Bob Dylan 971216 at the El Rey Theater, Los Angeles, CA
Subject: muddy sound plagues el rey opener (review) From: "oracle@delphi" (firstname.lastname@example.org) Date: 17 Dec 1997 05:14:00 -0700 the el rey seems like a fine building for music at a moderately pumped-up cabaret-level volume -- with chairs and tables removed, the basketball-gym-sized carpet+dance floor packed with over-heated humanity -- seemed ripe for the plucking; but, bob is bob, and for some reason, instead of inching up the volume to capture that spontaneous saloon feel, dylan obliviously jacks up two unecessary black towers of speaker artillery. the oracle, who has given up waiting on lines, wandered in a little after 20:00 in the middle of beck's set. from the sides of the sro-packed hall with a two-step recessed dance floor in the center -- beck appeared to have the same wry demeanor and hairstyle as dana carvey from _saturday night live_. while his guitar was competently -- even superlatively twangy and warm, his songs were rather not unpleasant passive wisps of impression. he seems like he'd be great at a party, but not having heard him before, i would guess this low-key performance didnt show his virtues to best effect. in any case, no more opening acts for bob dylan, who should be taken straight with no chaser. having checked out the venue the day before and pointing out that the two speaker towers would be way too loud for the potentially intimate room, the oracle was reassured that "bob dylan doesnt make that much noise." well, maybe once upon a time, but a potentially snappy reading of _cold irons bound_ was nearly ground in a tangle of over-amplification, turning the high-ceilinged hall into a liquor-serving welding hangar. even beck's guiltar alone -- with no other instruments -- sounded (the reproduction, not the performance) like a dental drill without a muffler. but the seasoned dylan-listener has been through worse overkill, and there's always the acoustic set to provide 20 minutes of relief from the bedroom window of sound bricks which flames into monotonic oblivion such potential pleasers as _highway 61_ and _stuck inside mobile. the problem is: dylan's best feature: intimacy, is corrupted by playing all the electric songs at arena level. a certain columbia recording artist might do well to start saving on amplifier bills. eventually, a letter-perfect, grave and beautiful _hattie carroll_ sets a gratifyingly sustained tone and level -- until the next swirling sea of echo-chaos began with _mobile; like the one effectively drowning out a spunky, reggae-inflected _cant wait_ drowned underwater, especially to those on the sides, at least halfway down the walls. the sound man -- at the back of the hall -- claimed it sounded fine, but this pa system should've been set-up like _unplugged_ or letterman; not the usual dylan small-to-medium auditorium. fortunately, dylan's now unconscious mastery of sporadic poignance allows even the listener-unfriendly to be captured by exposed passions -- but only on the slower songs merging kemper's garcia-bred lope with larry and bucky's charmingly flat-footed bar-band harmonies. so, what we have is the world's greatest bar-band being forced by you-know-who to be amplified at the same level as the ramones. the venue itself is audience-friendly, though a _jack daniels_ bourbon is six dollars; and a diverse deli menu offers small pizzas -- a tasty prandial expedient, at $4. the people were 99.99 44/100 caucasion -- only about 1/4 female; males mostly all long-haired or balding or both. another problem with the ambience: during beck's set -- the heat and stagnant air. even dylan made a comment about the heat onstage, especially under his bulky black coat with silver- colored buttons, a long black-white-green-striped bowtie and embroidered maroon 4-pronged spider-thingies on his jacket. later, it seemed some air-conditioning helped, but only slightly. dylan looked good except was clean-shaven -- he always looks most relaxed with the _pat garrett stubble -- but i guess he doesnt want to be a gray-beard just yet. look where it got garcia. anyway, before the set, bucky came onstage in a shiny green shirt after beck left -- to tune the pedal steel he used on nearly every song but i couldnt hear *any of it at all* in the mix. finally, after beck's batteries finally ran down, and a sizeable wait -- about 9:15 the band takes the stage and hops into a gritty _maggie's farm_ which has a nice country feel but murked the sound system, essentially making it another mumble-fest, drowning dylan's fresh biting half-spoken delivery. unfortunately, you had to filter out the noise around it and keep your mind on the bouncing drumbeat -- a combination of the 90's