Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best of the 2000s

Best of the 2000s

I promised in my review of 2009 to be brief, and didn’t really succeed, so I’ll try and make this one short, really more a series of lists, than any big analysis. Who the hell remembers the early part of the decade anyway?! – I know time flies when you get older, but my memory ain’t what it used to be..
The lists are perhaps in some semblance of order of preference. Looking forward to arguments, contradictions, fallings out, etc..

As I mainly review albums, films and concerts on my blog, I’m going to mainly stick to those three for the purposes of my 2000s review. I have written about plays, art exhibitions and plays in the past, so feel free to scroll back.

But, to cover them briefly –

Plays - I saw lots of great plays at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, (the likes of Friel, Pinter, Chekov, Wilde etc) but if I had to pick out two others, I’d go for Shadowlands (with Charles Dance) in London a few years ago or All My Sons at the Abbey about ten years ago.

TV – somewhat hit and miss, but the good stuff was very good including The Sopranos, The West Wing, Bleak House (BBC 2006), Sense & Sensibility (BBC 2007), Jane Eyre (BBC 2007), The Office, Peep Show etc. Plus some good documentaries. There’s a theory that the higher quality of TV drama is down to not just HBO but much of the talent moving into television that in the past would have worked in film.

Sadly, the dross is still out there. Reality TV is a depressing concept – is this the best people can come up with? And it’s hard to know whether to feel sorry for people who watch X Factor or not. If they just enjoy the excitement of the format and the personalities, maybe that’s ok. But are people not being deluded if they think this is anything innovative or original from a musical point of view? Such a lot of fuss over what is essentially a karaoke show, with nothing but bland covers of old songs. Maybe the Rage Against the Machine Christmas No 1 victory will shake up a few kids out there to maybe think about forming a band, or writing a song of their own. And to think that Louis Walsh is Irish, my God are we partly to blame for the boyband / X Factor phenomenon (?!) – and to think Ireland used to be known for great bands, great songwriters and quality traditional Irish music! Anyway end of rant..

Books - as usual, I’ve been reading way too much about music, and a lot of old fiction, and recent non-fiction. But, if I had to pick three recent novels I’d go for; Never Let Me Go, Birdsong and Atonement. And still, nobody makes me laugh like P.G. Wodehouse.

Album wise, it turns out to have been not a bad decade. And this, despite the supposed demise of the album, and despite a large proportion of my favourite artists being dead or retired! (Grateful Dead, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Lennon, etc to name but a few).

It was a typically productive decade for Bob Dylan, by any standards – 3 very good albums, a major outtakes box set of recent material plus more older outtakes/live sets too, a Christmas album, over 1000 concerts, 100 radio shows, a major documentary, a self penned feature film, major art galleries all around the world exhibiting his art, plus lots of odds and ends, tv appearances, film soundtrack songs, tribute album songs, etc etc. Not a man who (now nearly 69) will have to rely on a state pension!
Wilco hit a peak with 3 incredible studio albums. Gillian Welch seems to have slowed down, but released 2 good ‘uns.
McCartney released about 4 albums; one great (Chaos), one very good (Flaming Pie), one not bad (Memory Almost Full) and one mediocre (Driving Rain).
Ditto Springsteen, who was busy too, with a decade choc full of tours and albums, mixing it up with both the E Street Band and his amazing 17 piece Sessions Band, plus some solo stuff.
The return of Leonard Cohen to live duty was a contender for highlight of the decade, but I’ve covered that already in earlier posts.
Jack White and Ryan Adams both had prolific decades. Two artists I like, but quality control not always their top priority.
We saw very good swansong albums from George Harrison and Johnny Cash, certainly the two biggest musical losses of the decade from my point of view.
There were also excellent albums and concerts from the likes of Tom Waits, Neil Young, Radiohead, but in terms of newer artists, I was glad to make the acquaintance of The Waifs, Blitzen Trapper, Richmond Fontaine, Foals, Fleet Foxes and Sufjan Stevens.
So, maybe the future is in ok hands.

Hard to pick a favourite live concert of the decade, so I’ve cheated a bit and just done a list of my favourite live artists of the decade (with some selected shows).

Film wise, I think the 2000s continued on from the 1990s with a good smattering of decent films every year amidst a lot of dross. But things have continued improving since the 1980s, a decade which was a bit of a low watermark for cinema. If I had to choose one film from the decade I’d go for Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.


The Beatles – Remastered box sets
Bob Dylan – Modern Times
Wilco – Sky Blue Sky
Bob Dylan – Tell Tale Signs
Bob Dylan – Love & Theft
Bob Dylan – Together Through Life
Paul McCartney – Chaos and Creation in the Backyard
Gillian Welch – Soul Journey
Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator)
Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Wilco – A Ghost is Born
George Harrison - Brainwashed
R.E.M. – Accelerate
Johnny Cash – American III
Tom Waits – Alice
Tom Waits – Blood Money
Sufjan Stevens – Come on Feel the Illinoise
Bruce Springsteen – The Rising
Neil Young – Prairie Wind
Fleet Foxes
Ryan Adams – Gold
Paul McCartney – Flaming Pie
Bruce Springsteen – Magic
Gosford Park soundtrack
Radiohead – Kid A
The Waifs – Up All Night
Bruce Springsteen – The Seeger Sessions
Welcome to the Welcome Wagon
Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker
Tom Waits – Mule Variations
The Rolling Stones – A Bigger Bang
Madness – The Liberty of Norton Folgate
The Waifs – Sundirtwater
Sufjan Stevens – Michigan
The Fireman
Blitzen Trapper – Furr
Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am
Johnny Cash – American IV
Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake I’m Dreaming
Iron Maiden – A Matter of Life and Death
Levon Helm – Electric Dirt
Solomon Burke – Don’t Give Up On Me
Richmond Fontaine – Post to Wire
Brian Wilson – Smile
Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers
Lambchop – Nixon
Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose
Merle Haggard – Roots Vol 3
Aimee Mann – Smilers
Foals – Antidotes
PJ Harvey – Stories from the City
Duckworth Lewis Method

Live Artists

Bob Dylan (some of my favourites were; Barrowlands 04, Wiltern LA 02, Portland 01, Hammersmith or Shepherds Bush 03, or anything from 2000, 2nd Boston 06, 2nd NYC 09)

Leonard Cohen
Bruce Springsteen
Paul McCartney
Gillian Welch
The Waterboys (surprised how much I’ve come to enjoy these guys)
Tom Waits
The Rolling Stones
Solomon Burke (contender for gig of the decade actually, Vicar St a few years ago)
Patti Smith
Camille O’Sullivan (not just a cabaret type artist, but a great song interpreter too)
Ray Davies
John Prine
Aimee Mann
Iron Maiden
Merle Haggard
Classical - various performances, mainly at Dublin’s National Concert Hall – two that spring to mind were a version of Mahler’s Symphony of 1000 and an Arvo Part festival.


Pan’s Labyrinth
Gosford Park
The Lives of Others
An Education
White Ribbon
Gran Torino
The Wrestler
The Orphanage (El Orfanato)
Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers
No Country for Old Men
Slumdog Millionnaire
Glorious 39
Master & Commander (The Far Side of the World)
There Will Be Blood
The Aviator
Million Dollar Baby
Dean Spanley
The Reader
The Departed
28 Days Later
Casino Royale
The Painted Veil
The Dark Knight
Sherlock Holmes
Inglorious Basterds
Joyeux Noel
The Pianist
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Bourne Supremacy
The Hangover
The Wind that Shakes the Barley
City of God
Being John Malkovich
Eastern Promises
Walk the Line
The Young Victoria
The Other Boleyn Girl

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Review of 2009

Ken’s Best of 2009

Ok, this year, I’m also doing a best of the Decade review as well, so I’ll make both a bit briefer than usual. Brevity not being one of my great skills, but I’ll give it a go! Please let me know if you think I've forgotten anything, or any other feedback..


The Beatles – Remasters (mono and stereo)
Bob Dylan – Together Through Life
Madness – The Liberty of Norton Folgate
Wilco – Wilco (The Album)
George Harrison – Let it Roll (best of)
Duckworth Lewis Method
Dave Rawlings Machine - Friend of a Friend
Roy Orbison box set

Well it certainly turned out to be Bob Dylan’s year. Hot on the heels of the incredible Tell Tale Signs collection (plus countless more concerts, radio shows etc), he releases a surprisingly quickly turned around, yet sturdy new studio album; Together Through Life. I think I gave it a fairly middling to positive review at the time, however, it has grown on me since then, and the songs play well live.

