Got to the venue late-ish, thanks to a couple pizzas that wouldn’t cook and a smoke alarm that wouldn’t turn off, and entered the Air Canada Centre just as the Foo Fighters were taking the stage. Which means we missed most of the opening song…which happened to be (doh!) the acoustic version of “Times Like These”, which culminated with Dave Grohl attacking his guitar with utter abandon. The Foos have seemingly reinvented themselves with this recent acoustic gig of theirs, and reworked versions of “My Hero” and “See You” were evidence of a band that’s started pushing its sonic boundaries. They were augmented by four other musicians, including a guy who played an extended triangle solo (I’m not kidding) and a female violinist/vocalist who shared singing duties on “The Big Me”. But the star of the show was Grohl, who’s incredibly engaging in person (I hadn’t seen the Foos since Summersault 2000, so I’d forgotten how good he is in a live venue). The penultimate song, a solo version of “Best of Me”, was startlingly fierce and a perfect showcase for Grohl’s vocal talents; the final number, a delicate reworking of “Everlong”, made you feel nostalgic for 1997. By the way, the place was packed for the Foo Fighters; by the end there wasn’t a single empty seat.
So the show was off to a flier…although naturally, I wound up seated next to the Token Concertgoing Asshole, who spent most of the Foo Fighters set either a, smoking weed, b, doing awkward hip thrusts against the railing in front of us, or c, screaming “wooooo!!!!!” I was praying he wasn’t a Dylan fan; I was having visoins of Dylan playing “Girl from the North Country” and this guy screaming “wooooo!!!!!” right in the middle of it. (Seriously, I was terrified this was going to happen. If professional sports teams can ban people for shouting racist slogans at the players, can’t musicians ban people who scream inappropriately during quiet songs? The things I think sometimes…anyway, back to Dylan!)
Dylan and his band (which Dylan claims is the best ensemble he’s ever played with) took the stage in predictably understated fashion, then rolled straight into a 12-bar blues version of “Maggie’s Farm”. In fact, most of the songs were reworked in similar fashion; Dylan’s dabbling with the genre on Modern Times has clearly inspired him, and some of his best-known work (I’m looking at you, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”) was practically indecipherable. But it’s like it’s always been with His Bobness: either you go along for the ride and enjoy yourself, or you don’t and you don’t.
I went, and had a great time. His Bobness has assembled a team of crackerjack musicians (who he introduced at the end…more on that in a second), and their playing was uniformly toight. Seriously, you need to work hard to convince me that a song like “Highway 61 Revisited” needs reworking; his musicians succeeded in doing just that. And having said that, I can see how you could go to a Dylan concert and be totally underwhelmed. Like I said: either you go along for the ride or you don’t, and if you’re one of the people who went expecting a greatest hits set but got a bunch of 12-bar blues songs instead…I mean, why wouldn’t you leave early? Lots of people did; at one point an entire row behind us got up and left. Mercifully, so did Token Concertgoing Asshole. I didn’t notice, but according to Bri he spent the entire show conversing with his friends; I do know that, towards the end of his stay, he was talking loudly about how “real” Maple Leaf fans don’t get to go to Leaf games at the Air Canada Centre, which is an hysterical argument (but one which belongs in another blog entry). But I digress! The setlist:
- Maggie’s Farm
- She Belongs To Me
- Lonesome Day Blues
- Positively 4th Street
- It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)
- When The Deal Goes Down
- Highway 61 Revisited
- Masters of War
- Rollin’ and Tumblin’
- Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
- Tangled Up In Blue
- Nettie Moore
- Summer Days
- Thunder on the Mountain
- Like a Rolling Stone
- All Along the Watchtower
Again, most of the stuff was reworked. Which can be frustrating, of course–like when you want to lean back and just howl the chorus of “Like a Rolling Stone”, but can’t because the singer is practically rapping the words. But still, there’s just something undeniably cool about being in His presence. It’s like watching Bono perform: you may not always enjoy what you’re seeing, but there’s an aura, a sense of “occasion”, that transcends the moment. No matter what he does, Bob Dylan is The Man. This can be a dangerous approach to a live show, since there are only, like, five people alive who can pull it off. Dylan just happens to be one of them. Again, I can understand if this isn’t your cup of tea (and on a related note, I’d love to know how many dude girls turned to their boyfriends during “All Along the Watchtower” and cooed, “Cool, a Dave song!”). It just happens to be mine–and I happened to have a great time last night.
(Oh, and the indecipherable thing: it was as good as I remembered it being, and was actually exacerbated last night since His Bobness performed the entire show with his backs to us. Not like Maynard James Keenan, mind–Dylan was in front of his band, but he stood in such a way that we never saw his face. Anyway, when he was introducing his musicians it was like listening to another language; I was reminded of seeing Oasis last June, when I didn’t understand Liam Gallagher’s introduction to “Champagne Supernova”…which went, “Champagne Supernova”. But I digress.)
If it sounds like I’m phoning it in a little…well, I am, sort of. It’s been a long week, for various reasons, and I’m not feeling particularly eloquent or particularly motivated today. Happily, Gavin has written an astoundingly good review of the Dylan show in Ottawa on his blog; find the link on the right of the page, and enjoy!