fast-version with the country-version from '96. the whole show had a soft country feel in the "slower songs," which worked to near perfection. the guitar-hero songs were too fucking loud for the size of the room and wouldve played just fine with the original amplifiers (well, maybe a little help, but just a little). second song: a warm and generous, though quick and direct, _tonight i'll be staying here; again, kemper's quasi-reggae syncopation puts imperceptible spaces between the off-centered beats, allowing the song, and eventually the hall, to breathe between lines, letting the music complement the vocal rather than engulfing it. _cold irons bound_ was *performed* effectively, but you couldnt differentiate the orchestral dynamics. i imagine someone who hasnt heard this song would think it sounds likes a straight-ahead rocker. the eerie-chunky-percussive intro is quickly absorbed into a whirlpool of amplification -- and strangely enough, like the album, the bristling vocal finds itself buried. tempowise it worked as a mid-speed ballad, but there were too many conflicting echoes to give it salubrious modulation or nuance. paradoxically, _you aint goin nowhere_ took good advantage of the extra-intense sound system since it was sung with that pupit-style arrangement, more slowly and consistently paced, hitting the chorus in stride and light-hearted, bouncing and pleasing -- giving the bobster a chance to ring them bells in the throat. i think _cant wait_ was #5. the vocal reading was sharp with quick-witted irony (the lyrics more allegorical than imaginative); band is powerful, but loudness makes it hard to follow subtle moments of unspoken musical relationships. let's see, oh, _silvio_ -- felt constrained -- too loud for the enclosed space, too vibrant to be toned-down. since _silvio is now the official #6 meat-and-potatoes staple, a la _watchtower/_tangled (when it was electric at #5 in '94 and they rushed through it every night) -- it's going to come every night like a rising moon, and when it works it blazes, combining all the instruments in a tightening pyramid of precision. tonight, in the echoed space hurting the loud songs -- after the first few notes it seemed, while not completely generic (because it had genuine passion, feisty rhythm, and youthful enthusiasm), i guess you could call it: neutral. it didnt build and climax instrumentally like some mature versions right before watson handed over his drumsticks. winston had arena energy and palpable rhythm, which allowed him to lead the pack on songs like _silvio. kemper's more gentler, bouncy style better suits the country-flavors. onward: _cocaine_ without spontaneity, but focused intense delivery; bucky and larry on harmonies. filled the hall with perfect blend of voice and instrument. too bad the loud songs had no modulation though bob was pounding them out with quotidian dedication -- even if you're standing far away from the speakers, they blend into a hurricane of torrent, which is fine if you know the lyrics, but... okay, _hattie carroll_. #2 acoustic song (no drummer weighing down the acoustic set for a change), right about the time when the old adenoids get warmed and working: passionate, proportioned, perfect. more cutting than the l.a. '95 version at the also-general- admission _palladium_. when this song is done right it is tragic. i also noticed for the first time, lyrically, that the first few verses begin with william zanzinger; then the story shifts to hattie carroll then i dont remember what happens because im entranced by dylan's ability to give every line a punch of energy at the beginning middle or end obviously when you find a point in the show where you feel that flash of harmony and passion, you're sure that that first few chords of the next song are enchanted. later, you may hear a copy and begin to feel that it sounded just like a thousand other nights. anyway, those jangled a-g-a chords of _tangled up in blue_ began ringing like a mantra. the expository lyrics blew like a biting whip -- a difficult, wordy song like _tangled, with no chorus and a river of half-spoken rembrances -- frequently, this song gets glossed like _stuck inside mobile -- where it becomes long and unweildy and dylan likes to play fast and get it over with. but this time _tangled had a measured intensity, allowing the audience to rub up against a man's torn tapestry. _stuck inside mobile; well, this song, wordy though it must be, sounds better at slower speed, giving the listener time to take in the hallucina-comic lyrics; this reading had a few flashes of playfulness, but with the bitching sound and slightly rush, it stayed at one listenable but undeveloped level. i began thinking the useless: "what if...
