Bob Dylan, ‘First and Last in Europe 2022 – Box Volume 3’ (Crystal Cat CC 1147 -50)
Disk One – Intro / Watching The River Flow / Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine) / I Contain Multitudes / False Prophet / When I Paint My Masterpiece / Black Rider / My Own Version Of You / I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight / Crossing The Rubicon (51:27)
Disk Two – To Be Alone With You / Key West (Philosophers Pirate) / Gotta Serve Somebody / I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You / That Old Black Magic / Bob Dylan thanks / Mother Of Muses / Goodbye Jimmy Reed / band introduction / Every Grain Of Sand (52:12)
Disk Three – Intro / Watching The River Flow / Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine) / I Contain Multitudes / False Prophet / When I Paint My Masterpiece / Black Rider / My Own Version Of You / I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight / Crossing The Rubicon (54:34)
Disk Four – To Be Alone With You / Key West (Philosophers Pirate) / Gotta Serve Somebody / I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You / That Old Black Magic / Oh Shenandoah / Mother Of Muses / Goodbye Jimmy Reed / band introduction / Every Grain Of Sand (57:21)
Disks one and two – Spektrum, Oslo, 25th September, 2022 / Disks three and four – 3Arena, Dublin, Ireland, 7th November, 2022
In part among his ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’ world tour that’s planned in until an increasingly less fatalistic 2024 (As I write this review it’s the records 3rd anniversary), Bob Dylan is playing Spain tonight after cancelling a show due to extreme weather just a few days previous, his shows have featured a great mix of RARW tracks along with increasingly diverse cover versions plucked either from mention in his latest book, ‘The Philosophy Of Modern Song’ or just because, in a few days time, his latest art publish programme launches. This dude is doing anything other than hanging up his cowboy hat on the line to dry.
This Crystal Cat set features sets that were played 10 and 8 months ago, respectively – If we’re going to really pick it down, they were played 2 months apart and – As we all know – a week is a long time when Dylan plays. Never one for “Doing a McCartney” if such a phrase can be coined, maybe unfairly, but a man for whom setting in for the evening with a plan seems like a waste of a good few hours both for himself and you. Though mainly for him. We’re never sure if his concern is ever about what we think.
Firstly on to Oslo, playing at the Spektrum (Home of the Nobel Peace Prize concert, so while hopes may have been for smaller venues on this European trip, Bob is, at least, at home), the first of the leg has anything changed set list wise yet? No, not a great deal. Baring a couple of minor changes in styles, the only real diversion is that ‘That Old Black Magic’ a hanger on from a few years ago is back replacing one of the newer tracks from this side of the pandemic, ‘Melancholy Mood’. Dylan has taken to swanning back and forth between the electric guitar and the piano again, though mainly for the first song of the set, it’s at the front where we find him in Oslo for the first song, ‘Watching The River Flow’.
The tape starts off sounding slightly muffled – for around two seconds – before the sound suddenly opens out. This is the quality that we’ve come to expect from this producer and it sounds about as close to a soundboard as we’ll get these days. The rendition of the opener is .. mainly instrumental. For the first 2:23 it seems like we might get a purely musical rendition. A couple of ragged guitar lines, faults and flips but to give Dylan his dues, Keith Richards isn’t too hot on every chord he plays nowadays either. Dylan sounds good, words are perfect, no messing but it’s a brief stint as halfway through, Bob retreats behind the piano again. Then for ‘You Go Your Way’, he sounds better, more comfortable – His piano flourishes are cute, his phrasing impish as he throws lyrics out and about like a tennis ball in to the air. This continues through out the night – Check out the coda to ‘I Contain Multitudes’ where Dylan anticipates classical piano and almost draws a new melody out from nothing. ‘False Prophet’ sounds even more like Dylan is really taking things seriously / unseriously as his songinging gets louder, his fills are just toying with notes – The middle eight is a game of “lets-see-where-this-leads” while Dylan plucks out notes from who ever knows where.
‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’ is a multifaceted joy – Not just a Dylan vehicle – few hands make light work of this and between Bob Britt’s acoustic capabilities and Donnie Herron’s violin, mix in a bit of Dylan, it’s a homely, comfortable little play on this song. Dylan even manages a cheery little “thanks’ at the end. He also does this at the start of ‘My Own Version Of You’ by pretty much singing “Takk skal du ha” as the shuffling loops swoons in, almost as casually as he’d been saying it all his life. I would almost have missed it had it not been pointed out on the cover but then, not being a Norwegian national by birth, the language is not my forte. Bravo Bob. The recording is perfect at picking out the nuances of this creepy little number.
A little chuckle to self as Bob begins the intro to ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’. This is the fast rumba version replete with semi-spoken intro and its saucy little intermission at the end where Dylan plays at torch-song. Very eccentric but really neat at the same time, this is Dylan amping up the ridiculous suggestion that he could still be a lothario at 81 but also being that man. And why not? ‘Crossing The Rubicon’ is played ve-ry slowly indeed – Tony Garnier’s bass thoughtfully taking most of the weight behind Dylan’s lounge piano, and the slide behind. ’To Be Alone With You’ starts off well but Dylan’s monotunous piano lines jar after a short while – It’s a blessing when the song wraps up.
