Feis 2011 (Godfather Records GR659/660)
Finsbury Park, London, England – June 18th, 2011
Disc 1 (72:47): Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking, It’s All Over Now Baby Blue, Things Have Changed, Tangled Up In Blue, Summer Days, Simple Twist Of Fate, Cold Irons Bound, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, Highway 61 Revisited, Forgetful Heart, Thunder On The Mountain, Ballad Of A Thin Man
Disc 2 (69:47): Like A Rolling Stone, band introduction, All Along The Watchtower, Blowin’ In The Wind. Bonus tracks, Franfurter Hof, Volkspark, Mainz, Germany – June 25th, 2011: Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35, Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright, Girl From The North Country, Beyond Here Lies Nothin’, The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll, The Levee’s Gonna Break, The Ballad Of Hollis Brown, Desolation Row. Alcatraz, Milan, Italy – June 22nd, 2011: Can’t Wait
On March 9th Bob Dylan announced that his only show in the UK in 2011 would be set for the Feis Festival in Finsbury Park in London on June 18th. The inaugural event used to be called Fleadh and celebrates 21 years of the best Irish and international music.
Dylan played the Fleadh Festival two times before. The first was in 1993 and is notable for playing “One Irish Rover” with Van Morrison.
The second came eleven years later in 2004 and can be found on Fleadh Festival London 2004 (Mainstream MAST-86/87). Ron Wood joined as guest guitarist for the entire performance with confusing and chaotic results. The tape is notable also for the proliferation of cell phones going off during the show.
On Feis 2011, Godfather uses a much better tape. It is clear, powerful, and not one cell phone can be heard throughout the show. It is one of their strongest Dylan titles to date and a fascinating performance overall.
Neil McCormick, reviewing the show for The Telegraph, observes “I well remember the first time I saw him, in Ireland in 1984, when I, too, was thrilled by the very notion that this genius was actually occupying the same physical, geographical space as me. But I have seen Dylan many times since then and know what an unpredictable performer he can be. And that is putting it kindly.
“The expectations of an audience don’t seem to figure highly on his agenda. At his best, he seems to embark on a personal exploration of his back catalogue, conjuring up something vital in the material itself. At his worst, the songs become unrecognisable, with Dylan growling and splashing around in a musical space entirely in his own mind, barely relating to the band, let alone his listeners. Still, we return to pay homage year after year, more in hope than expectation.
“Dylan is apparently scornful of even the most basic technology of modern performance. His light show is perfunctory, and without video screens to display his grizzled face in close up, it can be hard to pick him out amid his band, all dressed in black before a black curtain. Only a white hat sets him apart. He moves like a slightly jerky marionette and never speaks, swapping keyboards for guitar or harmonica, often side on to the audience, as he leads his slick, gifted ensemble through quite random rearrangements of material.
“Tangled Up In Blue is given an odd, stop-start delivery but still somehow catches fire when Dylan stretches and suspends the central syllable of “illusion” almost beyond breaking point (‘they’re an illooooooooooosian to me now’) then lets fly with an increasingly wild harmonica solo. The melancholy resignation of Simple Twist Of Fate is lost in a weird arrangement that makes it sound like a Mexican waltz with Dylan gargling poetry.,,,
“This was as good a show as I have ever seen Dylan perform, in which I was gently mesmerised, sucked into his particular, peculiar rhythm and lost myself in the songs and the moment. But I have sympathy for others who were clearly not so impressed. Dylan demands an act of wilful surrender. As he returned for encores that included a ripping Like A Rolling Stone and rather baffling All Along The Watchtower, I overheard a woman ask her husband, ‘Are we going to try to beat the crowd or do we have to stay ’til his last dying mumble?'”
Bob Heller of Bloomberg was surprised to see “Bob Dylan shuffling a dance and cracking a smile,” and observed that “the 70-year-old got into the spirit of things. His set, mixing folk-based greatest hits and electric blues, fitted the bill perfectly. The singer-songwriter visibly enjoyed himself, shifting between keyboard, harmonica and guitar and grinning during ‘Ballad of a Thin Man.'”
And finally, the Strictly Randl site posted two reviews. David Hayter, who is a seasoned Dylan fan, offers “naturally Dylan isn’t the man he used to be, and he never will be again, but if you approached the show accepting the fact that you are seeing a 70-year-old road weary veteran, you found yourself treated to an artist enjoying a late career purple patch; fully capable of performing his new materiel, and offering a series remarkably well-thought-out reimaging’s of his pre-1980 works. There are some clangers of course, and when he’s bad or the arrangement doesn’t click, it really doesn’t click, but these moments are too fleeting to sink an thoroughly competent show that left the crowd chanting: ‘We want Bob.'”
Craig Brooks, new to Dylan, surmises that: “In conclusion, this is a performance I wont ever forget; Bob Dylan definitely earnt himself at least one new fan on Saturday, and probably many others too.”
The set starts off with “Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking,” one of the more popular set openers in recent tours. It’s interesting that the great call to repentance from his gospel period (the title is a literal understanding of the New Testament word for repentance) is used as an opener because it seems to be a call for the listener to understand and accept the new (old) Dylan.
After “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” they continue with “Things Have Changed.” A popular tune for the past decade, it has been included in almost every show this year. At Feis he plays a hybrid arrangement of the recorded version during the verses and fast country shuffle arrangement in the chorus.
There is a bit of confusion after “Tangled Up In Blue.” Dylan plays a bit of “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” but the band start playing “Summer Days.” They work it out, but deliver an uninspired version of the “Love & Theft” piece.
The other highlights of the set include a gentle version of “Hard Rain” and contemplative “Forgetful Heart.” The show ends with “Ballad Of A Thin Man.” Dylan rewards the patient London crowd with three encores instead of two with the bonus “Blowin’ In The Wind.“
The bonus tracks include a generous portion of the June 25th show in Mainz, Germany. Thankfully there is no duplication with the London show, so all the songs are unique. Included are “Beyond Here Lies Nothing'” played without trumpet, and great versions of “Ballad Of Hollis Brown” and “Desolation Row.” The final bonus track is the only performance of “Can’t Wait” in 2011 from the Alcatraz Club in Milan, Italy.
Feis 2011 is packaged in a gorgeous tri fold gatefold sleeve with generous liner notes and photographs from the tour. This is another very strong Dylan release on Godfather worth having. And since Tambourine Man Records seems to have disappeared, Godfather are the only label right now producing quality REAL Dylan bootleg CDs.