were played acoustically, instead of only the old blues tunes and early-album solo-guitar structures. _stuck inside mobile...acoustic...backed by strings alone. not tonight. _this wheel's on fire_; eh. started with a requisite _intensity_ but didnt kick in emotionally. too vague a lyric; causes distortion off the ceiling being over-presented for the size of the building. fortunately, it was shorter than most; dylan really sunk his fangs into it, but seemed noisy and colorless. _till i fell in love_; great but too fast. it could've had a mischievous rhythm but it started out grinding when it could've been bumping and never recovered an expansive enough vibe. later it sped up and down in search of the ineffable groove but got louder and more jumbled. again, what a waste of potential intimacy. still worth hearing though. since dylan's latest "death-scare" since the motorcycle accident, he's been again elevated to national celebrity status for a while. kind of ironic since he's been doing his own thing for so long -- bad or good -- it always takes a brush with the reaper for the world to gawk at his staying power. unfortunately, in the case of the lyrically-impaired _toom, the media was actually reviewing dylan's career, since one after the other they stole the same cliches about his "return" from some sloppy undefined mediocrity. i dont think one of the national critics -- excluding the dylan-mutant -specialists and maybe jon pareles of the ny times (who at least recognized _wgw as at least a highlight of dylan's career) -- yet in '93 when it came out i couldnt find it on any of the ny times' top ten lists. anyway, i dont think one national critic has the slightest idea of the cultural significance of the songs on _wgw, especially since the re-issue of the _harry smith folk anthology_ where numerous songs from _gaibty, and _wgw are found, e.g., _love henry, _stack-o-lee, _frankie and johnnie_, etc. anyway, when these idiots refer to _toom as "his best work since _blood on the tracks_," they're covering their hineys, since it's common knowledge that the 80's as a compositional time were more sporadic and transitional; anyway, not one critic in all the worldwide mainstream -- well, maybe one or two -- mentioned that _wgw might be dylan's best album ever, if not, only because he didnt write any lyrics. i dont think they have the slightest idea what's on that album, how he sounds, and what significance it has on his work or the history of acoustic musicology. where were we; oh yeah, now dylan's in a trap where he wants to take a stab at the masses again before his popularity condenses into the curious and the obsessed. so, he's really giving his all out there night after night and getting into some kind of heavenly groove, but he doesnt think about what it actually sounds like 50 feet away. the louder it's amplified, the more it echoes. i dont think it was such a joke when that german critic supposedly asked him if he likes "torturing his audience." even springsteen wants the _sound_ to be perfect. dylan wants you to filter out a dissonant chaos-factor; well, it's not that he's got an agenda -- he just doesnt think about the listener's experience, which is unfortunate because on the softer songs he shines, and the bigger songs he obscures his gifts. anyway, back to work: _highway 61_ too blasting; negligible nuance; good intensity; salvageable but not too individuated _forever young_: affecting though dutifully standard _love sick_: hate this song; meaningless pseudo-mystical; works as a bayou-style blues; but zero emotional impact with blurry cliches of love; replace immediately with _not dark yet_ _rdw; if you've got to play this with a full band, start giving out free joints; it works better at the beginning then gets too loud for the size of the room. overall, the technical smudgery of using too much speaker equipment for the size of a packed, intimate hall, eats away at about half the songs. the other half were letter-perfect, as is becoming the norm. (c) oracle@delphi, 17dec97
Subject: Dylan - El Rey Review - 12/16/97 From: (email@example.com) Date: Fri, 02 Jan 1998 01:32:23 -0600 Bob Dylan @ The El Rey Theatre - 12/16/97 - Los Angeles
I found a great space on the raised area stage left in front of the speakers about 18' from center stage. There wasn't a skinhead in the audience. But I did wonder how many people dye their hair. Naturally. Very polite crowd. Let's say mature. The security guards looked like they woulda prefered a little rap music. The soundman had made himself quite a little shrine back there with a couple of bottles of wine on ice, incense, and a variety of extra items. For once, being 6' 6" paid off. I had a great view of the stage. A lot of excitement in the audience that Bob was playing such a small venue.
