Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Dylan and Elvis

Well, it has been another long gap in between posts, as once again my workload approaches critical mass. I did manage to squeeze in a show at the Chicago Theatre headlined by Bob Dylan, with brief warm up acts by Elvis Costello and Amos Lee. Although enjoyable, the experience points to my waning interest in the whole rock concert thing.

The show started at 7:00, so there was really no time for dinner beforehand. Amos Lee opened and was done by 7:30. Lee is a blend of John Hiatt and Jakob Dylan, and his band sounded good. Just when he started to settle in, he ended his set. Elvis came out promptly, and played solo for the first time in about 12 years. I've seen Elvis a few times, and he always seems to rush through his material at a frantic amped-up pace. At one point, he knocked over his water bottle and continued to barrel into the next song, even as a stagehand crouched behind him and wiped up the spill. He pounded away at an amplified acoustic, often overpowering his amazing voice. The highlight was the closing song, The Scarlet Tide with a delicate guitar background and a poignant vocal . The audience was dead silent, and the moment was stunning. But alas, Elvis was done in 45 minutes.

So here we were, two-thirds into a Saturday night three-act rock show and it's only 8:30! We sensed that old Bob was due any minute, so we skipped the beer line and waited. Sure enough, Dylan took the stage before 9:00. Dylan's shows at age 66 are definitely for the faithful. If you have never seen him perform and go see him now hoping for rousing renditions of his greatest hits, you will be disappointed. He is notorious for twisting the melodies, phrasing and arrangements of his songs, even the most famous ones, to the point where they are sometimes unrecognizable. He rarely addresses the audience, and plugs away at the set list very methodically. Nowadays, it takes him 4 or 5 songs for him to clear his throat, so the early part of the show can be tedious. He's picked up the guitar again, but only for the first few songs. For the bulk of the show, Bob plays electric piano. He's got a good band, but they seemed a little tentative when Bob was on guitar.

I know that does not paint an enthusiastic picture, but it is Bob Dylan after all, and he is still an interesting performer. Things slowly jelled as Bob settled in behind the piano, and with each song, Bob's voice became clear and stronger. The best performances were his newer material, particularly Things Have Changed, High Water, and Ain't Talkin', probably Dylan's best song in years. Watching him play, you get the sense that Bob is endlessly exploring and dissecting his own songs, looking for new ways to reinterpret his own work. He seems more at ease when he's not center stage, but simply the keyboardist/vocalist in a good band. I'm not sure he always cares how the audience receives his performances, but after all these years he's still worth seeing.

As for the Chicago Theatre, it might be too luxurious for a rock show. The acoustics are great, but it's so fancy that the audience felt intimidated. For most of show we sat quietly in our seats, even as Bob's band roared through Highway 61 Revisited.

I love Dylan and will see him at least once a year until he keels over. But more and more, I'm feeling that I need to back off on the big name rock shows and the high priced venues and get back to basics. More on this as it develops......

Set lists for 10/27/07

Elvis Costello: (Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes/Down Among the Wines and Spirits/Veronica/The River In Reverse/From Sulphur to Sugar Cane/Radio Sweetheart>Jackie Wilson Said/(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love & Understanding/The Scarlet Tide

Bob Dylan: Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat/It Ain't Me Babe/Watching The River Flow/The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll/Rollin' & Tumblin'/Positively 4th Street/Things Have Changed/Workingman's Blues #2/High Water(for Charlie Patton)/Spirit On The Water/Highway 61 Revisited/Ain't Talkin'/Summer Days/Masters Of War/Thunder On The Mountain/All Along The Watchtower

Elvis didn't play this one, but here's a favorite, ripped direct from my vinyl copy of Blood & Chocolate, complete with a couple pops...

Blue Chair

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Anonymous Paul said...


Thanks for the detailed review. I missed the show here in Michigan and was curious about it. I just discovered your blog. Great stuff!

I put a link to your site on my new blog (click on my name). Hope that's cool with you.



12:26 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Thanks for reading, and the link. I was hoping for the two of them to share the stage, but it only happened on the last night, when Elvis joined Bob for 'I Shall Be Released.' If I can find an mp3 of that, I'll post it.

10:10 PM  

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