Bob Dylan – 8th Beacon Th. 2019 – Crystal Cat (CC 1112/13)
Disk 1; Intro – The Rites Of Spring / Things Have Changed / It Ain’t Me, Babe / Highway 61 Revisited / Simple Twist Of Fate / Can’t Wait / When I Paint My Masterpiece / Honest With Me / Tryin’ To Get To Heaven / Make You Feel My Love / Pay In Blood
Disk 2; Intro / Lenny Bruce / Early Roman Kings / Girl From The North Country / Not Dark Yet / Thunder On The Mountain / Soon After Midnight / band introduction / Gotta Serve Somebody / Ballad Of A Thinman / It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry.
Beacon Theatre, New York, NY. 3rd December, 2019.
Skirting in to December, 2019, Bob Dylan and his band were playing one of the penultimate of his residency shows at New York’s Beacon Theatre. A standard of the past few years of Dylan’s NET and presumably a good way to wrap things up before the world starts to slow down a little later that month. It would turn out that it’d be the last set of shows that Bob and his band would undertake for a long time – The rumble of a worldwide pandemic rolling out, obliterating mass gatherings including concerts steadily throughout the world ensuring anyone who didn’t already have a plan (A new album? Artworks?) would be left scrambling for other ways to make up revenue.
Though back to the concert in hand, Dylan was still teetering on tentatively looking back while staying as current as his recent originals catalogue would allow. His tour this year had dropped many of the standards that he’d plowed through from his Sinatra based albums and was rigidly stuck at Bob’s august outlook – The impish, aged sage with enough sprint n’ inspiration still in him to mix up his songs as opposed to finally just taking the cash. The show, the 8th of 10 at this residency, follows a familiar set list to the rest of the tour – or indeed, the previous tours – A smattering of 2012’s output mixed with tweaked and twisted variations of his back pages – Almost throughly so with some of the songs here being ripped and changed from their original statuses and being republished to broad effect – We all know that Dylan is part-musicologist, here he proves his savvy at retelling and rearranging to match most contemporary artists – In fact, not too dissimilar to the Oslo show that CC put out around the same time. The sound is reasonably the same – An excellent audience capture with maybe a trickle of applause more, though Dylan is loud and clear and his voice appreciable for being whisky dipped and smoky rather than whiskey fuelled and sluggish.
From the now trad. intro (The Rites of Spring), ’Things Have Changed’ shuffles. Some class breakdowns here which are doomy and more than a little bit mystery-noir while ‘It Ain’t Me, Babe’ is much more easy going, wistful and poppy, it’s bass line, while simple, rolls and wanders with a gentle ease, chugging with a certain skip. ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ is it’s typically playful best, the triumphant-cowboy-coming-home break coming at the end of each verse is left in and I’m pleased with that – it helps the song and gives it another slant.
“Can’t Wait’ has slowed down and stalks and skulks, certainly paced out a little more than earlier this year but it’s full stops, pregnant pauses and truculent funk is heavily powered – It sounds majestic and flips the bird to some of the hip-hop that’s half it’s age. At 4:28 it’s one of the shorter renditions on the set but it sounds like it extends for longer – All for the better, I might add! ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’, for what it is, might as well just be Bob and piano, though after the first verse, the rest of the band slowly head from out of the shadows and cautiously add their parts. All very fair until Dylan brings in his harp for the final furlong then that’s where things really start to take off as it sounds perfectly wonderful.
Hitching up the speed again, ‘Honest With Me’ rolls in to straighten his tie and turn over tables at the same time, much less junkyard wobble as wrecking ball ballast, it stands steady as it rocks, the different layers of punch standing precariously but straight as the track builds up to be more fun. (Note; there’s a digital click at 2:58, it doesn’t break up the flow too much but it’s certainly noticeable). ‘Make You Feel My Love’, lit by Donnie’s violn, is glowing and warm. Bob’s harp playing towards the latter end is no less than dreamlike if very simply performed. ‘Pay In Blood’ is less loose and loud than it has been but has a feel of force that makes it feel tighter, more controlled than previous, the tempo is upped by a couple of notches – I can’t exactly put my finger on it but the term “Radiohead c. The Bends” springs to mind.
‘Early Roman Kings’ has a large swagger to it, slower, heavier and ballsier, the plodding drums are like bullish bodyguards to the slick bravado, leanness of the lyrics, it makes a great partner to ‘Girl From The North Country’ who’s tremulous bass rumble takes this reflective, acoustic croon and turns it’s edge to ruminative from a different perspective. Almost courtesan regal. Almost the same veil befits, ’Not Dark Yet’, a glacial pace turns this track in to a Bond Theme (Much better than the recent rut – Dylan’s voice may or may not edge it out of the running), there’s certainly something more end of days about it than even previous incarnations. It fleshes out the phrasing to awesome effect as Dylan really finds twist and changes to get his voice around – This might be THE track to listen to from the evening even if you were to consider the next.
We turn to ’Thunder On The Mountain’, which, while it retains it’s furious propulsion of the past, is enlivened by the tempo being pushed down a semi-note, so it has a more spacial feel – The fact that it gets more and more furious, turning a quasi heavy metal towards the end is an extra special addition – Bob Dylan, at this point, is 78 year old, folks! A minor point, there’s a digital clip at 20 seconds in. You’ll hear it but you’ll barely notice it. After a particularly wordy band introduction and thanks in which Bob notes that Jack White has joined the audience to come see him, Dylan turns the same trick on ’Serve Somebody’ as he has done before – Whether this change has come about because he’s having a liking towards it this year, who knows. The fact is, it still works.
After a short break, Dylan returns to a short encore of ‘Ballad Of A Thinman’ and ‘It Takes A lot To Laugh’ – The former close enough to it’s original incarnation (Though that’s never a bad thing), the latter grandiose and bold, the piano’s notes linger a little behind the heft of the bass, drums and guitar, Bob’s singing bristling with his waspish delivery.
The packaging is retained in the trifold style that Crystal Cat has employed over the past few years, bountiful colour shots from the shows as they were played, the exterior of the venue and the shows posters. There’s also the atypical photos of Dylan with famous people, bottles of Heaven’s Door and an unknown lady wearing a Dylan t-shirt. No other justification for that one. Liner notes come from JonnyBorganBlogg and Mike Skliar.
A class release by the Cat – The fact that Mr. White was in the audience can’t be the only justification that this ends up being one of the best shows that I’ve heard from Dylan in a while and very possibly the fact that it was chosen to be pressed. One of the best recent shows and in exceptional quality. Get it.