The other main release of the year was of course, Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart. Naturally, I’m joking. Not that Christmas in the Heart wasn’t enjoyable (as well as being very bizarre). His croakiest ever vocals(?) set to the most traditional Christmas arrangements you’re likely to hear!

No, the release of the year for me had to be the big Beatles box sets. I don’t think I got around to reviewing them at the time, perhaps daunted by being unable to think of anything new to say about the greatest body of work of all time (I would argue that the only individuals who can measure up to the Fabs’ seven year recording career would be the likes of Mahler, Beethoven, possibly Dylan, or the very best great writers, painters etc).
Anyway, that statement is quite enough hyperbole out of me for one year!
I made a few rough notes after my first few listens of the box sets, so here are some bullet points;

- Everything sounds extraordinary – like brand new recordings, even though these are only remasters and not remixes - the separation between the voices and between the instruments is now exceptional, not forgetting these recordings date back nearly 50 years
- In general I prefer the mono versions, especially albums like Revolver and Sgt Pepper. The White Album is very debatable, quite a big difference between the mono and stereo versions of many of it’s tracks
- Revolver – Eleanor Rigby really stands out, as does Got to Get You Into My Life. Also, For No One - I suggest you listen to the mono For No One loudly – I tried it just with my ear up against a speaker – Paul’s vocal is unbelievable – sounds like he’s right beside you
- Sgt Pepper is incredible. Especially in mono. Like most of these new versions, the album works well on all formats, but listening to it on headphones is SO revealing
- Basically, everything sounds better now. All your favourite bits, whether it be - the piano solo in In My Life, the sound of John and George’s voices duetting on You Really Got a Hold on Me, that strange organ sound on Beatles for Sale, the trumpet solo on Penny Lane, or the guitar solo on Something - they all sound clearer and punchier
- Help – a supposedly inferior album, now perhaps not so inferior?
- And my God, the quality of the backing vocals throughout the box sets are so good – one forgets that due to the happy coincidence of two random working class lads from Liverpool turning out to be two of the best ballad singers AND rock singers AND songwriters of all time, plus a good runner-up in George, plus excellent musicianship (Paul and George especially), plus the chemistry between the 4 of them, and the production; one can forget that John, Paul and George are all astonishing backing singers too, creating harmonies that for me, easily beat Crosby Stills & Nash, the Byrds, or the Band, or any of the 60s girl bands
- Some random things that sound better in stereo – I Am The Walrus, parts of Rubber Soul, the rockers on the first album, Michelle, plus possibly much of the Hard Days Night album, this most perfect pop album ringing through with their ever improving Rickenbacker guitar sound and those double tracked vocals. Feel free to skip straight through to If I Fell – boy does that song sound good!
- Finally, my advice is don’t get too hung up on the mono/stereo debate (perhaps I should take my own advice!). Just enjoy the music – if it’s your first time dipping your toes properly into the world I am envious; if you only have them on vinyl or the old CDs, it is very advisable to get the new ones, preferably BOTH box sets.

Otherwise 2009 was not really a vintage year for albums. Of the other discs I mentioned at the top of this piece, Madness punched well above their weight, and Wilco slightly below theirs. Also very enjoyable was the debut album from the 202s, a promising Dublin band (an interesting mix of electronica/indie rock/singer-songwriter, currently getting a lot of radio play and working on their 2nd album) – check them out on
The Dave Rawlings album was ok.
Finally, I don’t normally review live albums, and given the ease and quality of downloaded live recordings it seems the live album has become a devalued currency, but there were three of note this year;
R.E.M., Paul McCartney and Tom Waits. All pretty good, especially R.E.M., with their adventures in rehearsal/rarities from the Olympia a year or two back.


Bob Dylan – various shows; Liverpool, Glasgow, Dublin (1), New York (2)
Paul McCartney – O2 Dublin
Leonard Cohen – O2 Dublin (2nd night)
Bruce Springsteen – RDS Dublin (2nd night, although the drizzly 1st night was also good)
Wilco – Vicar St Dublin (both nights vg)
AC/DC – O2 Dublin
Ray Davies – Town Hall, New York
Lyle Lovett - Olympia, Dublin

A good year. I have already reviewed all or most of these concerts on my blog, so I won’t rake over old ground, but, really, McCartney and Cohen have to stand out. Two artists at career live peaks – giving unforgettable performances of very high emotional intensity. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who was at either.
Hard to believe they are pushing Bob down into 3rd place, given some of the Dylan highlights of the year – the new songs, the fact that he is spending considerable time back out at the front of the stage, a reinvigorated band etc. Plus his tribute to George Harrison in Liverpool (playing Something).
And it’s also fair to say Wilco, Bruce and AC/DC (in the 02) gave excellent performances in Dublin. And I was delighted to finally see a Lyle Lovett show.
Saw the 202s in The Academy, an excellent new band (as mentioned in the album section) in a very good Dublin venue.
I didn’t go to many classical performances this year, I only seem to remember a piano/violin type trio doing Schumann in the Hugh Lane Gallery, which was enjoyable and free! Also free, was the only Festival I think I went to in 2009, the ever enjoyable Dun Laoghaire Festival of World Cultures.
I don’t really remember any poor concerts at all in 2009, perhaps because I didn’t go to as many as in previous years. I doubt 2010 will be as good, but here’s hoping.


An Education
Gran Torino
Sherlock Holmes
Dean Spanley
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
The Hangover
Glorious 39
Star Trek
Inglorious Basterds
The Young Victoria
The Reader
The Changeling
Cadillac Records

Sherlock Holmes really was surprisingly good. Who’d have thought Guy Ritchie would make a decent film, and a decent period film at that? Downey Jnr is not bad as Holmes it’s fair to say and it IS an exciting film, with a good support performance by Jude Law (I don’t think I’ve ever said that before!) and a good (if silly) plot and excellent visuals. My only complaints are;
- It’s just a little too over the top for my tastes – as a big Holmes fan I’ve no particular problem with them messing with the books, but they could have cut a few of the action scenes.
- Robert Downey Jnr’s accent/dialogue coach should be shot!

Gran Torino was yet another top notch Clint Eastwood film - that must be about 6 or 7 very good films in a row from the aging director. And let’s not forget his acting– with a fine performance (his last?) from the man himself in this one.

Dr Parnassus was enjoyable. A bit of a mess, but not deserving the critical mauling it got.

Glorious 39 was a bit of a hotch potch of genres, but a beautifully atmospheric pre WW2 drama by Stephen Poliakaff. Very well acted and thought provoking, it's certainly not flawless, but I thought it was the most underrated film of the year.

Two films I never thought would make a list of mine as they are genres I don’t usually bother with, but Up was a charming cartoon and The Hangover a truly funny gross out comedy which had more good lines than any comedy I can remember in recent years. PLUS it also worked as a good thriller, ie you really wanted to know what the hell happened to those guys!

Other films I loved this year included; Inglorious Basterds (riotous WW2 Tarantino flic), District 9, The Young Victoria and an enjoyable re-imagining of Star Trek.

But I think my favourite film of the year for me was An Education. This was a classic period film set in the early 60s, ie 50s London on the cusp of swinging 60s London. It is a biopic based on the journalist Lynn Barber’s autobiography, with a standout performance from Carey Mulligan in the lead role.
I’m pretty sure I’ve forgotten a few other films, not a bad film for cinema, all in.. Here are some films I loved but I'm not quite sure if they were 2008 or 2009; The Wrestler, Slumdog Millionnaire, Vicky Christina Barcelona.
And here are some 2009 films I regret that I haven't seen yet; White Ribbon, Katyn, Let the Right One In, Avatar, Moon, Anvil.


Last Days of a Reluctant Tyrant – Abbey Theatre
Present Laughter – Gate Theatre
2 short Brian Friel Plays – Gate Theatre
All My Sons - Gate Theatre

Not too many theatre trips for me this year, and those I went too I mostly reviewed earlier in the year, so feel free to scroll back to earlier parts of my blog. I saw one or two turkeys (including a disappointing Shakespeare at the Nat. Theatre in London), but the four mentioned above were all extremely good. The Birds at the Gate, as adapted by Conor McPherson and with a good cast, was a bit of a curate's egg at best.


