Daughter number one got these photos at the SECC gig the other night.
About ten years ago I made a decision about Van Morrison. Having seen him about ten times in concert, roughly defined as twice brilliant, twice passable and six times rank rotten I vowed to suffer no more.
No more would I hear ‘Moondance’ crucified as a lazy shuffle, country and western hoe-down or Irish jig or ‘Have I told you lately’ transformed from beautiful ballad to an inappropriate twelve bar boogie. No more would I suffer the contempt of a performer who couldn’t even be arsed to thank his audience or make any effort to make them feel they were being entertained as he supped from a regularly re-filled glass of hooch.
It is a decision I have only regretted when I have heard bootlegs of those rare occasions when Morrison does actually decide to bother to turn up as a performer. Hoochie Coochie Van and The Astral Weeks Revisited discs are two such cases in point.
I said in my review of the Knopfler/Dylan gig that I wouldn’t have gone had I not been persuaded to, because it was pretty much as I imagined it would be. I felt that Knopfler’s best days were behind him and being aware of Bob’s reputation for variable live output, and being someone who likes Dylan’s work rather than being a disciple or acolyte of the man, I would have decided that there were better things to spend over a hundred and thirty quid on for two tickets.
Having gone though, and being an opinionated old bugger, I’ve been ruminating over the experience over the last few days. As someone who goes out on the road with a band to play pubs, we’d have been (rightly) criticised for the sound mix which Dylan had the other night. The cardinal sin is when the vocals don’t cut through, and if the singers voice is weak, you turn him up and the rest of the band down.
It’s a basic.
I wonder what it is about Morrison and Dylan that makes them apparently disrespect their own work?
Listening to the live version of the song Blind Willie McTell for example was akin to watching Leonardo painting the Mona Lisa in the style of Rolf Harris.
I’m not saying that performers shouldn’t do different versions of their work. I have heard pared back versions of Blue Nile songs performed live which have been sublime. When I saw Tom Waits live he hardly performed one song even approximate to the original. Each one however had been re-arranged with care. Vocal departures, subtleties and nuances. Little instrumental changes here and there to tease and delight the audience. They had clearly been rehearsed.
And Tom engaged with his audience. He entertained, he was theatrical.
Not so with Bob and whilst that may be an unfair comparison, having heard and thoroughly enjoyed Dylan’s superb radio shows over the years, it is certainly in his gift to be interesting, engaging and funny.
I’ve made the same decision about Bob after one gig that I made about Van after ten and to be fair I’m not sure how many opportunities there will be to see him again so the decision may be an empty one.
Great songwriter and poet, recording artist and broadcaster – twentieth century icon.
I just don’t think he matches that as an instrumentalist or performer, no matter how many critics write reviews in the style of love letters.
But then, I’m not a disciple.
Last night, having been persuaded by my 13 year old daughter (yes indeed), the two of us went to Braehead Arena (bizarrely a concert venue by which you gain entrance via a shopping centre) near Glasgow to see a double bill of Mark Knopfler and Bob Dylan.
The former Dire Straits front man was up first and delivered a set of technical mastery. Well played and crafted,.
And yet one felt he was playing well within himself and really the performance could not easily have been confused with something exciting. It was largely what one would refer to as an “unplugged” set with mandolins, ukeleles, uillieann pipes and flutes much in evidence. Indeed there was not one other electric solid body six string guitar on show other than the main man’s until his encore.
Highlights were “Corned Beef City” a driving slide guitar number about socio economics, and “A song for Sonny Liston” performed by Knopfler on guitar and vocals with only a double bass and drums for accompaniment.
His set cried out for Solid Rock, Tunnel of Love or Sultans of Swing but bizarrely, even given the opportunity of an encore, the chosen song was “So Far Away” from what was required.
MK seems to be showcasing his new material and fair enough. I wonder though, if a better balance could be struck.
On to Bob then.
Of course if one were to think of the most influential songwriter and recording artist of the 20th century, then he would be one of, if not the first name which would come to mind.
Despite having read very mixed reviews of his live performances over many years I was really looking forward to seeing and hearing the great man up close and personal.
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat was a decent enough opener although it was immediately clear that Dylan’s vocal wasn’t cutting through. It took the sound man about a minute to sort that out (to his satisfaction at least). I wonder in fact if there were different sound men employed at the mixing desk. Regardless of anyone’s personal taste, the sound mix during Knopfler’s set was superior by some considerable way. The sound on Dylan’s set was poor and muddy and didn’t assist in the fact that his voice was clearly struggling.
