Alcatraz Club, Milan 2011 (Crystal Cat CC 981/982)
Alcatraz Club, Milan 2011 (Crystal Cat CC 981/982)
Disc 1 : Intro / Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat / When I Paint My Masterpiece / ‘Til I Fell In Love With You / I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met) / Summer Days / Spirit On The Water / Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum / Can’t Wait / The Levee’s Gonna Break / Visions Of Johanna / Highway 61 Revisited / Forgetful Heart. ( 74:28 )
Disc 2 : Thunder On The Mountain / Ballad Of A Thin Man / Like A Rolling Stone / All Along The Watchtower / Blowin’ In The Wind – Bonus Tracks : Zirkusplatz, Summer Sound, Sursee, Switzerland; June 24, 2011 – Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right / To Ramona / Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ / Make You Feel My Love / Jolene / Ballad Of Hollis Brown / A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall – Marquee, Cork, Ireland; June 16, 2011 : I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine – London Feis, Finsbury Park, London, England; June 18, 2011 : Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking. ( 79:28 )
As of late Bob Dylan seems to have lost a little of his spark with some of the Bobcat fraternity – Some complain that his scratchy & wan voice has turned to worn & broken, some times the setlist throws no surprises. As always though it takes one show to turn heads, to repeal the vitrol & have people shrug & say “So, maybe we were wrong”. There are the faithful few that still believe that there are more shows than the few that still shine. Milan is a show that most seem to agree reignighted the man, brought him back to form again & showed the best in him.
This is what Barnaby Nelson wrote of the Milan set at boblinks.com: “Dylan is clearly fit and in strong voice. He jogged to the keyboard Leonard Cohen style (didn’t think I’d ever write that). Apart from the song selection the thing that blew me away was how theatrically he was performing. For many of the songs he would prowl around the stage (front right, front left, centre, all the way back again) with hand held mic ‘acting out’ the drama of the lyrics with heaps of theatrical hand and body movements and facial expressions. Yes, there’s a bit of Al Jolson about it, a bit of ‘50s crooner, but more than a heavy dose of mad preacherman having a rant. Brilliant stuff. The closest thing I’ve ever seen to this is the footage of the Prague ’95 shows. It was most evident during Can’t Wait, Forgetful Heart, and Thin Man. Can’t Wait featured a final line of about four “I don’t know-s” in a row before the final refrain. He was really interacting fully with the audience, who were giving him plenty of energy back.”
The only trouble with Bob’s theatricality is that, for the best part, it’s visual. Thankfully, by virtue of voice, Dylan can still bring life to his music with the way he sings things.
Crystal Cat have used a splendid audience recording for the show – complete & close to the stage. It sounds bright but not in an uncomfortable way – These is enough space for the music to compete with the vocals. The set list isn’t a bad one either, enough change for damage limitation but enough songs that you’d pretty much require in a Dylan set nowadays ( This is conjecture obviously, don’t go writing in .. ) The club show gives an intimate feel to both the sound & the band who seem to relish playing to an audience of around 2000 people.
The show begins with the long introduction ( Which almost sounds rushed & muttered – I wasn’t aware that it was live! ) & then we’re treated to a playful “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”, where Dylan sounds a little more teasing than waspish. This is followed by a gentle “When I Paint My Masterpiece” – The opening line producing a flurry of excitement but wether this is because of the fact this is a lesser played song or because of the Italian reference then I’m not sure.
“I Don’t Believe You ( She Acts Like We Never Have Met)” give Dylan a little more room to throw around his vocals as he draws out his ‘ets’ at the end of the choruses. A short personal appearance by Bob’s harp in the middle is one of the best I’ve heard in a while.
A raft of Dylan’s latter day tracks enter the fold beginning with “Summer Days” thru “Spirit On The Water”, “Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum” & then “Can’t Wait” – The latter being the best of the quartet as Dylan goes all out with his rendition, grabbing at the heart strings & stoking the lyrics until they’re ember hot.
The audience are clearly heard to be astonished at how Dylan can fulfill this modern day piece so well & it’s testament to the performer in him that he can still ball up enough energy within & let loose when he feels free.
“Visions of Johanna” is another blast from the past that the audience lap up – Rather than the noir scene that the liner review suggests it is a lighter, more care free version of the track that we’re presented with. Unfortunately Bob seems to fluff a few lines by drawling them out when it seems he forgets the words. That said, the production makes the words that can be heard as clear as they were way back in 1966 when the song was initially performed.
Disk one is rounded out by two specifically popular tracks from recent tours – “Highway 61 Revisited” & “Forgetful Heart”. The former gallops along tonight rather than storms. It’s almost like it’s waiting for something to happen but, once again, it suits the setting that it’s in. The latter is silken & fragile. It would be easy to believe that no one in the room dare breath if it wasn’t for the shouts that reacted to the lyrics or Dylan’s gossamer peaks at the harp.
The second disk picks up on the encores ( or there abouts ) to the set. A sharp, organ heavy ( and long! ) “Thunder On The Mountain” sets us up before we slip in to a dark version of “Ballad Of A Thin Man” completed by a heavy harp solo & some of Dylan’s most forthright vocalisation of the evening.
The show closes with a customary ‘big three’ – Tonight they happen to be “Like A Rolling Stone”, “All Along The Watchtower” & “Blowin’ In The Wind” – All three have the audience loved up & happy. There’s the obvious participation by the crowd but they’re only a ghost vocal to the main attraction while adding a valedictory feel to the last lap. “All Along The Watchtower” is spun on again with a lurching pace that preempts the rollocking miasma that is to follow before coming out the other side like a song born from the ashes. After a garbled & nonsensical introduction for the band the night ends on a gladdening version of “Blowin’ In The Wind ” A heartfelt farewell to the Alcatraz & it’s audience.
The bonus tracks, as always, run to plenty – various one offs & rarities from else where on the tour. Beginning with a jolly, shrugging “Don’t Think Twice .. “, one that belies it’s sentiment very well, via an unfortunate, waltzing “To Ramona” that does nothing for it’s legend, a wonderful take on “Jolene” & finishing on the Feis rendition of “Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking” ( First released on the Godfather’s “Feis 2011″ ) they err on the side of killer not filler but for a couple of blemishes ( Although only the final two tracks slip under the quality control barrier by a small margin. )
The packaging is the usual glossy Crystal Cat production. Choice photos of Dylan on stage & the venue itself ( Including the queue outside & the merchandise stall ) adorn the booklet along with an eye witness review by Wayne & Belinda Goelst.
At this moment in time I haven’t heard the other CC recordings from this tour but regardless, this is a fantastic set worth collecting & a very good representation of a small club show.