Corot-Monet Landscapes – National Gallery London
Vermeer – MET, New York
Baroque - V&A
Rodchenko & Popova - Tate Modern
Waterhouse – Royal Academy
Dylan Drawn Blank Series - Birmingham

I didn’t go to too many art exhibitions this year, despite attending an enjoyable History of Art course in the Autumn, but the few I've listed were very enjoyable, especially the first two. Less so, was the Munch exhibition in our National Gallery. Nothing against Munch, but black and white prints can be quite dull. I also went to the Bacon thing in the Hugh Lane, which did it’s best to change my opinion that he was only a chancer, and somewhat over rated. Still not sure really. I also visited the Frick in New York for the first time (very good), and Kenwood House near Hampstead Heath, which has a nice collection too.


I watched very little television this year, mainly because I haven’t the foggiest how to use my DVD recorder. But such is life.
The only thing I can really remember is Into the Storm, a follow up to The Gathering Storm, a TV biopic of Churchill. For some reason it just wasn’t quite as good as the first one, but credit to Gleeson for successfully taking on the role which Albert Finney did so well earlier.
Was Little Dorrit this year? A terrific follow up from Bleak House.
Sport wise, it was a great year for Irish rugby – watching Ireland finally win a Grand Slam was unforgettable.
I saw a few episodes of 30 Rock, a very funny new American comedy written by Tina Fey. Hoping to catch up on things like Cold Blood (vampire thing?) and The Wire next year. Finally finished all the box sets of Foyle's War, classic WW2 drama.

Personally, it was an interesting year. Quite a few highs, and some lows. One example of each?
Low - Getting burgled.
High - Running over the finish line of the Dublin Marathon in just under 4 hours. Is it really possible to be a complete physical and emotional wreck, and yet feel such elation, all at the exact same time? Will I ever feel a buzz like that again? Who knows, but I can only try..
Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Paul McCartney Review, the 02, Dublin 20 December 2009

I’ve been saying to myself recently that I need to cut out the superlatives in my gig reviews. Either that, or start going to some bad ones!
Hardly surprising then, that Paul McCartney in the 02 (Dublin) was emphatically NOT a bad gig.
Having queued for a couple of hours in the sub zero Arctic wasteland that was the Dublin docklands yesterday, we got a nice spot about 3rd row centre, and waited for our feet to thaw out, and for a Beatle to appear before our eyes. Then, sure enough, just about 8.15, one appeared. And a very healthy looking Beatle it was too. McCartney is in amazing shape for 68, and makes a good case for the benefits of vegetarianism!
But, of course, our main concerns were more his vocal chords and musicianship, and it’s safe to say these are even healthier.
From the opening moments of Magical Mystery Tour (‘Roll Up, Roll Up..’) through to the closing lines of the show (‘The Love you Take, is equal to the Love you Make’), the strength of McCartney’s performance never wavered. Of the 4 or 5 Macca shows I’ve seen, this was surely the best. Just a perfect occasion, great venue, great sound, great atmosphere, an almost flawless concert.

It’s hard to describe how emotional a Paul McCartney show is. I think it is just how much we all have those songs in our heads, and how they are such a part of the landscape. Also the fact that the Beatles never toured after ’66 has raised the importance of seeing the songs now in conditions much better than in the 60s (better sound etc, plus great arrangements and performance). I was born shortly after the Beatles broke up, so for me it is not direct nostalgia, as I fell in love with their awesome body of work as a child in the 1970s, and indeed at 37 years old, I was far from being one of the youngest in the 02 last night. I think it’s true to say there is a shared universality to the Beatles music that has an extraordinary effect at a McCartney concert – eg I heard one male radio presenter this morning saying how he was in tears on at least 4 occasions!

Anyway, in case I’m getting carried away, I’ll come back down to earth and do a bit of regular song-by-song reviewing;
- Magical Mystery Tour is his best opener, just seems to work well, nice background imagery on the big screens
- Drive My Car – sometimes played as opener, a classic rocker from Rubber Soul, also works well in slot 2
- Jet – catchy slice of Wings pop, not a favourite of mine, but goes down well
- Only Mama Knows – it’s a pity he abandons his albums so quickly, and why does he ignore the best song from ‘Memory Almost Full’ (Mr Bellamy)? However, Only Mama Knows is a good rocker, and works great live. While I’m having a ‘go’ at the setlist – I also regret that he has 100% abandoned the ‘Chaos and Creation’ album (2005). Arguably his best album since the 70s.
- Flaming Pie – he still does the occasional song from this decent album, and the title track is as good as any
- Got to get you into my Life – after two relatively unknown songs, the crowd go wild for this song – the big brass part is a good hook at a live gig, played of course by Wix Wickens, a key band member. Every unusual sound you hear at a McCartney concert is played by him – at one point on Sunday I spotted him simultaneously playing a keyboard part with his hands and a trumpet part with his mouth via a device attached to his head! Apart from the colouring provided by Wix though, credit is due to McCartney and his band, for not relying on over the top arrangements – these guys manage to breathe new life into the Beatles songs, yet still keep things relatively simple. The guitar players and (especially) the drummer, all get the thumbs up from me
- Let Me Roll It – competent and powerful, but I’d say it would get tiresome if one went to multiple Macca gigs
- Highway – first of two bloody excellent songs from the experimental Fireman album. These really work well, and fit in nicely to the setlist
- Long and Winding Road – I suppose (other than the opening song for impact), this was the first really big emotional heavy hitter of the evening. One of those songs that he has done every single concert since God knows when, but you would never know it.
- I Want to Come Home. Brand new song. ‘’Classic Macca ballad’’ are my early thoughts. Evidence of his melodic genius, lyrically nothing unusual.
- My Love. Classic 70s power ballad, tonight with a heartfelt tribute from Macca to Henry McCullough (in the audience), who played the famous guitar solo back in the day.
- Blackbird. Stunning solo acoustic performance, both guitar wise and vocally.
- Here Today. The John tribute. In truth, not really a great song (1982), but genuine all the same
- Dance Tonight. When I first heard this one, I thought ‘surely a song as bad as that can’t be that catchy!’, but my feet were tapping on Sunday night, despite myself.
- And I Love Her. Nice semi acoustic arrangement.
- Eleanor Rigby. Always powerful. A nice low key arrangement with backing vocals and strings (via keyboard). If anyone says to you McCartney doesn’t write good lyrics, play them this song. Or Penny Lane.
- Something. Paul really does play a great version of this, night after night. Having seen Bob Dylan play it in Liverpool this year, I thought I’d never experience anything like that again, but watching McCartney on stage, with those pictures of George on the big screen, as the guitar player plays a lovely version of the famous solo, it came close.
- Mrs Vandebilt. McCartney gets a bit of criticism for not changing his setlists much, but to be fair, every new tour, he does add in a few new ones, and a few re-introduced Beatles or Wings numbers. This is one of my favourite Wings songs, so I was ecstatic to hear it. A truly excellent arrangement, works very well, and the crowd loved it despite it not being overly familiar to everyone.
- Sing the Changes. Another Fireman song. Very uplifting.
- Wonderful Christmas Time. Well, being 20 December, no big surprise. I’m sure even Macca wouldn’t claim it to be a classic, but good fun on the night
- Band on the Run. Always good.
- Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da. Not his greatest Beatles composition, but who’s going to complain with a White Album tune world premiere (ie, premiered this tour). Also, it works well live, and the arrangement is very reggaefied and uptempo
- Back in the USSR. Amazing rocker, night after night, which perfectly exemplifies the tightness of this band
- I’ve Got a Feeling. Was great to see this introduced a few years ago. Nice dirty riff, showing off the rootsy feel of the Let it Be album
- Paperback Writer. One of the highlights of the show for me. Such a good song, and I think, one of 7 or 8 new ones for me, at this show.
- A Day in the Life / Give Peace a Chance. So good to see him tackle the John verses on this classic Lennon/McCartney song, not an overblown version either (Neil Young, I’m looking at you!), semi acoustic, with some use of effects for the transitional sections, segueing cheesily if effectively, into Give Peace a Chance
- Let it Be. Another emotional showstopper. No other words come to mind.
- Live and Let Die. Ok, the only out and out major showbiz type performance of the night, with massive explosions and pyrotechnics (down the front you could feel the rush of heat from the fire!), but massively enjoyable, not to mention appropriate, for this over the top rock opera type Bond number.
- Hey Jude – a great song, even if the singalong bit has been done to death, but very enjoyable, and brings the main set to a close.
- Day Tripper. Another debut for me. Nicely done.
- Lady Madonna – not a song I’m crazy about for some reason, but the crowd love it as Paul plays some nice rocking piano
- Get Back – popular rootsy rocker
- Yesterday. An ever so slightly over rated song in my opinion, but boy does he play it well
- Helter Skelter - clever putting it just after Yesterday, as these two songs showcase the two extremes of McCartney – from gentle ballad to the loudest out and out rocker in the Beatles canon. If truth be told it’s probably not a very good song, but is quite unique and works well in the encores.
- Sgt Peppers / The End. He’s been playing these two together for years now, and they are always a stunning conclusion, encompassing a great band performance, and finishing with the famous lines about the love you take, etc.. Almost 3 hours later, it’s a fitting end to a show we may not see the likes of again. Happy Days. And Happy Christmas!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Review of 3 Bob Dylan shows, United Palace Theatre, New York, November 2009

