatest rock/pop vocalist of all time. Oh, and he wrote a few good songs, too. Of all the senseless deaths in the music industry, his takes the cake. Thankfully, we have the records. I will now break the unwritten rule of posting Beatles music on-line and offer these two moments of brilliance, for those of you that don’t have Anthology. Here are some embryonic versions of my favorite Beatles song:

Strawberry Fields Forever(Demo)

Strawberry Fields Forever (Take 1)

Rest In Peace, John. In a nice coincidence, John’s son Sean was born October 9, 1975.

Also, Jackson Browne, born October 9, 1948. I was never a big Jackson Browne fan, and actually do not own any of his music. If I would include anything here, it would be Doctor My Eyes. JB is credited with playing a big part in the birth of the California music scene (see Eagles, et al). Still plugging away though at 58.

All in all, pretty good company.



View My Stats