The band, as well as being sh*t hot, had an impressive array of hats, including Bob himself who also sported a brass buttoned blazer and tracksuit bottoms! The second number “It aint me babe” was one of the best of the set.
“Tangled up in blue” Bob’s tribute to a Joni Mitchell album also came over well
Desolation Row and Highway 61 Revisited were at least recognisable, before the attempted murder of my all time favourite Dylan song “Blind Willie McTell” .
The track, co-written with Mark Knopfler for the album Infidels, was not in fact included on that album but has since found its way on to several compilations and bootlegs.
The recorded version has everything. It is an allegorical journey through America and at the end of each verse brings the listener’s attention back to the statement “No one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell”
It is a lyrical and musical tour de force which is a masterclass in poise, phrasing, production and dynamics.
Last night it was reduced to what sounded like a karaoke version of St James Infirmary.
It was just truly awful in every respect.
And yet there followed a passable version of Thunder on the Mountain from the excellent album Modern Times which has remained one of my most listened to albums of recent years.
By the time of the encore, Bob’s voice which had clearly been under strain, had no more to offer. He barely managed to sing All Along the Watchtower and Like a Rolling Stone, even at an octave down but did manage to briefly say a few words to the audience by way of introducing the band. I still don’t know who they were because I couldn’t understand a word and I don’t pay £20 for programmes!
I hope the above doesn’t seem churlish or pedantic. Bob is 70 after all and I make my remarks in that full knowledge. However he is putting himself out there and charging people handsomely for the privilege, so my honest opinion is fair comment I’d suggest.
I’m glad I went and I’m glad my young daughter saw the legend that is Dylan along with Knopfler who is one of her (and indeed my) favourite artists.
It’s fair to say though that I wouldn’t have gone to the gig had I not been persuaded, and that is because it was almost exactly as I would have imagined it to be.
Music and the arts are such subjective domains that there are many reviews from last night on the web almost eulogising Bob’s performance.
The critics, for once, are I feel easily pleased.
It was good to meet up with my friend Ken Fitlike and it’s well worth checking out his review of the gig.
Mark Knopfler’s recent output has been patchy to say the least. Indeed his last album could be summed up in one, maybe two words, and the second one is “rubbish”. However last year my friend the Tomahawk Kid sent me an album by Knopfler and Emmylou Harris. I simply love this song which is the title track from that album.
Following on from the hilarious Alexei Sayle clip about Knopfler and Co. I thought I'd better redress the balance. I'll probably get howls of derision from Helpless Dancer and Tomahawk Kid here but here goes!
I had a job driving taxis in 1978 at the grand age of 18. The car in question was an 8 year old Morris Oxford, one of the last of its kind. The radio in this thing was I think a valve effort!
I got a hire from Helensburgh to the Royal Naval Armaments Depot at Coulport, Loch Long and was coming back via Ardpeaton when John Peel played a track from a new band he was raving about. The track in question was Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits. This was the first time I'd heard the record and despite the medium wave sound quality, it made an instant impact on me.
Peel played the track another twice that week and I went in to John Menzies in Helensburgh to be looked at blankly when I asked for firstly the single and then the album with no success. A trip to Glasgow where the staff at Listen (10 Cambridge Street Cheap and Nasty) and Bloggs in St. Vincent St. had at least heard of the record but didn't in fact have it in stock. Knowing I wasn't going to be back in the city any time soon I returned to Helensburgh and oredered the single from John Menzies. I think I can safely say I was the first person in town with this record. I got the album a few weeks later and every track was as good as the single.
Borrowing a little bit from Cale,Clapton and Dylan their eponymous first album remains one of the finest debuts in rock history IMHO.
For me they never matched that first album although their biggest commercial success was to come in 1986 with the multi gazzillion selling Brothers in Arms. By that time the critics, (and Alexei Sayle) had made up their minds about them. They were nice. They were played by housewives and trendy types in white Suzuki soft tops. Footballers would list them as favourites, a sure sign of critical nadir. Knopfler had also taken to looking like some guy out at Haloween dressed as a fashion victim.
And yet, despite some overblown production and trite lyrics, B.I.A. was an album which shone like a beacon amidst some very poor music which had come along in punk's slipstream.
I rarely skip a track when they appear on random play on my MP3. Dire Straits. Loved by musicians, hated by critics. I notice Alexei Sayle still placed a copy of Brothers in Arms under his jacket on the way out the shop mind you!