‘Key West’ has been through a change – the tempo plays really show, the venue (and the recording) accentuates a booming timbre to the bass and drums, a-barely-there guitar snakes around in the distance. It’s quietly one of the highlights of the night until it gives way to ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ which tries to pip it for the post of best of the night – the raucous new variation is here again and while it’s not the rowdiest I’ve heard this tour, it sure packs an expressive punch and who, within this gleeful show could begrudge Dylan playing, ‘That Old Black Magic’ too. There’s another quiet gem in ‘Mother Of Muses’ – Chiming and ringing, the tenderness seeps through. Once again, it’s a glorious version where the acoustics of the venue help the song along, the basier beats shudder along the walls.
The band arrive at their scheduled end to a beautiful, ‘Every Grain Of Sand’, no less a greater swan song than when it was firstly written and, boy, does Dylan really go for it tonight, some verses really hammering home his feelings, singing louder and clearer than he has for the rest of the set, the audience naturally respond with a peel of applause when Dylan takes the turn of taking out his harp for a brief burst through the closing third of the song. Once over, the tape captures the audience applause through the bands farewells and it fades to the sound of the crowd leaving, chatting over the in-house PA.
On to Dublin, where Dylan was playing the 3Arena, a diversion from his usual love of a smaller, more contained venue, but it seats 8,000 where, it being the only Ireland date, the last of 2022 also, it would have to cover the bases. Crystal Cat similarly use a very good audience tape for this show, it’s a shade or two lower than the Oslo tape with a little more “audience interaction” than the prior tape (Though, to be fair, the Irish audience are as respectful as their Nordic counterparts) but it’s a little wider in it’s balance and bassier too – listening on headphones gives you the opportunity to feel the difference between them both.
The set-list changes very little (more on that soon), the feel of the concert is very end-of-tour as well, Dylan and his band are out for fun, reactions to the surroundings are loose and happy, it’s time to unwind after this for a few months, get back in the painting studio where Dylan has been keen to get back to. This show is another fun one – without going in to as much detail as Oslo – there are moments of brilliance here, the sound really wants this room to be smaller, something that Dylan and the band go to pains to replicate – The first that really slaps though is the quasi-jazz of ‘False Prophet’, think Mancini attempting rock, this curiously cartoonish plod of a smokey bar jam is ravishingly entertaining, Dylan could be pointedly laid all over the piano, finger-pointedly jabbing at the air, a glass of Heavens Door in hand, it’s a premeditated study in cool that someone like Bob himself could only pull off. There’s a significant change in ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’ too – one of those moments when the audience stay rapt until the first chorus and then bustle with joy when Bob eventually gets to the chorus. A lazily double-bass lead skiffle is its basis as Dylan points at the keys on the piano as he’s trying to touch-type.
‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’ has a great start but things start to go wayward a little way in, Dylan does what he wants to, the band steer their own truck back around to join the convoy a little while after. It’s not unmitigated but could have certainly turned that way had someone left their eyes off of the road. ‘Crossing The Rubicon’ gives the band the chance to climb back again and they do so perfectly – Guitar chimes like concentric circles, lap-steel sounds add an expressive, spooky element, the double bass once again pushing the low and loose though very-much-in-control thunk and stomp. ’To Be Alone With You’ is very sweet – Violin, reed-slapped drums and that jaunty double bass element again, its cheeky appeal is immeasurably buoyant. Between this and ‘Key West (Philosopher Pirate)’, a stray voice in the crowd shouts out “We love you, Bobby!”, engendering a few whoops of agreement from the crowd itself. ‘Key West’ itself takes new roots, a spy movie urgency rolls through the bottom, turning and urging below.
‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ is leaner, the bass sounds fuzzier, the guitars chime together, Dylan is quieter vocally, less straightforward it may be, it still packs a lot in to it’s version tonight, the edge comes back in towards the end with the rearing guitar that rockets out from it’s place. Post, ’That Old Back Magic’, Dylan and the band conjure up something from thin air – A very brief, 30 second take of ‘Oh Shenandoah’, the traditional folk song with it’s ties to Ireland, not that the crowd seem at all entirely impressed, their main excitement seems to come from the following, ‘Mother Of Muses’, quite rightly as it is beautiful but would have been more anticipated than a half-minute, attempted people-pleaser. ‘Goodbye Jimmy Reed’ is excellent – A real slow mover, clear and clean. For his band introductions, Bob cheerily pays his own tribute to Pogues singer, Shane McGowan who is in attendance.
Another short flurry on the harp towards the end of ‘Every grain Of Sand’, though this one didn’t catch my heart as closely as Oslo’s version, it’s another great performance and the entrance of the harmonica gets one of the biggest cheers of the night.
The slipcase that the two shows are contained in is the usual, lovely hi-gloss sleeve that the Cat does so well, the two shows are in beautiful digi-pak covers featuring the standard mixture of press photos, smart-phone photos (amazing how many of these seem to feature Dylan looking straight to camera) and outside of the gig shots, alongside internet provided reviews from fans. This time the package also features six mixed postcards featuring the many ages of Bob on the cards. A neat little freebie from the producer there. No bonus tracks this time which is strange for the label, but maybe they were rushing out this release or were confident that it stood out on its own.
Another excellent release by this consistently brilliant label. A very fun show in Oslo, in Dublin, maybe more standard but I enjoyed the twist of the closer sound – So, two very well chosen shows from this leg bookending one of the Euro legs. Wonderful stuff and a great set to have in the collection, if you decide to pick it up.