Bob Dylan – Summer In Spain Vol. 1 (Look Back Records LBR-003/004)

Summer In Spain Vol. 1 (Look Back Records LBR-003/004)

Plaza de Toros (Bull-ring), Lorca,  Spain – July 4th 2008

CDR 1: Rainy Day Women 12 and 35/ Don´t Think Twice, It´s All Right/ Just Like Tom Thumb´s Blues/ Rollin´and Tumbin´/ Trying to Get to Heaven/ Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again/ Moonlight/ Honest With Me/ Desolation Row/ High Water (for Charlie Patton)/ Spirit on the Water

CDR 2: Highway 61 Revisited/ When the Deal Goes Down/ Summer Nights/ Ain´t Talkin´/ Thunder on the Mountain/ Blowin´ in the Wind

It would be difficult to exaggerate the cultural importance of the series of concerts offered by Bob Dylan in the Spanish peninsula in the summer of 2008. It has often been noted that Dylan´s eagerness to keep travelling and playing at a rhythm far exceeding other artists of his generation has allowed fans from very remote parts of the world to see him live. This particular Spanish journey was no exception, as Dylan skipped some obvious cities (Barcelona, Valencia) and accepted contracts from such  unlikely locations for international rock concerts as Lorca or Jaén. Dylan´s participation in the great “Rock in Rio” festival in Madrid was the great exception: in general, he restricted himself to playing in relatively small cities.    

The LBR label has issued a series of CDrs containing several of these Spanish concerts: all together, they constitute a sweet, beautifully packaged memento of that tour, which will  attract those who were at the shows and those who weren´t, as the concerts in themselves are often excellent and never less than very interesting. The series includes four Spanish dates plus one more played in Portugal, all of them captured in good audience recordings, and all of them quite clean and listenable in terms of sound. There are only 100 copies of each of the Cdrs in this collection, adding to the extremely high desirability of the whole series.   

The double CDr reviewed here is the first volume of “Summer in Spain”, and documents the concert played in the bullring at the Andalusian town called Lorca, on the 4th of July 2008. The taper is placed away from the stage but manages to get a good balance of sound between all instruments (which are heard quite distinctly) and Dylan´s vocals, that dominate the ensemble; the recording is a bit low, so that the listener has to crank up the  volume in order to get a good listening experience. In this tour Dylan plays with Denny Freeman on lead guitar, Stu Kimball on guitar, the veteran Tony Garnier on bass, Donnie Herron on pedal steel, banjo and fiddle, and George Recile on  drums. I have heard many backing bands for Dylan over the years and I have to say that this particular combination of musicians is probably the very best one he has had since he was accompanied by Tom Petty and the Heatbreakers, twenty years ago. These players are a tight unit when it is necessary, but they are also supple, ready to follow Bob in his improvisations; they are excellent accompanists, but extraordinary soloists as well (especially Denny Freeman, a guitarist who never loses an uncanny sense of melody); they keep in contact with the American tradition (mostly through the multiple sonorities of Donnie Herron), and to top it all, Dylan seems to have found in George Recile a drummer who is perfect for him: smooth when need be, energic in the rock and roll numbers, but always imaginative and resourceful, able to make himself felt in any kind of song. This is a wonderful, first-rate ensemble, and I can only hope that they will get more and more recognition as one of the all-time great Dylan bands as time goes by.  

It is clear from the start that a great part of the audience in Lorca cannot believe their eyes as Dylan and the group take the stage, as the reception is thunderous and  threatens to drown the initial “Rainy Day Women 12 and 35”.  The first part of the concert already holds several memorable moments: the interpretation of “Don´t Think Twice It´s Alright”, for instance, is a gem in itself. A few members of the audience recognise that song immediately from the moment when Denny Freeman insinuates the melody on the guitar, and the piece is played to a smooth, controlled country rhythm. Dylan sings it beautifully, giving full ironic intention to his words as he addresses his imaginary addressee, dismissing her almost gleefully (“You just kinda wasted all my precious time, but don´t think twice…!”). The guitar decorations of Freeman are nicely expressive, and Dylan culminates the piece with an animated harmonica solo, to the infinite delight of the audience. “Just Like Tom Thumb´s Blues” continues to set the first part of the show very firmly in the sixties; it sounds majestic, with Bob brimming with enthusiasm, acting as a committed bandleader. After a rotund “Rollin´and Tumblin´”, a few audience members dare to ask for some of their favourite songs (one of them is clearly heard screaming “Sweet Marie…!”), but what they get is an impassioned interpretation of “Tryin´to Get to Heaven” from the magisterial “Time out of Mind”. It is a well-known fact that Dylan sings the songs from his last three studio albums with particular intensity, but here he surpasses himself: he seems to proclaim the lines over a sustained rhythm that replaces the ethereal atmosphere of the original, as if affirming the eagerness of the desire voiced in the song.                

What happens next deserves some commentary. The fact is that sixth song played in this set, “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”, is something of a hymn in Southern Spain: a few years ago, the Andalusian artist Kiko Veneno made a  Spanish version of it, called “Atascado con el Blues de Memphis”, that was particularly successful. As a result, the song has become very popular and well-known all through the south of Spain. Of course, when Dylan sings it in the Lorca bullring, the crowd reacts with powerful enthusiasm at the end of every verse; Dylan  seems to respond by putting special passion into his performance; Denny Freeman´s soloing is also particularly intense here; and all adds up to a truly masterful performance: the applause at the end is, of course, overwhelming. A series of brilliant songs from the naughties dominate the next part of the concert: a deeply romantic “Moonlight” (Bob´s feeling is truly remarkable here), a  rowdy Honest with Me”, a deeply suggestive “Spirit on the Water”. The show-stopper in this part of the concert, however, is “Desolation Row”:  it´s amazing how, after so many years, Dylan still manages to find new ways to sing the surrealistic descriptions of urban life contained in this song. Here he does it over a soft but enticing rhythmic pattern, delivering the lines in a saucy, ironic mood, and crowning it all with a very lively, playful harmonica solo.

At the beginning of the second CDr we can hear how “Highway 61 Revisited” sets the Lorca bullring on fire; here it is the great drummer George Recile and (once more) guitarist Denny Freeman that really come into the spotlight.  The versatility and musical flair of this particular band never ceases to amaze; their playing in “When the Deal Goes Down”, expressively decorated by the sound of the steel guitar, is particularly delicate, and Dylan´s performance is focused and precise. An authoritative rendering of the moody “Ain´t Talkin´”, with Donnie Herron doing wonders on the fiddle, closes the show, and shortly afterwards the first encore, “Thunder on the Mountain” is greeted with absolute enthusiasm, proving once more to be one of the most solid rockers in Dylan´s most recent catalogue. But perhaps the very best moment of the night has been reserved for the conclusion:  “Blowin´in the Wind” is played in a lively, almost bouncy version, over a syncopated rhythm that displaces the song to an entirely new territory. Here Dylan lets himself go entirely, and the prophetic tone of the original is transformed into an almost joyful mood, as if we were being invited to embrace the quest depicted in the song with a pinch of optimism. The audience almost cannot believe their own happiness at this culminating point, and they try to singalong to Bob (which is, of course, a nearly impossible task). A truly beautiful ending to an excellent, powerful, very varied concert.   

Throughout the second CDr it is possible to hear a particularly loud audience member  shouting repeatedly “Keep on rolling, Bob”! After listening to this double CDr, one cannot but agree wholeheartedly: keep on rolling, Bob, for many more years.

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