Bob Dylan – First Beacon Th. 2018 (Crystal Cat CC 1099-00)

Bob Dylan, “First Beacon Th. 2018” (Crystal Cat CC 1099-00)

Intro / Things Have Changed / It Ain’t Me, Babe / Highway 61 Revisited / Simple Twist Of Fate / Cry A While / When I Paint My Masterpiece / Honest With Me / Train’ To Get To Heaven / Scarlet Town / Make You Feel My Love / Pay In Blood / Like A Rolling Stone / Early Roman Kings.
Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright / Love Sick / Thunder On The Mountain / Soon After Midnight / Gotta Serve Somebody / All Along The Watchtower / Blowin’ In The Wind.

Bonus Tracks; Working Man’s Blues #2 (4th October, 18) / Ballad Of A Thin Man (10th October, 18) / Moon River (6th November, 18) / It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World (10th November, 18) / San-Ho-Zay (Partial) (14th November, 18) / Long And Wasted Years (14th November, 2018) / It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry (30th November, 18)

Recorded live at the Beacon Theatre, New York, 23rd November, 2018.

Of the few Dylan boots that are still being released, the Crystal Cat label are still the worlds number one, not least for consistency – You can’t blame the other labels for not pushing out product from this autumn era, it’s hardly 1966, 1976, 1984 or 1995 exciting these days – though it does mean that if you’re keeping score, you have the Cat to rely on. After the package, it’s the music and what a difference a few months makes – The previous CC release, ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’, was one of the last to feature Stu Kimball in the band, this release from New York’s famous Beacon theatre, a residency no less, brings us our first taste of a streamlined band. Whatever Stu has on his mind, it’s down to time to tell but you certainly hear a difference.

The first thing you’ll notice is the absence of an intro – Nothing – No spoken word hyperbole, no fancy fireside acoustic preamble, the music lowers, there are a scant few seconds before the band enter and the music bristles in. The second thing is that the sound is a little less fussy – With all due respect to Stu – the mass that he brought to the band suited the tone of the concert, his absence pars down the sound to something a little more streamlined, a more modernist sound. One of the things I took from tonight is that it’s a blazing run through Dylan’s ouvre,

Dylan whips through, ‘Things Have Changed’ to ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’, round ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ – From a rock and roller who’s in his mid-70’s it’s almost startling to hear him whizz through his set – An excitable audience give him the wind with which he push upon though and you can hear the frissons of excitement sporadically ripple as Dylan hits it home.

Even ‘Simple Twist Of Fate’ has a more airy touch than as of late – Bolstered by the recent boxed set, maybe Dylan has decided that singing it in chanson style, the lines slowly swooping to their ends, better fits his mood now. A fluttering, laxed harp solo plays like honey. ‘Cry A While’ takes on an almost militant feel, a funereal sweeping guitar line, cascading drums and a sombre steel guitar have a deathless feel – It’s brilliant if a little claustrophobic at the same time.

Welcome the return of ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’ after a short absence too. The first verses sung almost accapella, the centre of the song flourishing to a considered warmth, though this is where it comes apart slightly as a long instrumental passage keeps us guessing quite when Dylan’s going to get the piece back on track again. Mercifully, it does find it’s groove, just in time for Dylan to grab his harp again. ‘Honest With Me’ shows no signs of wandering though, tough and taught, it’s weaving, brooding guitar lines, jitterbugging with the piano, bring an excitable fever to the venue.

The pace finally settles for ‘Scarlet Town’. It sounds great as Donnie’s banjo playing just twinkle, Dylan’s retelling is crystal clear too – His throaty, gravelly rasp perfect for the sleazy, broke, beaten lyrics. On the flip, ‘Make You Feel My Love’ is spoken rather than sung, the musicality of it is as attractive as ever, the paint-by-numbers presentation, a little less so. Dylan adds a similar flit to, ‘Pay In Blood’, it’s less searching the room, palm slamming to the table, much more pop in style – An interesting change for sure and one where I can’t rightly tell you if I love it or not but it’ll have it’s fans.

Again, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ seems to turn pop – an odd break down towards the end of it’s verse, a near euphoric climax to it’s chorus as it draws itself along rather than raises itself up – On first listen I was taken aback, the second time, I loved it. It’s a revelation to hear and wears it’s new clothes well. Another surprise is ‘Don’t Think Twice’, almost a solo affair, Dylan reads it like a letter with the odd ringing tone, the hum of the gossamer strings underneath. It’s heart breaking and uplifting all in the same step. A gruffer Dylan throws us, ‘Love Sick’, pattering percussion, guided piano, weeping guitar line, they all coerce in the middle eight to push the drama to a head before running back to their separate corners to continue.
’Thunder On The Mountain’ is the slickest I’ve heard in a while, it’s Shadows-esque chime, the tinkle of the bells, Dylan’s maddening way with juggling those lyrics all sound like the most fun. The final-straight gives us a most audacious ending, with bucket of worms drumming and a skin-tingling finale.

The set’s finale mirrors this as ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ springs from the ropes like a pugilist and pummels out from the stage. Dylan howls like he’s really rooting for it too – A crazy guitar break in the middle is just brilliant. However, you might think “Wow, a seven minute ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ in these days!” would be brilliant and you’d be right but 3 and a half minutes of this is audience applause but it’s still very impressive to hear. Fixed with a reggae / ska styled ‘All Along The Watchtower’ you may never hear a more head scratching triumvirate but lay down any misconceptions of how that sounds and drink it in. It sounds mean, low slung and cocksure. Finally, ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ is rendered in the delicate, sweeping style of the past few years. A glorious adieu to the crowd.

On to the bonus tracks and the first track to get a fillip is ‘High Water (For Charley Patton)’, a banjo/piano hybrid, wildly different than previous outings and with a real optimistic skip to it’s beat.

‘Ballad Of A Thin Man’ was presumably chosen as it didn’t feature in the main set – Here it features a sly harmonica among it’s familial tune and is captured perfectly. . It also breaks us in to three tracks that I wasn’t expecting – ‘Moon River’ is included for the completist, not because of what it is but from where it was recorded, it’s a nice rendition but distant and marred by a lot of audience noise. ‘It’s A Mans, Mans, Mans World’ is much better in fidelity and is an awesome rendition, of course, Dylan can’t do it as well as James Brown but he can put his own spin on it and he does with aplomb.

‘San-Ho-Zay’ is a very brief jam, there’s no real Dylan involvement but it’s interesting to hear another instrumental break Finally a slow take on, ‘It Takes A Lot To Laugh’, another slightly distant recording however, the short comings are made up for by the power of the piece which slinks and pleads across the air. A beautiful way to end the concert.

The artwork, well, we always have to discuss that – A beautiful laminated trifold with a hulk ton of audience pictures and promo shots, also including one of the best Dylan shots I’ve ever seen (I can spoil the surprise of this one). A couple of write ups regarding the night and those beautiful silk-screened disks. I’m really pleased to have this CD and this performance. It’s a brilliant night, that and the fact that the Cat has added more than a few bonus tracks to fill the CDs to the hilt is more than value for money. A brilliant little bookend (For now) to your Dylan collection.

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