Bob Dylan – Ruckus In The Ring (Look Back Records LBR 007/008)

Ruckus In The Ring (Look Back Records LBR 007/008)

Plaza de Toros (Bull-ring), Mérida, Spain – 10th July 2008

Tracklisting: Watching the River Flow / Lay Lady Lay /  Rollin´And Tumblin´ / Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again / A Hard Rain´s A-Gonna Fall / High Water (For Charlie Patton) /  Love Sick / It´s All Right Ma (I´m Only Bleedin¨) / Spirit on the Water / Highway 61 Revisited

CDr 2: When the Deal Goes Down / Summer Days / Ain´t Talkin´ / Thunder on the Mountain / Like a Rolling Stone

Among the concerts included in the five-volume CDr series from LBR, and commemorating Dylan´s Spanish tour of 2008, this is perhaps the one having the hardest edge: a potent, very electric performance, uncompromising and strongly dominated by rock and roll. The only problem in this case is the tape: it sounds rather low (a bit lower than the others in this wonderful series) and it is the one that includes more  distracting talk from the audience close to the taper. This is a real pity, because it offers a concert that is truly solid in itself, and one in which Dylan´s good mood (very prominent all through this triumphant Spanish tour) is particularly evident. This concert was offered at the Plaza de Toros in the andalusian city of Mérida, on the 10th of July 2008.           

After the customary introduction to “Columbia Recording Artist”, the concert starts with a particularly fluid version of “Watching the River Flow”, received with cries of “Bravo!” and “Adelante!” (“keep on going!”). A very enthusiastic reception also greets the start of “Lay Lady Lay”, the second number, and once more we are able to enjoy the elegant arrangement of the song that Dylan is playing in this tour: it certainly manages to find just the adequate balance between passion and relax that the song needs in order to showcase its original erotic intention. I always thought that the version Dylan played with the Band decades ago was a bit too accelerated and rowdy; here we get what is arguably one of the best, most elegant live renditions of this masterful piece.

Those who have listened to the other CDrs in this series will already know that “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” is one of the favourite Dylan numbers among Spanish audiences, as they are very familiar with the Spanish version of it, and of course, it is received with passion in Mérida too: the imaginative guitar arrangements of Denny Freeman are really a delight to hear, and George Recile drives the song along with a very elegant use of cymbals. This band really works like a well-oiled engine, proving that they are among the very best accompanists that Dylan has ever had, and Dylan´s sheer pleasure while playing along them is truly noticeable: his own keyboard accompaniment is put to good use here, completing a magic rendition of this classic. But, without a doubt, the absolute highlight in the first part of the concert is “A Hard Rain´s A-Gonna Fall “. Here it is the interplay between Denny Freeman´s guitar-picking and Donnie Herron´s mandolin that really carries the song onwards, in an ever-increasing momentum towards the climaxes of each verse. As could be expected, the audience tries to sing along to Dylan in the choruses, but of course that is an impossible task: he always manages to sing his notes just ahead of them or behind them. But the arrangement and the vocal interpretation are a wonder in themselves, nonetheless. 

An intense, brooding version of “Love Sick” follows, performed with the intensity that befits this tune, but it is overshadowed by what follows: a spectacular version of “It´s Alright Ma (I´m Only Bleeding).” This is one of the most potent renditions of this song one is likely to hear; to a certain extent it is reminiscent of its 1978 disco-rock arrangement (without the disco leanings of course), but what is really interesting this time around is the use of Donnie Herron´s banjo, that sustains´s Dylan´s voice energetically all through the long lines he sings, only to be replaced by the potent riffing of Denny Freeman every time a line ends. A truly masterful rendition of an old Dylan chestnut that can still hold a place of privilege in his present-day concerts.  The contrast with the next piece is truly pointed, as “Spirit on the Water” opens with a beautiful, lyrical harmonica solo, that is greeted very warmly; we return here to calmer waters for a while. Dylan truly seems to relish every line as he sings the song; when he says the words “When you´re with me…I am a thousands times happier than I could ever say”, one is certainly tempted to believe him! With “Highway 61 Revisited” the band is once more driven towards furious rock and roll dynamics, and Denny Freeman seems to emerge again as THE Dylan guitarist for the 21st century: as powerful and spectacular here as he has been delicate and melodic in earlier numbers.

The second CDr opens with “When the Deal Goes Down”: the gentle swing of this piece allows for a heartfelt performance on the part of Dylan; but once more it is disappointing to hear several persons having long conversations quite close to the taper, and spoiling the song a bit for the listeners of this Cdr. This is a real pity in itself, and it really makes one wonder why some people go to some major rock concerts: only to be able to say that they were there, perhaps. “Summer Days” is then performed with absolute energy and dedication, with Dylan obviously having a great time; “Ain´t Talkin´” drives the show to its conclusion, and happily the constant talking close to the taper is a bit toned down for this last part of the concert. “Thunder on the Mountain” and “Like A Rolling Stone” are the encores, and they are as full of energy and electricity as the whole concert has been.

All in all, what we get her is a major performace, a landmark concert, but a relatively poor-sounding tape, with problems that do not feature in the other four volumes of this excellent series by LBR records. Nevertheless, given the scarcity of copies issued (only 100) and its place within this whole five-volume CD-R batch, this one is still to be reccomended.      

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