Bob Dylan, ‘Oslo 2019’ (Crystal Cat CC 1110-1111)
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 / Scarlet Town / Make You Feel My Love / Pay In Blood / Like A Rolling Stone / Early Roman Kings
Disk 2: Intro / Boots Of Spanish Leather / Love Sick / Thunder On The Mountain / Soon After Midnight / Gotta Serve Somebody / Blowin’ In The Wind / It Takes A Lot To Laugh
Bonus trax: When I Paint My Masterpiece (21/6 -19) / Scarlet Town (21/6-19) / Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright (21/6-19) / Beyond Here Lies Nothin’* (11/10-19) / Can’t Wait (12/10-19) / Lenny Bruce (12/10-19) / Not Dark Yet (12/10-19)
* Dylan on electric guitar
Saturday 29th June 2019, Spektrum, Oslo, Norway.
Dropping in a couple of new titles right after their takes on both the Hyde Park show of 2019 and one of the biggest soundboard releases of the year, ‘Saratoga 2000’, the Crystal Cat label have gone for two same but different shows both earlier and later in 2019. The first is a show from Oslo, the second, a capture of Dylan’s residency in New York’s beacon theatre. This review centres around the Oslo show.
Firstly, shortly after the set was released, enquiring minds were sure that they had heard the set before – bearing in mind that Dylan very infrequently changes his sets these days anyway less rarely speaks – That’s not quite the task to take. The set was almost immediately put down to being JOY’s capture of the show bearing some familiar hall marks that were true to that recording. It is a brilliant recording to hear – Right from the strains of the now familial introduction of ‘The Rites Of Spring’ to the show closer, ‘It Takes A Lot To Laugh’, the recording is studiedly an audience recording, but without coming from the parking lot outside. Of the show, the performance is sure footed, snappy and strong. Whether the band had taken rehearsals that morning or were on a particularly good night, it doesn’t matter as long as they sound this good.
‘Things Have Changed’ spirits straight from out of the wispish intro to great effect, while ‘It Ain’t Me, Babe’ is much more pinched, Dylan phrasing the chorus as a run in of words so it becomes “Itaintme, Babe”, obviously winding himself up for ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ (Though that, conversely, has some sneaky attack moments of quiet intervals.)
‘Simple Twist Of Fate’ is at it’s ponderous best. Resigned to looking back on just what could have been, Dylan turns it’s lyrics upside down and back to front, the male subject wakes up to find his paramour has already departed once he awakes, puts his shoes back on, founds a note that she has written suggesting that they should have met back in ‘58, this is before Dylan throws his first, beautiful, harp solo. The following ‘Can’t Wait’ comes in stark contrast. A funky clip has Dylan commandeer the groove, breaks crackling, this is faux James Brown but with a nudie suit and cowboy hat – A stand out moment.
On to ‘Honest With Me’, the track follows the same kind of lines – An urgent patter of drums, chugging guitar and, yes, slightly wobbly piano lines – as laughably ramshackle as it is brutal sounding – it’s obviously as intended as one of Dylan’s recent metalwork sculptures and where it shouldn’t work, it so really does. ‘Tryin’ To Get To Heaven’ works in the more traditional way, glancing and glowing, it’s heart is fulsome and warm.
A nice surprise to hear ‘Make You Feel My Love’ almost turn towards a spiritual before reverting to type when it it played. Had only Dylan Centermetered his way up the piano, he could have found himself with a different beast all together. It’s with a slight stretch that he keeps trying to feel his way around those chords instead, textural impressions dot between the main body of the work as Bob seeks to embellish his later-era classic too. It’s second to a gorgeous ‘Pay In Blood’, comfortably warm and with a great conversational touch to it as if Dylan holds court, over a wooden table, nursing a whiskey.
‘Like A Rolling Stone’ continues to spin unusual shapes and Bob brings out the now familiar quiet chorus version, pausing for dramatic effect as he hits the payload. Obviously this will rankle with the concert goers who paid to hear the singles and and will content themselves with the truism that “Dylan made it unrecognisable” but that’s the whole point, surely? Maybe they’d be much more comfortable with ‘Early Roman Kings’, who drops in as played and prowls like a tiger.
‘Boots Of Spanish Leather’ sidles with ‘Love Sick’, the later plodding, pleading quietly. Beating with a ruining detachment, it’s a gripping performance.
Things turn up for ‘Thunder On The Mountain’ again, one of the tracks that really force the set out with a bounce with it’s feverent lunacy. Tonight is no exception and those fizzy guitar lines tumble about like skittles, Charlie’s frenzied soloing towards the middle flies tonight and adds a little extra power. It has a lot in common with ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ which tonight shares a good fistful of the same DNA. Shuttling it’s way through with rapid adhesion, a live wire solo in the middle staples itself in the middle like a centrefold, Dylan keeps up with the lyrics like it’s an evergreen.
After an extended break, the band return for a country tinged, ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, which the crowd lap up excitedly. Donnie’s violin trembles and shuffles but fits this rendition like a tight glove. The concert finishes with a lilting ‘It Takes A Lot To Laugh’
Of the bonus tracks, ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’, is better than the first version, it’s almost jazz type flow gives it a reverential, reflective feel, almost “New Morning” in feel. ‘Don’t Think Twice’ is similar, Dylan’s piano leads, his phrasing unfamiliar and new, yet like it’s well worn and true, his harp soloing a dense icing to the cake. For anyone who’s programming their CD player still, there’s a slight mastering edit where the intro in to ‘Beyond Here Lies Nothing’ bleeds in to the outro, as long as you’re still listening through, you’ll notice no change.
A lurching take on ‘Can’t Wait’ sounds furious and bold, Dylan’s lear towards the microphone has agony and strength all at the same time. Short it might be in comparison to a lot of the songs on here but it is well worth looking forward to.
One of the rare versions of ‘Lenny Bruce’ appears towards the end, a simple result, piano, violin and bass, it has a tender affection for the lost comedian. Finally ‘Not Dark Yet’ tails the set nicely. Chimes and ruminations cloak the rendition. It sounds like a eulogy for lost friends again but, as bleak as it could be, it also has a hedge of optimism to it too.
A very well chosen and crafted set, the Cat has chosen wisely, given the drift of CDs by Bob has more or less dried up these days, they didn’t have to fight among the releases but given different circumstances, we’d still have a winner on our hands here.