Beck was met greeted with an appreciative applause as he came onstage at the El Rey Theatre and welcomed the audience of 900 to the "Bob Dylan guitar.And a harmonica. He started off with a Jimmie Rogers tune, "Waiting For A Train", and followed that with "Lampshade"; "Cold Brains"; "Girl Dreams"; "Breathless"; "Tie Myself Down"; "One Foot In The Grave"( an outstanding song with fine harmonica work); "Dead Melodies"; "Rowboat"; "Little Sparrow" ( this one on a banjo) ; "Nobody's Fault But My Own"; My Good Leavin' ( some slide work on a National Steel Guitar ); "I Get Lonesome". I don't know any of these songs, and I don't know the Beck album, but I was impressed with the countryfried Beck. I liked the sound. It was unpretentious. I'd be interested in hearing more of this kinda stuff from Beck. He thanked Bob for letting him open for him. Later in the evening Bob acknowledged Beck "as a young man with an incredible future". And I do remember reading on the web that Beck had been spotted in Japan purchasing a number of "bootleg" Bob Dylan CDs. During Beck's set, I spotted David Kemper, Dylan's drummer, peeking through the curtain checking out the scene.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan" AND he was onstage and into 1) "Maggies Farm" ( a clear signal that these are all gonna be "new" songs and the intensity begins here and keeps going!). These are not the original recordings. Bob had added the Jam Factor. His band is a little different. Larry Cambell on guitar; David Kemper on drums; Bucky Baxter on pedal steel guitar and mandolin; and Paul ? on guitar and bass. Later when Bob introduced them, he said, "I wish we had Lindsey Buckingham up here. We couldn't get him. Maybe next time." 2) "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" (a great surprise!); 3)"Cold Irons Bound" (hot stuff!); 4) "You Ain't Going Nowhere" (whew!); 5) "Can't Wait" (hot stuff!); 6) "Silvio" ( a strong rocking number that has a new life); 7) "Cocaine Blues" ( an acoustic traditional with just two acoustic guitars and the bass); 8) "Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carrol" (acoustic and eyeball to eyeball); 9) "Tangled Up In Blue" (acoustic...This did it. The audience was totally alive!!!) ; 10) "Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again" (jammin'!); 11) This Wheels On Fire; 12) "'Til I Fell For You" (hot stuff!); 13) Highway 61 Revisited (the first encore that had Bob going places he's never been before and Larry Campbell appearing amazed. Maybe the finest version of this song I've heard ); 14) Forever Young (acoustic and brilliant. There is an honesty and passion to Bob's voice and playing); 15) "Love Sick" (very hot stuff!); "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" ( it ripped!).
Gram Parsons had nothing on Bob in terms of fashion. He was the man in the long black coat. A black frock coat. Purple pants with a golden seam. Patent leather boots with high heels and a tad of golden strip. Oh. And the bowtie.
Oh. I was taking notes at my little space on the speakers. The volume had picked up and the soundman was cool enough to give me a set of earplugs. Very nice. So I'm taking notes and this guy next to me says, "Mr. Hilburn since you seem to write from a historical view, how about if you set up a web page with all your reviews so that we could access them?" Not wanting to disappoint him we carried on quite a conversation and I got his view on Bob, the new album, the show, etc. Little did he know that the real Robert Hilburn was just a couple of feet away and asked me if I knew what the name of "that song is?" ("You Ain't Goin' Nowhere"). As his clone I politely obliged.
Bob was 18' away from me during the entire show. I was immediately struck by how he was kinda like Ed Sullivan with a wig. He was definitely into the music and alive. Relaxed, but with an inner intensity. But it was his physical expressions that were unique. I've never seen such movements. The Ed Sullivan Show would have showed only from the waist up. He was kinda like a puppet. He looked like he was having fun. But he showed a side as a performer I've never seen before. I figure he keeps the tension in his knees and his ankles. And he does The Dylan Squat, The Dylan Herky Jerky, The Dylan Dip, The Dylan Slide, A bit of the Wilbury Twist, The Dylan Stagger. I'm pretty sure I caught him picking his nose as he turned upstage. AND there was the Sonic Bob doing the Machine Gun, The Dylan Eye Roll, The Dylan Teeth, The Dylan Snarl. A lot of this was subtle, but the guy was having fun.The man is a giant. But I tell yah...when he had that acoustic guitar out there...I coulda swore it was bigger than he was! Wild sounds. I liked it. It was kinda like vaudeville.
I've never heard him talk so much. Repeatedly he said, "Thank you everybody". He introduced the band. He said, "I don't know if it is hot out there, but it sure is hot up here." He gave flowers on the stage to a girl up front. Someone up front slipped him a CD and he graciously said thank you and took it with him in the end. He actually was giving "five" to some of the audience up front and after some of the jams.
All in all wonderful stuff. Alistair (Al) Hunter