As is often the case during the American Fall, I found myself this week taking in a few U.S. Bob Dylan shows. Well, with the dollar so weak, and flights reasonable, it would have almost been reckless not to(!), so off I flew last Tuesday to New York.

This time, I was at the final three shows of what has become an already much celebrated tour, with Dylan finally playing most of the songs from his new album. This album, Together Through Life, is one of three he has released in the last year or so. The others having been both roundly ignored in concert, ie the Tell Tale Signs outtake collection, and the oh-so controversial Christmas in the Heart.

But this tour was notable for more than just new song premieres. Firstly, the return of Charlie Sexton to the band has added much more than I thought it would. I liked Denny Freeman, but Bob had all but stopped him playing in recent times, whereas Charlie has been given a much wider remit. Having said that, like all the best Dylan sidemen over the years, he knows when to hold back, and when to play a bit more, pending what his eccentric boss is up to. Also, one could argue Charlie is a better guitar player than he was 8 years ago.

The second development of note, is the return proper of Dylan to the centre of the stage. Having spent a few years hiding behind that keyboard, recent 2008/2009 tours have seen him dabbling with the front of the stage again, but this Fall, he seemed to throw caution to the wind, and is now playing 1-2 songs a night on guitar, plus another 4 or 5 right out front sans instrument, just Bob, his microphone stand, a lot of expressive (!) hand and arm gestures, and some exquisite harmonica.

The overall effect was both visual and musical. The visual, given Bob’s bizarre way of moving, his ever more elaborate suits, AND the hand gestures, seemed to combine in presenting a sort of Sinatra-esque demented cowboy appearance, but one which the crowd loved and responded to.

Musically, the lack of a keyboard or guitar on these songs, meant that Bob can concentrate on both his vocals and the audience, and his manner of achieving both certainly suggests an artist with a new found self-confidence.

And so, to the songs themselves. Where to start? Well, with show opener, Gonna Change My Way of Thinking, I suppose. A classic bluesy slab of gospel and a nice statement of intent from this reinvigorated band and artist, albeit he only plays it every 3rd show or so. And it’s always good to see him re-introduce songs from his Christian albums, especially in a venue that doubles as a Church.

The new songs are, to a man, very well performed. My favourite song on the album, I Feel a Change Coming on, is done very well, and the line about having ‘the blood of the land in my voice’ gets a good response. However, the most successful interpretation has got to be Forgetful Heart. Already fairly radically re-arranged (and it’s only out few months), this song is the first genuinely VERY slow, VERY quiet performance/arrangement we’ve had in a long time. Absolutely perfectly phrased, it’s true to say that even in a somewhat boisterous New York audience, you could hear a pin drop. Well, almost!

There were excellent performances too of things like Beyond Here Lies Nothing (fantastic to see and hear a trumpet in a live Bob Dylan band) and If You Ever go to Houston. Even songs that I thought were pretty mediocre on the album, such as It’s All Good and My Wife’s Hometown, were transformed in a live setting. And Jolene swings accordingly – a good choice for the mid encore song.

However, it’s not just the new songs that fare well. Virtually everything is good at the moment, a few dull moments notwithstanding (Ain’t Talking – I’m looking at you!) but I must especially single out Cold Irons Bound, Desolation Row, Workingman’s Blues (he puts in such a good vocal on this one that you wonder is it the same artist who is croaking his way around that Christmas album), and the current shows’ undisputed tour de force, the set closing Ballad of a Thin Man. Sung and performed with an intensity and passion, and at a perfect stately pace, that for me it topped any versions of this song, well, except 1966 I suppose. Worth googling on YouTube I suggest.

Overall, a really excellent tour, which it could be argued, saw some of the best shows since 2001. Or, if that's too controversial, I would at least say that 2009 was a good step up on 2008, with this Fall tour the year's best.

Before I sign off, a couple of quick points to mention – firstly, the venue, (the United Palace Theater up in Spanish Harlem) was stunning. Originally designed as an incredibly ornate 1920s movie theatre, it is now mainly used as a Church. Or the Church of Bob, as it transpired this week..

Secondly, a few of us went to Ray Davies the night after the Dylan shows. Ray was playing in the equally gorgeous New York Town Hall, a historic mid town venue. It was a good show, by an underrated songwriter who, for me, is pretty close to Dylan’s league. The most notable thing about this tour is the addition of a choir to the band, adding a fine extra dimension to all those classic Kinks songs.

Finally, the Dylan show on the 17th was a bit of a landmark for me, so thanks to Susan for the front row seat!

See everybody next year hopefully..

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Two short Brian Friel plays

A short little Friel festival here in the Gate, confusingly I think it has nothing to do with the Theatre Festival, which also starts around now.
Anyway, it comprises 3 plays - Faith Healer and two one act plays - Afterplay and The Yalta Game. Having seen Faith Healer recently - I decided to go to the other two. Conveniently one was at 6.30 and one at 8.30, thus allowing for a quick'n'spicy Korean meal in Dublin's nearby new Chinatown area.
First up was Afterplay, a nice piece imagining if a character from Three Sisters met up with the niece of Uncle Vanya. The pair meet in a Moscow cafe, about 20 years after the events of the earlier plays. It's obvious from the start that they are both not over those events, and that she copes with her loneliness with drink and he copes with his (and other problems) by deluding himself and those around him.
Nothing much happens, but it's full of typical Friel dialogue, and has a resolution of sorts, and overall it works pretty well. Well acted too.
The 2nd play I saw, The Yalta Game, I preferred by some margin. Also very well acted - this one is also a 2 hander, with Risteard Cooper and his female companion, both very convincing and engaging.
The play is based on an episode in a Chekov short story, thereby completing the evening's Friel tribute to his Russian hero, and has even better dialogue than the earlier play. Cooper's character is holidaying alone in Yalta, and has his eye out for romantic distraction. Well, he soon finds it, and the play concerns their dialogue with each other and with themselves. I've never seen such overlapping between solilaquay and 2-way dialogue work so well, and there are some very funny lines. I won't spoil the ending, but suffice to say the short flirtatious affair turns into something more serious, allowing Friel to introduce theme's such as obsession and over-imagination. Oh and there's a dog too. Probably.
Worth seeing, at the very least just to see Risteard Cooper, who one would have thought would have only been good as a comic actor (his most famous role is as a TV mimic), but this is the 3rd time I've seen him in a straight acting role, and bloody good he is at it..

Friday, September 4, 2009

Wilco - review of the 2 Dublin shows, August 2009

So, another two stunning nights from the band that keeps getting better!

Having always loved music but being unable to purge a constant nagging feeling that all the best music was really made long before I was born, Wilco perennially manage to put this feeling on hold.

They really are our generation's Beatles. With a splash of Dylan. And Neil. The Band, etc. Even Radiohead. However, there are plenty of other decent (and not so decent) bands around who hark back to those sort of roots; but what Wilco bring to the table is something much more original, adding their own contemporary twist to forms of music that have never really been bettered.

