Birmingham 2007 (Crystal Cat 826-827)
National Indoor Theater, Birmingham, England – April 17th, 2007
Disc 1: Intro., Cat’s In The Well, It Ain’t Me Babe, Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues, It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), Workingman’s Blues #2, ‘Till I Fell In Love With You, Tangled Up In Blue, When The Deal Goes Down, Highway 61 Revisited, Spirit On The Water, Ballad Of Hollis Brown, Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
Disc 2: Ain’t Talkin’, Summer Days, Like A Rolling Stone, Thunder On The Mountain, All Along The Watchtower. Bonus tracks, House Of The Rising Sun, I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met, Masters Of War (Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle, England – April 12th, 2007), She Belongs To Me, My Back Pages, High Water (For Charley Patton), Nettie Moore (Hallam FM Arena, Sheffield, England – April 14th, 2007)
Birmingham 2007 contains the complete show from April 17th. Among the tapes from Europe Crystal Cat use, this is among the very best sounding of the lot. The liner note contain a lengthy review of the show by Toby Richards-Carpenter where he interprets the set list in light of the previous day’s massacre at Virginia Tech. “It’s the final show of the UK let of the spring 2007 tour. Bob Dylan has been on stage for an hour, and has played ten songs thus far. Already tonight, he’s show us a multitude of new directions with these songs, casting light on them from funny angles, making shadows fall in different places. If he called it a night now, he’d have rewarded his audience. Song number eleven arrived. It was dark, somber and serious. ‘Hollis Brown, he lived on the outside of town…’ oh, God he’s playing this?! Anyone who picked up a newspaper this morning will have been faced with the shocking images of dead students being carried from US college campus, victims of a mass shooting.
By the time tonight’s show ended, it had become clear that Bob Dylan has never been immune to such images than you or I. Yet he did not step forth to the microphone and deliver a speech about gun culture. He addressed the matter, as an artist, through the subtly of his performance. ‘There’s seven people dead on a South Dakota farm.’ There are 32 people dead on a Virginia college campus….the performance of ‘Ballad Of Hollis Brown’ tonight provided an uncomfortable Bob Dylan moment. A mass shooting has taken place in Bob’s home country: many real, innocent lives have been lost. Can’t we all agree this was an act of evil? Dylan performs his own song about a mass shooting.
“‘Ballad Of Hollis Brown’, however, is a song that, far from demonizing the perpetrator of the act, compels the listener to sympathize with the murderer. Elsewhere in tonight’s set I felt Bob made it fairly plain where his sympathies lie in relation to the Virginia shooting. He can tell right from wrong you know. He sang a version of ‘Ain’t Talkin” that was soaked in compassion and humanity, punctuated by anger. The line ‘Every waking moment you could crack,’ he sang tonight as ‘Every waking moment could be your last.’ The following couplet, however, remained as it had done on this tour, ‘I’ll avenge my father’s death then I’ll step back.’ Bob Dylan never claimed to be a pacifist. Bob’s tone had been restrained and considered for most of the show.
Even ‘Summer Days’ was handled carefully, Bob proclaiming ‘Everybody get ready, lift up your glasses and sing’ with almost a sigh. The dignified weariness was more in keeping with a wake than a celebration. It was followed by ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ which, should you choose to hear it this way, felt like Bob’s greatest tribute to the murdered Virginia students. Bob’s voice was stepped in regret, particularly as he tackled the second verse; ‘You’ve gone to the finest schools, alright Miss Lonely.’… The song had found its place in the present moment. Tonight’s rendition is the only one I can think of which, far from being diminishing by the absence of one of the four verses, was actually enhanced by Bob choosing to sing only three of the four original stanzas for tonight it would not have been appropriate to sing of jugglers and clowns and Siamese cats.”
This release includes seven bonus tracks taken from two other shows in England on the tour that were not featured with a full release. The three songs from Newcastle come from another excellent sounding, detailed audience recording as good as the one for Birmingham. The first song is a very rare performance of “House Of The Rising Sun” from Dylan’s first album. This was the second song performed that night with Dylan on guitar and is the first performance of the song since the June 18th, 2000 concert in George, Washington where it was the first encore. The violin augments the melody nicely and this is a tribute to The Animals, who are from Newcastle. “I Don’t Believe You” is played for the first, and so far only, time this year. The final four songs are from Sheffield and again the tape is equal to the Birmingham and Newcastle tapes.
The first track is the only performance of the year of “She Belongs To Me.” The recordings from this tour reveal that “High Water (For Charley Patton)” is given a dramatic reading and Sheffield is on par with the others. The banjo gently underlines the verses with the rest of the band coming in for remarkable effect in the choruses. The final “Nettie Moore” is included, probably since it wasn’t played in Birmingham and this song is an instant classic. Birmingham 2007 is packaged in a double slimline jewel case with a thick booklet with the already mentioned essay by Richards-Carpenter offering many insights into the show. Among the current Crystal Cat releases this one stands out for the sound quality and the poignant subtexts offering commentary on current events and is definitely worth having.