Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bob Dylan Gives Special Concert for Fans

This is my review of Bob Dylan's concert at the United Palace Theater in NYC on November 21st, 2008. There is more background information than probably needed because it hopefully will be published in the Hofstra Chronicle, the university's newspaper.

Bob Dylan, 67, has been touring the world since 1963, but for the first time, on November 21st, he gave a concert strictly for fans only.

On October 27th, it was announced that Mr. Dylan would give an exclusive concert at the United Palace Theater in New York City to readers. Tickets went on sale on October 30th, quickly selling out the next day. Fans were required to type in a special password in order to get tickets. Those who got tickets in the first ten rows of the orchestra were required to pick them up personally at the ticket window.

As for the show itself, it certainly was special, although it mostly followed the format of his other recent concerts. That is, performing five songs from his last album, 2006’s “Modern Times” and performing songs from the 1960’s in such a way that it makes them almost impossible to figure out. Still, he performed enough different material to make me happy.

Mr. Dylan came out with “Gotta Serve Somebody”, the song that gave him his first Grammy award in 1979 from his “Slow Train Coming” LP. Tonight was the first time Dylan performed the song since 2003. From there, there the concert just snowballed into something incredible. He ran through an electrified “The Times They Are A-Changin’” before going into “The Levee’s Gonna Break”, from “Modern Times”. The other four songs from his 2006 LP that he performed were “Beyond The Horizon”, “Spirit On The Water”, “Ain’t Talkin’” and “Thunder On The Mountain”. All the songs were given incredible performances and probably the only songs that remotely felt like their in-studio cousins.

After “The Levee’s Gonna Break”, Dylan broke from the confines of his keyboard to get on guitar and perform “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”, a song not played since 2005. Following that, he ran back to his keyboard to do an incredible version of “Things Have Changed”, his Oscar-winning song from 2000. The performance was amazing, proving how even recent songs are not invincible from Dylan’s re-arranging habit. Next, he went to two of his most well-known compositions from 1965, the breathtaking “Desolation Row” (from “Highway 61 Revisited”) and the amazing “It’s All Right Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” (from “Bringing It All Back Home”). Both were recorded as acoustic tracks 43 years ago, so it is really cool to see how Dylan changes them for his electric band. Next was “Beyond The Horizon” before he ran through two tracks from 1997’s “Time Out Of Mind”, “’Til I Fell In Love With You” and “Make You Feel My Love”. The latter was a rather pedestrian reading, but “’Til I Fell In Love With You” was amazing. He stood in the center stage, playing harmonica only the entire time. It was just incredible, especially when he went on a tear for a solo! Next was “Honest With Me”, a rocker from 2001’s “Love And Theft”, the slow, almost grueling “Spirit On The Water” and then he threw “Highway 61 Revisited” on. It was a great version of the song, although the police car noises were greatly missed. After that, he ran through his apocalyptic “Ain’t Talkin’” and the fun, rocking “Thunder On The Mountain” before disappearing from the stage for a good five minutes.

Of course, Dylan came back for an encore, which was just as special as the rest of the show. He ran through great versions of “Like A Rolling Stone” and “All Along The Watchtower”. Usually, Dylan only does two songs for an encore, but here, he actually did a third. He ran to his guitar to do “Blowin’ In The Wind” to close the absolutely amazing concert.

As for everything else, the United Palace Theater, a converted church, was a great place for Dylan to play, as it was small, but had this amazing sound system where you could hear every nuance from the stage. His band, made of Tony Garnier (bass), George Recile (drums), Stu Kimball (rhythm guitar), Denny Freeman (lead guitar) and Donnie Herron (violin, viola, banjo, electric mandolin, pedal steel, lap steel), was on fire, spouting solos left and right whenever Dylan allowed for it. Freeman on lead guitar was just incredible, especially during “All Along The Watchtower” and “Honest With Me”.

Honestly, my only complaint is that the audience that goes to these concerts, even some ‘fans’, doesn’t seem to care what Dylan is doing, as long as he is on stage. The audience, at least in the balcony where I was, could have cared less that he was actually doing “The Times They Are A-Changin’” or “Things Have Changed”. I think the problem though, might actually lie in Dylan’s hands. He never addresses the audience, although if anyone is familiar with his history, they wouldn’t expect him to. Anyway, as a self-appointed Dylan nerd, I had fun and the concert is not one I shall soon forget.

This year marked a special anniversary for Mr. Dylan. He has been touring non-stop since June 7, 1988, when he began a tour promoting the recent release of his “Down In The Groove” LP, making 2008 the twentieth anniversary of “The Never Ending Tour”. Although this concert has been announced as the last for this year, Mr. Dylan is only taking the winter off. He will start a tour of continental Europe in March, and, if the past is any indication, he will be back in the U.S. for a summer or fall tour.

Soon, I will have a few pictures of the band and the stage that my roommate took posted on the blog. We sat in the balcony, so they aren't the best pictures, but they suffice in proving that we were there!

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