Anyway, to the music. Touring on the back of their 8th disc, 'Wilco (the album)' a decent follow up to what I think was their career best ('Sky Blue Sky'), this time they have achieved even better results than usual in the live incarnations of the new songs. Only out a few months, the new songs have evolved naturally into really fine arrangements, and all fit in well alongside older material. Songs like One Wing, You Never Know, I'll Fight, Sonny Feeling were all excellent, and not surprisingly went down very well with the Dublin crowd - a town Wilco play so much, these almost feel like being at hometown gigs.

The Sky Blue Sky songs continue to impress, from the by now show stopping 'Impossible Germany' to gorgeous quieter country-ish numbers like You Are My Face.
I think all 8 albums got a look-in over the 2 nights, with I think about 15 different songs the 2nd night, and some real rarities, such as John's turn on lead vocals ('It's Just that Simple') to 'Magazine Called Sunset' and older ones like 'Passenger Side'.

As has been well covered in the media, this is the most stable Wilco lineup to date, and each musician brings something to the table, with the music wonderfully layered, yet never sounding convoluted. From amazing vocals, guitars, drums , to swirls of 60s sounding keyboards, combining everything from exquisite country to experimental rock blow outs; plus the two Krautrock-esque regulars ('Bull Black Nova' and 'Spiders'), there's never a dull moment seeing such a genre-bending band. And most importantly, I really don't think there's ever been a band who know how to 'build' a live version of a song better than Wilco, using dynamics that always feel natural, yet avoiding some of the (slight) self indulgence of the 'Yankee' and 'Ghost' tours. The longest song (excepting 'Spiders') is about 6 minutes, and both Dublin setlists just work perfectly, playing a good smattering from the new album, some rarities, plus all our favourites really. And Jeff was in very good form, funny and engaging, actually the whole band looked to be having a great time, not to mention the audience.

I know I write a lot of positive reviews, but this time, believe me! Two great shows! Both now available for download on

Finally, a positive mention also for support band, Blitzen Trapper, who are well worth checking out.


Recommending 'Present Laughter' in the Gate Theatre

Another cracking light summer play from The Gate, extremely well produced as we've come to expect.
Most of the acting was pretty good, notwithstanding the occasional accent lapse or descent into hamminess, and the set and costumes absolutely top notch, but the main reason for recommending it is the stunning performance by Stephen Brennan, in the lead role.
I don't think I've ever seen him in anything other than comedies, so have no idea of his range, but seeing him last week just confirmed that I wasn't imagining how good he was in Private Lives some years back.
Present Laughter is probably my favourite Noel Coward play (of the 3 or 4 I've seen), and Gary Essendine is no easy role. A massive amount of dialogue and I don't think the character is ever off the stage, but Brennan handles it with the ease of a really great comic actor.
Anyway, the run is nearly over, so if you're in Dublin, don't dither, go to it..

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Short review of 'Alls Well that Ends Well' National Theatre, London July 2009

He really should have called this one 'Much Ado About Nothing', not 'All's Well that Ends Well' (which also kind of gives away the ending..!)
Not one of the Bard's best perhaps, bit of a flimsy plot, and no-one I've spoken to has any idea why the heroine would be interested in that chap, with events all seeming a bit contrived.
But, I hadn't been to a Shakespeare play in quite a while, so it was nice to hear the language again, and the main auditorium in The National is a superb venue.
And, there was at least one top notch performance, as the fellow who played the King was really good, huge big beard (naturally) and a powerful vocal delivery. Just like you'd expect a Shakespearian King to be.
The rest of the cast were a bit ho-hum though. As were the costumes. It was supposed to be a period costume production, but some of the cast were wearing watches and in one scene the females all wore American 1950s style dresses! And at times they were hard to hear.
So, a bit patchy, but mildly enjoyable nonetheless.
I should point out that the set design was quite good, so at least I'm finishing on a positive note!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Leonard Cohen Review Dublin 20 July 09

So, my 3rd Leonard show, my 1st on this tour, and the 2nd of 4 nights he is playing in the o2, of which I'm also going to Wednesday's show.
All of which irrelevance adds up to another sublime 3 hours in the company of a still charismatic but ever so slighty slightly frailer Leonard , and added (I think) four songs to my tally that I didn't see him do last year; The Partisan, Waiting for a Miracle, Sisters of Mercy and Famous Blue Raincoat.
And damm good they were too. Everything was good actually. As is well known, Leonard doesn't change his setlists too much, so the best approach is just to absorb the best presentation of lyrics/poetry set to song you're ever likely to hear.
It was so good to hear The Partisan and Famous Blue Raincoat. I was struck listening to the French verses in The Partisan how much of a European sensibility there is to Leonard's music, especially with this extraordinary band, who are even tighter and more empathetic than last year to my ears. The girls (who seemed to be battling colds) were excellent, with the cartwheels particularly appreciated!
Rumour has it Leonard is also battling a cold, and his voice did sound somewhat hoarse, and maybe he was protecting it a bit by not overdoing the big notes, but no complaints - he was as expressive as ever, despite this.
The venue is great, this was my first ever seated show in the new Point, and boy have they got the sound perfect. Just perfect.
Overall then, just as good as last year, perhaps the atmosphere at that final wet night outdoors in Kilmainham (Dublin) last year just topped it, but a night to be savoured just the same.
Wednesday can't come soon enough..

Monday, July 20, 2009
Bob Dylan Performs 'Things Have Changed' At The 2009 AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute To Michael Douglas

Monday, July 13, 2009

Review of 2nd night Bruce, RDS Dublin 2009

A completely different show tonight. Not just the weather, which was mainly dry unlike the previous night, but a different feel, not to mention a very different setlist (of tonight's 29 songs 14 were not played the night before!). There was a bit less chat from Bruce tonight, although he was no less animated, in a set chock full of classics from the 1st 4 albums, plus a generous smattering from the new album, 2 covers and (I think) 3 Bruce penned songs that were never on studio albums (Trapped, Seeds and American Skin).

The sound was not 100% (vocals a little low), but it improved as the night wore on. Probably a slightly less Greatest Hits oriented set, the crowd still loved it, as band and artist played near definitive versions of some of the man's very best songs, and some of my favourites; No Surrender, Promised Land, Spirit in the Night, Prove it All Night, Jungleland, Trapped, Rosalita; all bloody amazing. Of the lighter songs - Sherry Darling (a request) was very enjoyable, and croud pleasers like Proud Mary and Glory Days were also well received.

Springsteen may not be my favourite artist, but I don't think anyone comes close to him, live, really. An E-Street band show is one of the best communal experiences going - people like it for all sorts of reasons, ok it's very crowd pleasing and a bit hammy at times, but musically this big sounding band has arguably never sounded better, and twice this weekend in Dublin, we could all forget about our troubles for 3 hours, which can't be a bad thing.
Finally, a quick nod to the camerawork, which was very well done, and added a lot to the show.
Lets hope we see Bruce back here again in the not too distant future.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Review of 1st night Bruce RDS Dublin 2009

After standing in the rain for 3 hours, feeling, if not bedraggled, well certainly far from draggled, and with not much more to think about than what the opening song might be, it was all worth it when he opened with the oh so appropriate, Who'll Stop the Rain!
Who, indeed..
Anyway, the constant rain didn't deter band or audience from having a great show. Another huge performance as we've come to expect from the ageing Boss these days here in the RDS.
After the surprise opener, they launched into Badlands with some gusto. At first I thought the sound was not great, but I realised wearing a hood was affecting it, so I took it down. Better a wet head than a muffled E-Street!
Having only been keeping a vague eye on matters Bruce in the last year, it was nice to note the few changes in the show, such as the addition of two of the Seeger band backing vocalists, the gimmicky but nice song request sign collecting thing, and we also got some family related guest appearances later on, vis a vis Christopher Clemons on sax, and a youthful looking Bruce child, Evan Springsteen, on guitar.
But, the big change, of course, are the new songs from Working on a Dream. And actually, he played nothing at all I think, from the previous album, Magic.
Of the new ones, I was so pleased he played my favourite one, Kingdom of Days, and the title track is a very catchy Boss single which went down well with the Dublin crowd. I don't seem to like Outlaw Pete as much as some, but I must concede, it works very well live. My Lucky Day was also well performed.
The show seems to have a 'recession theme' both in some of Bruces's chat, and also in selections such as The Ghost of Tom Joad, Seeds, Johnny 99, Hard Times, The River etc..
I don't have any complaints about the show really, maybe one or two of the rock'n'roll numbers here and there flagged a tiny bit, but a really good show overall.
Other personal stand outs for me were the requested For You, given a great Bruce vocal on top of a fine band arrangement, and the gorgeous Hard Times, a song that's been done by almost everyone, it seems, since it was written in the 19th Century. But few have done it as well as this.
Roll on Sunday, which can only be as good, or better. And probably drier..

