Bob Dylan, ‘British Summer Time ’19’ (Golden Eggs GE) / Hyde Park (Crystal Cat CC 1106-07)
(Intro-The Rite Of Spring) / Ballad Of A Thin Man / 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
Like A Rolling Stone / Early Roman Kings / Girl From The North Country / Love Sick / Thunder On The Mountain / Gotta Serve Somebody / Blowin’ In The Wind / It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry / Will The Circle Be Unbroken*
Hyde Park, London, England, July 12th, 2019 except (*) Nowlan Park, Kilkenny, Ireland, July 14th, 2019
When it comes to double headers in 2019, it’s unlikely that they would have come much bigger than Neil Young and Bob Dylan. For Hyde Park, kind of used to these large events, this was one of their big summer shows.
We all know the story now I’m sure but for any who has been hidden under a rolling stone this month, Neil took umbrage over Barclay’s sponsor-ship of the gig for ‘Fossil Fuel Funding’ (You can read about his fury on his Archives blog). Rather famously, the bank rescinded from their attachment to the gig which appeased the god-father of grunge. Bob Dylan, however, didn’t say a word.
Taking place on a moderately weathered, English summers day (Windy, warm), the concert was supported by successful other Dylan / Young fans – Laura Marling, Cat Power, Sam Fender and Boy Azooga – Though, so far, none of the supports or Neil’s set don’t seem to have been released, Neil’s show in Kilkenny the following day is considered to have been the better, the consensus being that the latter day had a better set list. No fear of that for Dylan however, who had picked his set list and, largely, stuck with it for the rest of the tour.
The show presented here is Dylan’s. The Golden Eggs release an exclusive to their label, The Crystal Cat recording exclusive to their own. As I usually write about a singular title (Unless there’s multiple releases at the same), this review can be regarded as covering all bases; the sound quality will be revealed at the end. As a personal aside, I know of at least 5 people who had attended the show – Not all known for their furious mythologising of Dylan’s career – The feedback was head nodding partial interest for the main, a solid four star rating at best. For what it’s worth – Sitting on a train and listening through a pair of good headphones was my medium – and I really enjoyed the show. Sure, it’ll never be classic Dylan again but at 78 years old and with a career as broad as a lake, it’s a challenge to be objective.
The set starts with the opening theme, Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite Of Spring’ (Both labels have elicited to keep this in, a somewhat incongruous element to the show – A rock gig in Summer ..) which opens in to a furious ‘Ballad Of A Thinman’. For a start, Dylan is in good voice, that voice is debatable sure, but at a good three-quarters of the words being made understandable, I’d figure a win. The words, as standard, are still in flux for Dylan. Just as the tunes change, Dylan does the same and what you get is an approximation of the original with a couple of verses dropped. There’s a frenetic take on ‘Highway 61 Revisited’, this song, for me gets better and better and the further Dylan gets, the more combative the song becomes – Perfectly launched, it fair wizzes along and the studded beat nails it perfectly. ‘Can’t Wait’ has an unusually funky make-over. All low-slung bass and shuffling breaks, it’s quite easy to imagine Mick Jagger pulling it out circa ‘78 – though it’s not too difficult to listen to Dylan 2019 performing it either.
One of the songs that has sneaked back in to the set list as of late is ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’, performed as Dylan seems just to be reciting it more like a poem, it’s only when the instruments slowly slide in from behind that the song shifts back to form and despite some comically off-centre Dylan growling at the start, Bob finally works in a sound that is more favourably singing. ‘Honest With Me’, a later day Dylan original that has stuck around is played brilliantly – The voice is clear (mainly), passionate and right, the clumsy rock ‘n’ roll exciting.
Showing our British songstress how he does it, ‘Make You Feel My Love’ has a delicately upbeat swoon to it, though I’d suggest it takes some justification to sing it that way after the lilting, heartbroken formula of before, it’s charmed pride is not a big misstep. It still does seem a little odd however to drop ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ right into the middle of the set. Rather dramatic in form as the music swings from charging beat to sweeping torch song – It’s a captivating performance for this evergreen.
‘Girl From The North Country’ is presented as a long, drawn ballad, it’s beauty, (On the Golden Eggs version) is unfortunately marred by a couple of audience members who would prefer to have a conversation while it goes on anyway – Our taper has nowhere else to go and so it’s a slightly irritating diversion, much less so on the Crystal Cat tape. Thankfully, they move a little further away for ‘Love Sick’, but then the sound does help to cover them. The drunk wobble of ’Thunder On The Mountain’ plays very, very well tonight – Dylan’s voice and the speed by which he can keep tempo is starting to wain by now, though he doesn’t step back from putting in a great musical performance.
After it’s long gestational period, ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ is back and in a large way – Utilising the same pattern as ’Thunder On The Mountain’, Dylan swings through this surprisingly quick version with aplomb – Heavy pattering drums, some spirited, Allman-esque soloing and a rapid delivery makes this a fantastic rendition to hear, the band then head off for an extended break.
For the final two songs, ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ and ‘It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry’, the former features it’s latest incarnation, the barely there slumber of a drift, it’s almost as if Dylan feels obliged to perform the song but wants to throw it out there to be ridiculed. A messy middle eight does nothing to bring the listeners attention back, the later has a much better, bluesier, brassier feel. A shuffle more than a sprint, it makes for a better show closer.
The two labels have both gone for the same bonus track, a cover of the Carter Family’s ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken’ from the double header in Kilkenny, two nights after. A very true rendition but with the expected Dylan band twist. Again, it’s a song that Dylan seems to enjoy performing and it comes out in his voice. The recording for this track (Golden Eggs) is a little distant but well captured and fades up rather abruptly or is captured towards the front of the stage, near the speakers (Crystal Cat) and starts a little more naturally – It could almost be a TV broadcast.
So, who’s the winner? For me, it has to be Golden Eggs. Though there’s little to seperate the two, GE has more bass than the CC version, it’s just as clear, they’re both a good listen but I find the Eggs version to have a bit more body about it. Maybe I’d award the Cat the prize for packaging (Though the decision to plaster their usual insert with images that cover the last few years than using more from Hyde Park baffles me), the sound matters most and it’s ‘British Summer Time 2019’ that takes the points.