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A Very Short Concert Film


Concert posterBob Dylan has been touring continuously since 1988, though some would say it is only the corpse of Bob Dylan appearing on stage night after night. Last Wednesday, I saw Bob Dylan (he did appear to be alive) perform at the Excel Energy Center in Saint Paul. As I have told a few friends, when he was good he was very good, and when he was bad he was interesting.[1]

[ Hey, what's all this text? Take me directly to the film. ]

Knopfler

Mark Knopfler opened the show. I am certainly not a connoisseur of guitarists, and don’t really know where Knopfler ranks among those who are, but I do know what I like and I like his work a lot. He is also a fine songwriter and a distinctive singer. He is perhaps still best known for his work fronting Dire Straits from 1977 through 1995. The group released a string of hit singles written by Knopfler, the group’s lead vocalist and guitarist. He has continued to write and perform as a solo artist in an increasingly Celtic-influenced style. I have a couple of his solo albums, and am particularly fond of 2000′s Sailing to Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, Knopfler only played one song I recognized from his solo ouevre. He opened with “What It Is” from Philadelphia. (My friends and I heard this as we were making our way slowly to our seats, following a tall older man who seemed to be in no hurry. Garrison Keillor.) Because most of Knopfler’s songs tell detailed stories, my unfamiliarity with them was a big drawback. One song, I could tell, was about a boxer. It wasn’t until later when I saw the set list online that I realized the song was named “Sonny Liston.”

It wasn’t a surprise to me that he didn’t play much from his Dire Straits days, though it was a surprise to some in the crowd who desperately wanted to hear “Sultans of Swing” and “Money for Nothing.” He did play “Brothers In Arms” (the one song on Dire Straits’ best-of collection that I am apt to skip) during his regular set, and “So Far Away” for an encore.

It would’ve been nice to hear more familiar material, but his eight piece band was hot and Knopfler’s guitar playing was a beautiful thing.[2]

Dylan 

I put together what is sure to be an award-winning documentary film on the Dylan half of the concert. You will want to watch it before reading my review. Don’t miss the touching dedication that rolls after the closing credits.

Dylan was more animated than he was the last two times I saw him (in 2002 and 2006). He did not play guitar, but he did not stay behind his keyboard for the entire set. He delivered several songs from center-front stage in a pretty good imitation of a revivalist preacher. These songs were among the highlights of his set.

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” opened. This is been a regular of his concert repertoire for a while now, and it’s easy to see why. It is an oldie well-suited to his late-career honky-tonk, delta blues style and his band can really play it. It also serves as an appropriate introduction. For the next hour (not much more) he will be “our baby.”

Mark Knopfler joined Dylan on stage for the next three songs and swapped licks with guitarist Charlie Patton. This was a highlight of the set. The second of the three songs, “Things Have Changed,” provided Knopfler the best opportunity to shine. Weirdly, he left the stage after “Tangled Up In Blue” without any acknowledgment from Dylan. This is not out of line with Dylan’s stage persona (other than introducing his own band late in the set, he said nothing), but it would have been nice to have a chance to cheer Knopfler’s effort.

I thought the set bogged down a bit in the middle as Dylan “barked out” several songs without much distinction. My friend John didn’t agree, and felt that the performance of “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” in particular was spirited and effective.

The triptych of old war horses that closed Dylan’s regular set was the highlight of the evening for me. “Ballad of a Thin Man,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” and “All Along the Watchtower” showed that Dylan—even if only briefly—can still bring it. I think the entire arena was on its feet for these last three tunes, and the applause and enthusiasm was genuine. Then of course, he let us down somewhat with a lackluster performance of the tired, old anthem “Blowing’ in the Wind.” I could do without hearing Dylan ever sing it again, but the casual fans that fill these arenas would be disappointed by its absence. Performing this song, if unenthusiastically, seems to be the one concession Dylan makes to his audience.

Will I see Dylan the next time he comes to town? I’m pretty sure I could be talked into it.[3]
Concert ticket

Notes

  1. It is easy to be critical of Dylan’s live performances these days. If his voice used to be something of an acquired taste, it’s now shredded to the point of being unlistenable when applied to much of his earlier work (some of which is almost 50 years old). But his voice suits the songs he’s written over the last fifteen years—some of the best work he’s ever done. The first four albums of this period—1997′s Time Out of Mind, 2001′s Love and Theft, 2006′s Modern Times and 2009′s Together Through Life—are monumental. His latest release, this year’s Tempest, is a step back in my opinion, though the critics praise it. It may yet grow on me. [^]
  2. Knopfler’s set list: What It Is / Corned Beef City / Privateering / Kingdom of Gold / I Used to Could / Song for Sonny Liston / Done With Bonaparte / Hill Farmer’s Blues / Brothers in Arms / Marbletown // So Far Away [^]
  3. Dylan’s set list: I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight / Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right / Things Have Changed / Tangled Up in Blue / Early Roman Kings / A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall / Summer Days / Blind Willie McTell / Highway 61 Revisited / Spirit on the Water / Thunder on the Mountain / Ballad of a Thin Man / Like a Rolling Stone / All Along the Watchtower // Blowin’ in the Wind [^]

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