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

couple of recent issues/events.. Jackson, Glastonbury, new play..

Ok, I haven't had much to write about lately, so here's a few thoughts on some recent things cultural..

1. Michael Jackson. It's supposed to be inappropriate to speak ill of the dead, but what the hell, he must be dead a week by now, so here goes.. I just can't understand the international outpouring of extreme grief. I'm sorry for his fans and family of course, but what are we really grieving for? An insanse, bewildered and no doubt, miserable, former artist. I say former, because when his last piece of work? And after you've answered that question, when was his last decent piece of work?
And is his body of work not very small anyway? 3 or 4 decent albums, and a bunch of fine pop singles with the Jacksons. Admittedly, he was very talented, an original singer, a very good dancer (although in 200 years, I reckon Fred Astaire will be the 20th century dancer people still talk about), and he made a strong contribution to the cross over appeal of black artists.
BUT what on earth are all these lunatics talking about who say he was the FIRST to do this?
I mean, are you telling me the following amazing and groundbreaking black artists had NO white fans? Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis?!!
Finally, a lot of his work had a lot of strong involvement from 3rd parties, be they songwriters or producers such as Quincy Jones.
I am not putting him down completely, he was very talented and he meant a lot to people, but can we have some perspective?
.. and I didn't even get in to his crazy, irresponsible and out of control private life..

2. Glastonbury. Jeez, I should have gone to this one. A line up to dream about - Bruce, Neil, Madness, Quo, Blur, Specials.. All of whom seemed great in the, as ever, top drawer BBC coverage. I'm a little sorry I skipped Neil's Dublin show, although the one to see it turns out now, was his London show, with that very special duet on Day in the Life with McCartney.
These big shows / festivals are very enjoyable these days, as they seem better organised than in the past (notable exception : Slane), so I may go to Glastonbury again someday (was there in 1998), and Electric Picnic, which despite it being a little too dance-orientated for my tastes, I enjoyed last year, plus someday I'd LOVE to go to Bonarroo. Of course, there are many very good smaller and cheaper festivals running in cities all over the world - one example being the Dun Laoghaire Festival of World Cultures in Dun Laoghaire Dublin, which launches it's 2009 (29-31 Aug) programme tommorow, here

3. The Last Days of a Reluctant Tyrant.
A new play by Tom Murphy in the Abbey Theatre. Based on an old Russian novel (and don't let that put you off), I found this a fascinating play, all about family, property, power, being poor, being rich, being poor again.. I suggest you go see it not knowing too much about it, but suffice to say the acting is very good, ESPECIALLY in a jaw dropping performance from Marie Mullen. Get a seat in the front section, and watch a powerhouse performance from this little old (apols - middle aged!) woman. My God, she must be exhausted after this every night..
Highly recommended.

Next up;
2 x Bruce
2 x Leonard
2 x Wilco.
.. plus the Noel Coward play in the Gate.

Now, all we need is a decent film to come out sometime..

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

post tour hello

Just a quick post to say thanks and hello to all the people who responded to my tour reviews. I can't seem to work out how to reply individually!
Especially to Angela, Roderick from California and Jay from Duluth, apologies. If I don't have your email, you can email me directly on

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Review of 2nd Dublin show.

So, 6th May arrives and the end of the road dawns for this eventful Dylan tour.
I was at the opening night in the tiny Stockholm Salon Berns club, and here we are, 32 or so shows later (Bob, that is, not me - I wasn't at the whole tour needless to say!) in the massive new 02 Arena (Point), for the 2nd of 2 nights.
As widely discussed, the 1st night was extremely strong, everyone I spoke to thought it had been an exciting, adventurous and appreciated performance, with one obvious highlight when Bob finally debuted a song from the new album.
Sadly, the Irish Times had another opinion, Tony Clayton Lea, in a mean spirited review seeming to be mainly disappointed that Bob wasn’t very chatty. If you want to hear Bob be chatty, I suggest you go download one of his radio shows (for free). If you want two hours of ambitious albeit uneven, and passionate, music, communicated via some very hard work from Dylan to a young enthusiastc Irish crowd, well you could always pay 49 euros (plus booking fee), and come down to the Point either of those two May evenings. Or you could choose not to.

Anyway, on to the music. I was also at the 8 UK shows, and both the Dublin’s easily rivalled Glasgow for best show I saw. Other contenders being Birmingham and Sheffield.
3 standout moments - ‘Billy’ in Stockholm, ‘Something’ in Liverpool and 'If You Ever go to Houston’ in Dublin. Meaning I missed ‘One More Cup of Coffee’, but you can’t have everything!

Dublin 2 opened with a strong hat-trick of Wicked Messenger, Girl North Country and the much admired new Man in the Long Black Coat. Following it with Stuck Inside of Mobile could be construed as a bit of an own goal, but it was well performed, and was followed by a superb set of 4 very heavy hitters – Blind Willie McTell, Desolation Row, It’s Alright Ma and Po’Boy.
Simply put, these were as good vocally as you will hear from Dylan. They were sung quite straight, with less eccentric phrasing than the previous night. Dylan was also slightly less animated than the previous night. He was very much concentrating on his musical performance, giving it one last shot I supppose, before leaving Europe. I was front row, and could see between songs how weary he looked, which is not surprising after such a long tour. 10 years ago, he was doing 20-25 show tours. Now at the age of almost 68 he has upped the stakes to 30-35 shows!

In conclusion I may have seen better shows in the past, but I’ll be surprised if I see better in the future, and if we never seen him again over here, well he sure went out on a high.
Closing highlights were another strong Rolling Stone, another delightful run through the new song (this time with harmonica solo), and the tour wrapped up with his current closer Blowin in the Wind, Bob then taking another long bow at the front, peering out, tired but appreciatively, into the cavernous arena.

Finally, a quick point-out to the band, who despite some criticism from fans and (it seems) Bob, were superb tonight. Watch out especially for Tony on bass on the new song when you download the show – some nice and unusually extrovert playing from the bandleader.

If Bob continues 2009 in this form, and the other new songs are as successful as ‘Houston’, it will be a good year indeed..
See everyone again soon I hope.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

brief 1st Dublin show comments

Just a few comments on Dublin, post gig, and post pub, so somewhat weary..

- Extremely young and enthusiastic audience, or so it seemed where I was
- 1st 4 songs astonishingly good, Bob very animated, feeding off the crowd, strong strong vocals
- Next section lulled somewhat, Bob losing it ever so slightly, some more eccentric than usual vocals
- Main set, nothing too exciting in terms of song choices, perhaps other than Red Sky
- Any fears of the gig going down hill in audience terms were waived though by a very strong closing Thunder and Rolling Stone
- and, of course, the encores included the long awaited new song debut, with Bob opting for If you Ever go to Houston. Spectacular performance, way better than the album, excellent vocals, Bob leaning into every line like he'd been waiting for weeks (31 shows?) to play the damm thing!

.. oh and yes, the organ (almost) perfectly replaces the accordian!

I wonder what tomorrow will bring?


the Scottish shows

So, Bob wraps up his UK tour with a fine brace of Scottish concerts!

