Bob Dylan – Summer In Spain Vol. 2 (Look Back Records LBR-005/006)

Summer In Spain Vol. 2 (Look Back Records LBR-005/006)

Recinto Ferial, Jaén, July 5th 2008

Tracklisting: CDR 1: Watching the River Flow/ Lay Lady Lay/ The Levee´s Gonna Break/ Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again/ Moonlight/ Rollin´ And Tumbin´/ Workingman´s Blues n.2/ Things Have Changed/ The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll/ It´s All Right Ma (I´m Only Bleeding)/ Spirit on the Water/ Highway 61 Revisited

CDR 2: The Ballad of Hollis Brown/ Summer Nights/ Ain´t Talkin´/ Thunder on the Mountain/ Like a Rolling Stone

The second volume of “Summer in Spain” is another great piece in the wonderful five-Cdr series that LBR has issued in order to commemorate Bob Dylan´s Spanish tour of 2008. The concert documented here took place at the Recinto Ferial in Jaén (Andalusia) on the 5th of July this same year, and it was one of the most eventful (and slightly acciddented) of that historical tour, but at the same time one of the most memorable.

The first CDr opens with the warm reception given by the crowd in the Recinto Ferial to Dylan and the band, over the customary presentation of “Columbia´s recording Artist: Bob Dylan.” The concert starts immediately with “Watching the River Flow”, and there initially seems to be some problems in the recording: the voice reverberates a bit too much, and the sound of the band is a bit muffled. This, luckily, is not a problem of the tape, but of the particular mix and acoustics of the concert, and things begin to get noticeably better in the second number, where the sound of all the instruments becomes much clearer and Dylan´s voice can be listened to clearly. From this moment onwards, the sound will keep on improving, reaching a very good quality towards the final part of the concert (from “It´s Alright Ma (I´m Only Bleeding) onwards)”. The second song of the evening is already a solid triumph: a version of “Lay Lady Lay” played with just the adequate balance between looseness and control that the piece requires in order to foreground its erotic message. This has always seemed to me one of Dylan´s most difficult pieces in its live versions, as it always tends to lose its original delicacy. Here, on the contrary, the relaxed guitar soloing of Danny Freeman is a wonder in itself, and Dylan is really into getting the seductive message along to the crowd, phrasing the words meaningfully, suggestively; George Recile also does some extraordinary work on cymbals.

In my humble opinion, the title of this particular CDr should have been, without a doubt, “Stuck inside of Jaén”. The third song played in this set, “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”, is something of a hymn in Southern Spain, since the Andalusian artist Kiko Veneno made a particular Spanish version of it that was particularly successful. Here it is immediately recognised by the audience, and every time  that the punchline of the song comes, a large part of the crowd sings along (“…oooh Mama!”only following the melody, as they know the words in Spanish rather than Englsh). Dylan enthusiasts will very rarely have heard masses of people singing along to “Stuck Inside of Mobile…” but they will hear them here! After that first climax, the concert enters into a more peaceful mood with gentle, delicate performances of “Moonlight” and especially the gorgeous “Workingman´s Blues n.2”, one of the great masterpieces of Dylan´s most recent work, with the singer really seeming to relish the poetry of every line and Donnie Herron contributing some truly elegant backing on the fiddle. 

A peculiar incident occurs during the performance of  “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”. What we get is in itself a delicate arrangement of the piece, with Donnie Herron´s steel guitar and Danny Freeman´s melodic fingerpicking creating a solemn but gentle mood, over which Dylan sings the lines of this compassionate ballad. With the third chorus, however, comes a sudden and sonorous crack in the sound of Dylan´s mic; for the next minute, the band keep on playing the accompanying instrumental backing, as if unsure whether Dylan is going to keep on singing the song or not; the audience is also unsure of what is happening (one member is clearly heard at this point, saying: “Esto no puede ser!” -“this can´t be happening!”). But when the next chorus comes, the band soldier on ahead without Dylan: they raise the volume of their instruments and Denny Freeman plays an astonishingly hearftelt solo over the “Hattie Caroll” melody, bringing the song to a perfect end, and receiving an extraordinarily warm applause.

After this chaotic but wonderful moment, Dylan takes command of the situation and charges onwards with a fiery rendition of “It´s Alright Ma (I´m Only Bleeding)”: the stage is in his hands again, and the attending crowd too. Another clear highlight comes as the concert nears its end: a subtle, truly haunting version of the “Ballad of Hollis Brown”. Here it is especially Donnie Herron on banjo, Tony Garnier on the upright bass and the softened, precise guitar-picking by Denny Freeman that sustain the delicate instrumental tapestry over which Dylan sings with conviction, giving special intention to the repetitions in the verses. This is a Deluxe rendering of a modern ballad that should stand as an American Gothic classic. “Summer Days”, with its wonderful swing, sets the Recinto Ferial on fire once more, and next comes the set closer, the sinister and suggestive “Ain´t Talkin”, beautifully decorated by Donnie Herron´s fiddle and creating a dense, soulful atmosphere.

When the band return to the stage, they are greeted by an almost hysterical ovation by a very loud audience (a woman keeps shouting her request for the song “Silvio”, to no avail, as the show comes to its conclusion). The first encore is “Thunder on the Mountain”, from “Modern Times”, perhaps the most brilliant of Dylan´s recent rockers, which is delivered here with tremendous strength and conviction. The closing number is the mythical “Like a Rolling Stone”; and no matter how many times and with how many bands you have heard Bob sing this one, you are going to enjoy this particular rendition, in which he sounds possessed by joy, even going so far as to lead along the crowd in a triumphant singalong that (for once!) he seems to be positively enjoying.

At the end of the show, Dylan and the band stood on the front of the stage as they usually do, and Dylan raised his hands repeteadely in a gesture of uninhibited satisfaction. This Cdr is an excellent  document of a very memorable if imperfect show, in which professionalism and passion for music triumphed over technical difficulties, and in which relatively minor songs (especially “Stuck inside of Mobile” and “Hattie Carrroll”) were elevated to the category of major hymns. A night to remember.        

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