I mean, when was the last time he played a bad show in Glasgow? Amazing audiences in this city. Bob really appreciated it too, standing out front for ages at the end, and touching his heart in a gesture of gratitude. Jeez he even looked like he might have meant it!
Some people like a nice quiet audience, but I reckon gigs are a two way street, and for atmosphere, Bob’s best audiences are arguably Glasgow and Italy, plus possibly Ireland.
Anyway, the SECC was also the best and most consistent show I’ve seen on this tour. Extraordinary vocal performance on many of the songs, certainly as good as those battered vocal chords will currently allow.
He opened with this newly countrified and rocked up Maggies Farm and followed with a perfect Don’t Think Twice. The harmonica is having a good tour, and I suggest you check out this performance for a fine example.
Next we got the great current arrangement of Till I fell in Love with You, a good example of this bands strengths, despite Bob’s current habit of keeping the guitar players tightly reined in.
Other highlights of this fine concert were a contender for my favourite ever vocal on Workingman’s Blues and a gorgeous Every Grain of Sand.

On then to the prettiest city on the tour, and despite rumours that Edinburgh audiences are too posh to cheer (?!) there was a great atmosphere in the beautiful Playhouse theatre for what I thought was a fine show. Some others thought it a bit dull.
Again, a good night vocally with Tangled and Trying to get to Heaven early set highlights.
But, the real meat of this show for me, was the fact that he played FOUR songs on guitar. This really gives everything a lift, it was just like old times with Bob out front, quite a bit more animated than usual, and playing some ragged but solid leads on this nice new guitar he has (a Gibson?).
The best of these songs was I Don’t Believe You, a song that is usually a bit of a snoozefest for me. And, of course, to get Just Like a Woman on guitar as 2nd encore instead of the relentlessly overplayed Spirit on the Water was a big bonus. Other well performed songs were Po’ Boy, Rolling Stone and a seemingly slower than normal (?) Blowin in the Wind.
Admittedly there was no ‘rare’ song in ‘slot 12’ as hoped for, and I don’t really find the song he played in this slot, Ain’t Talkin, too exciting any more, but hey, a good show overall, and fingers crossed for two good nights in Dublin to wrap up this long and eventful European jaunt..

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Liverpool Review and other recent tour thoughts..

Well, as a friend of mine said about the Liverpool show last night, it was the show that had everything!

-Bob was in furious mood most of the night, glaring and fuming at guitar player Stu, who at one point stopped playing, put his hands in his pockets and did a bit of his own fuming
- Chaotic security, obviously unprepared for the usual stage rush by audience en-masse when the lights go down at seated Dylan arena shows. It took them almost half the show to get everyone back to their seats
- Exuberant, young, drunken, but good natured audience
- Bob 'attacked' by a well meaning stage invader during the last song, Tony Garnier putting his life 'on the line' to keep his meal ticket (sorry, I mean, his boss!) safe, although it really took sound guy Jools to semi-rugby tackle our new friend off the stage, and Bob carried on relatively unflustered..

- Also, it was the normal 2009 solid show. Some decent song performances, some snoozing opportunities

- BUT, of course, the only thing REALLY worth talking about, is Bob's oh-so-appropriate cover of The Beatles' George Harrison penned, 'Something', right in the Fabs' hometown of Liverpool. Who'd have thought he'd do this?!
As a Beatles fanatic (fresh off the 'Magical Mystery Bus Tour' the day before!), it was a very emotional moment. Not something I'd admit to normally, but hey, I'm among friends.
He seemed to give it a lovely vocal rendition, similar to his only other rendition of it, in 2002, when he dedicated it to his 'buddy' George, around the occasion of George's 1st anniversary.
A nice band arrangement including a thoughtful rendition of the song's famous guitar solo by Denny Freeman.

Otherwise, I don't have too much to report from the tour. I was planning to review Roundhouse, Cardiff and Birmingham, but I just didn't have much to say about them. Solid shows all, enough has been written about the Roundhouse and it's (to say the least) anti-climactic setlist, while Cardiff was good, and Birmingham perhaps the best overall show I've seen. That, or Sheffield.

The main talking points of the tour seem to be;
- Roundhouse setlist
- the new album
- Bob's problems with his guitar player(s)
- the rare songs he has played

I've mentioned all these points in this blog at one point or another, but I just wish he'd sort things out with the band, and stop stropping around in an apparent hissy fit every 3rd show or so. It's entertaining in it's way, but not really what the audience is paying for, and surely it's very unfair to his hired hands, who SEEM to be trying to play what he wants them to play, or more importantly what he wants them NOT to play. Sack 'em, or, sort it out in rehearsal, would be my humble suggestion!

But, this is a positive review. Liverpool was unforgettable. Let's see what Scotland and Ireland will bring forth..


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Review of Dylan Sheffield and 1st London

So, this uneven but relatively interesting tour winds it's way to the UK, and kicks off with a surprisingly high standard show in the less than inspiring venue that is the Sheffield Arena.
1st 3 songs were a bit of a snoozefest, but, from Boots of Spanish Leather through It's Alright Ma was as good a run as I can remember.
A simply gorgeous Boots; Bob out front on guitar, with the stage backdrop bathed in some sort of bizarre lighting. Great vocal too. Levee was as hot as ever. Sugar Baby, one of the best songs from it's album, given a nice rendition.
Tweedle was great (wow, did I really just say that?!) - Bob out front, sans guitar, cowering and diving like an old bluesman with a hand held harp, doing this thing where he sings and blasts the harp almost in the same breath. Quite innovative really, similar to Lovesick earlier in the tour.
Po' Boy though, was the song of the night. This complicated song (melodically anyway) has been given a fine subtle new arrangement, and Bob nailed the lyrics.
It's Alright Ma has gained from a new punched up riff, but after this, the show became more predictable.
A good opening UK night though.

On to London, and the o2. A lot of people hate the venue, and it is ENORMOUS. But, I kinda like it. A very iconic structure, all out on it's own down there in north Greenwich. And post-gig, I'm happy the Underground was off, as travelling by boat down the Thames (as many did) sure was a novel way to attend a Dylan show.
Anyway, gig wise, possibly a shade under Sheffield in overall quality, and nothing extraordinary setlist wise, but again at least 4 or 5 songs that were worth the trip hands down.
Chimes of Freedom is not always sung well, great song or no, but tonight was the best I've seen, since the songs re-introduction. ie it was nearly as good as those great 2000/2001 versions.
I won't dwell on the songs that bore me as it is possibly my own fault for seeing too many shows, but stuff like Hattie Carroll, Things have Changed, Rollin Tumblin, Highway, Mobile.. you get the picture. Anyway, there were only a few nap opportunites tonight.
Other highlights were a slower quieter (almost acoustic) Hollis Brown, an amazingly well nailed vocal in Workingmans Blues, and tonights great visual moment - Bob out front on his own for Till I Fell in Love with You. I haven't seen him strike so many poses since 1995! He's still no Mick Jagger needless to say, but good to see him come out from his batcave in behind that keyboard, have some fun, and actually interact with the audience. Well, almost!
Oh, and the sound was perfect tonight. Incredibly well mixed, Bob's voice booming out on top of the band. Sheffield had been good too, albeit marginally too loud.

Band wise, they are ok. Doing well on the new arrangements, and Stu Cimpball is slightly more to the fore than in the past. Even gets to play a 'classic rock' style solo in Watchtower, which I suppose makes a change from Denny Freeman's more rootsy endeavors. Don't get me wrong though, I am a big Denny fan, but why on earth has Bob stopped him playing his amazing solos in Spirit on Water and Deal Goes Down?!! Surely, it could'nt be because he used to get spontaneous rounds of applause from the audience?!
Anyway, onwards and upwards.. Roundhouse tonight..

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Review of the new Bob Dylan album 'Together Through Life', April 2009

Here is a quick review of ‘Together Through Life’. Hot off the press, just one listen, and even that was in the car! But, it sounds great in a car. It’s a fun record.

Sound wise, it is not far off the last 3 albums, but sweetened by the predominant accordion of David Hidalgo. As other reviews have said, it is a Tex-Mex bordertown sounding album. Bob’s voice is good. Dog-rough, but good. Doesn’t seem to be any harmonica. Lyrically, not sure yet.

My first general impression songwise is that it is not quite up to the (accepted) high standard of Time out of Mind nor even to the (less accepted!) high standard of Modern Times. I love these two albums. Together Through Life for me is I think going to be closer to Love & Theft, which I thought of as an interesting exercise in genres, with one outstanding song (Mississippi).
And this album, too, has one outstanding song in ‘I Feel a Change Coming On’.

So I’ll start with that one – what a song! There’s very little I don’t like about this song. It is upbeat, optimistic, lyrically possibly a reflection on how good life and love can be, despite ageing. It’s the best band performance on the album, and probably the best vocal too. Also in an album short of guitar solos, this song has a lovely one, presumably played by Mike Campbell.
If all this album has given us is this song as an addition to the canon, then it’s definitely worth your 20 euros. A song that I think is one of his best latter day major songs, to file with Workingmans Blues, Nettie Moore, Missisippi, Not Dark Yet, Trying to get to Heaven and Standing in the Doorway.

Beyond Here Lies Nothing is an excellent album opener. Kind of rock-y and swinging but also swampy and murky if that makes any sense – it’s the only song on the album that in any way reminds me of ‘Oh Mercy’.

The much touted Life is Hard doesn’t live up to expectations. It is quite European sounding, but has he ever written a slower song. It’s almost moving backwards! Jury out on this one.

My Wife’s Hometown is my vote for worst song on the album. A mediocre re-write of a Willie Dixon song (duly credited, to be fair), presumably I Just Want to Make Love to You? Waste of time. He’ll probably play the bloody thing to death in concert too.

If You Ever go to Houston – nice song. The way he uses the accordion on songs like this reminds me a bit of the way people like Bruce Springsteen, John Prine, even latter day The Band, have used this instrument. I thought I wouldn’t like such a reliance on accordion, which is an instrument I am ambivalent about, but it seems to work I must say..

I won’t review every song, but two that I love (and suspect other people will not!) are Shake Shake Mama and Jolene. These are in the field of recent Dylan songs that veer between rockabilly and a kind of jump blues (not straight blues), which I love, and are great great dance numbers. His recent day musicians seem to have really got good empathy with each other in making these numbers swing. So, in other words, these two songs are this albums Summer Days/Thunder on Mountain/Someday Baby/Levees Gonna Break..

There are a few mid paced typical brooding gloomy type songs on the album that I quite like, such as Forgetful Heart. Not much else to say about them at the moment.

And, finally, I hate to finish on a negative note, but another of my least favourites is the closing track ‘It’s All Good’. Sadly, the title is somewhat inaccurate. This sounds like an Under the Red Sky outtake. Hopefully my opinion of it will improve.

Overall, though, I’m happy. 8 out of 10. Lousy album title though!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

New Bob Dylan song free download

Well, if Beyond Here Lies Nothing is representative of the album, I'll be a happy camper. A great swinging rock number. Bluesy, but the accordian gives it a lovely melodic feel. Gorgeous guitar work - dunno who it is, but it sounds like Denny Freeman, despite the rumours he isn't on the album. Maybe it's Mike Campbell.
Terrific vocal too. I've literally just had one listen, so haven't considered the lyrics. For me, the music is more important anyway..

It's on as a free download. But, hurry - it's for 24 hours only.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Dylan ignores new stuff and debuts 36 year old chestnut in Stockholm..

So, lots of pre-tour talk about whether he would play stuff from recent outtakes set 'Tell tale Signs' or even debut some songs from his new studio album (due in 3 weeks). But, no, ever perverse, he decides to debut an old chestnut from 1973 instead - 'Billy' from the Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid soundtrack.
.. which was great! Quite similar in arrangement to Romance in Durango from 03! 6 mins long - LOTS of verses, and easily the best vocal of the evening. Possibly some new lyrics - lots of references to cantinas and senoritas and whatnot.
Otherwise, not a bad show, especially considering it must be at least 4 months since he has performed. The sound was so-so, the bass was way too loud, and the drums a bit too high as well. But, at least Bob's vocals were high in the mix.
Absolutely gorgeous venue though, 130 yrs old, extremely ornate - and lots of associations with old Swedish writers apparently.

Spent the earlier part of the day walking around the old town, and in the excellent National Art Museum. Stockholm is a beautiful city. Later that night it was like a winter wonderland, with 3 or 4 inches of snow having fallen during the show.

Back to the show.. No band changes, other than Denny/Stu/Tony bizarelly positioned all facing Bob in a line!
Other highlights included Trying get to Heaven, I Believe in You and an incredible new 'walkin blues' type arrangement of Cry Awhile.
Contrary to some reports it was Riverflow where he played guitar, not Things have Changed. He also came out and sang without any instrument at the front of the stage for the first half of Honest with Me and the 2nd half of Cry Awhile.. There was harmonica on about 8 songs, and of a very high standard, on several occasions out front with hand held harmonica mike.
Otherwise, it was a standard show, lots of predictable songs were played as well as that rare one, and things were spoiled a little bit by the poor sound - jeez I even think Tony's bass sounded out of tune to some extent to my ears..
Bob's voice was pretty good, he seemed in good humour, although he looked alarmingly uncomfortable when singing or playing guitar at the front of the stage!

But, a good show, with one extraordinary highlight and an enjoyable, albeit short, trip.. Glad I went.. Roll on UK/Ireland..

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Revew of 'Cadillac Records' film

Another strong music biopic about American music, at least the equal of I Walk the Line and Ray. If you have ANY interest in American music, especially black music of the 50s, I guarantee you will enjoy this film.
It differs from those other biopics in that this one is about a label, the Chess label, so we get nice little snapshots of the stories of all the major artists therein, framed around the central story of the well meaning Polish immigrant label founder, Leonard Chess.
It tells the story well, never straying too far from the conventions of this type of film, but what really raises it up, is the feel for the period and the sheer majesty of the music.
Whatever your thougths about modern day black music (for me it's somewhat disappointing, rap and hip hop not being my bag, and the good old fashioned singers like Alicia Keyes seemingly lost in mediocre material) - surely no one can deny how good this stuff was, and how historic.
Each of these amazing artists of the period seemed to bring a new musical revolution to that studio on Michigan Avenue, be it Muddy Waters' electrified version of the country blues of his childhood, aligned with the urban harmonica of his less than stable friend, Little Walter. Or the almost non human sounds from the throat of Mr Howlin Wolf. Those guys really did create the blues as we now know them.
Even more creative, was the extraordinary country/r'n'b hybrid of Chuck Berry, which tied in with his clever lyrics and stage act, really was the start of rock'n'roll.
Finally, the incredible voice and life of Etta James, more than adequately played here by Beyonce Knowles, could arguably be the stuff of it's own full biopic.
The other actors are all good too - especially the actors playing Muddy Water's wife, and Little Walter. Adrian Brody is his usual quietly impressive self as Leonard Chess.
The film's key device is an unobtrusive narration by the actor playing Willie Dixon, who was one of the main songwriters at Chess. Both his songs and the narration are more than enough to tell us the social history behind the story of Chess and the music.
But, bottom line, the music (played by current day blues guys and sung mostly I believe, by the actors) drives the story, and is why you'll enjoy this film, preferably on some enormous screen where you can appreciate this slice of 20th century history blazing out of a good surround sound system!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Film Review - The Wrestler

I've seen a lot of films since Christmas (it's 18 Jan 09 now), a lot of them were very good and are getting a lot of coverage. For example The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire. Anyway, I might review them later.
But for now, I want to dwell on The Wrestler, which I saw a few days ago. My expectations were so-so, indeed I only went to it as Slumdog Millionaire was sold out, and given a choice between The Wrestler and Bride Wars, well you work it out..
But, it seems all the good notices for Mickey Rourke were valid. If anything, they've understated how bloody good he is. He is so believable, and the whole film is very believable.
It's also extremely visceral, partly due to the hand held camera style but also due to the extremity of the wrestling scenes. I dislike wrestling even more than I dislike boxing, but you have to respect the commitment of these guys (I suspect the other wrestlers were real, and not actors) and how much they put their bodies on the line. Actually, that's one of the themes of the film really, how everything Rourke does in his life is either damaging his body or his psyche, and all his attemtps at doing the right thing (be it trying to reunite with his daughter or retire from wrestling) seem doomed to failure. And of course, as we know, it's all paralleled neatly with the actor's own life.
So, be warned, this is no feel good movie, it's actually very sad and depressing. The only cheerful things, are the few flashes of humour and the glorious if somewhat cheesy 80s hard rock soundtrack. Plus that great new Springsteen song.
Only for very occasionally veering towards some of the cliches of this genre, I would have given it 9/10, so I'll give it an 8.