Bob Dylan – The Waterfront Box (Crystal Cat CC 1065 – 1068)

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Bob Dylan, “The Waterfront Box” (Crystal Cat CC 1065 – 1068)
Waterfront, Stockholm, Sweden, Monday 5th October, 2015
Intro / Things Have Changed / She Belongs To Me / Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ / The Night We Called It A Day / Duquesne Whistle / What’ll I Do / Pay In Blood / I’m A Fool To Want You / Tangled Up In Blue (45:08)
Intro / High Water (For Charley Patton) / Where Are You? / Early Roman Kings / Why Try To Change Me Now / Spirit On The Water / Scarlet Town / All Or Nothing At All / Long And Wasted Years / Autumn Leaves / Blowin’ In the Wind / Love Sick (58:07)

Waterfront, Stockholm, Sweden, Tuesday 6th October, 2015
Intro / Things Have Changed / She Belongs To Me / Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ / The Night We Called It A Day / Duquesne Whistle / What’ll I Do / Pay In Blood / I’m A Fool To Want You / Tangled Up In Blue (45:02)
Intro / High Water (For Charley Patton) / Where Are You? / Early Roman Kings / Why Try To Change Me Now / Spirit On The Water / Scarlet Town / All Or Nothing At All / Long And Wasted Years / Autumn Leaves / Blowin’ In the Wind / Love Sick (60:43)

It seems to have been a while since we last saw a Dylan Crystal Cat release. Indeed the last one was reviewed on these pages in late 2014 by JA, The shows at the Atlantico in Rome were those special charges where Dylan had put his Tempest songbook to one side, told his band they were doing something different (Very probably 5 minutes before the shows) and skipped a good few classics across the water. These were the days prior to the Sinatra covers albums, a lot has changed since then, maybe not within Dylan’s life or touring schedules but within Dylan’s set lists they have become a little more grounded with Bob’s want to emulate Frank Sinata dropping in various songs for swinging lovers, he has also taken to hovering out from behind his keyboard and standing stage front, hand on his hip, serenading the audience.

Presumably, the Cat had been touring with Dylan for a few shows capturing tapes in the vain hope that Dylan might shout, ’Screw it!’ at rehearsals again and flash a little spring in his autumn years. Alas, it wasn’t to be but then this recording captures 2015 Dylan in the Crystal Cat way. The first set, a sharp, warm recording, very clear vocals with the band only a step in sound behind him giving us a very close to soundboard audience recording, the second set sounding more like an audience recording but still with the standard of recording that we know and love).

The Eat A Peach label have given us a really good show recently with Southhampton, the Rattlesnake label have released one from Amsterdam (Not heard this at time of writing), we’ll compare these recordings soon but for now, the Crystal Cat release is one to savour from this tour. Excellent packaging in true CC style (More of which later) the two shows here are in glorious sound and while of a static set list, are choice contenders to own from this tour.

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Waterfront, Stockholm, Sweden, Monday 5th October, 2015

Intro / Things Have Changed / She Belongs To Me / Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ / The Night We Called It A Day / Duquesne Whistle / What’ll I Do / Pay In Blood / I’m A Fool To Want You / Tangled Up In Blue
Intro / High Water (For Charley Patton) / Where Are You? / Early Roman Kings / Why Try To Change Me Now / Spirit On The Water / Scarlet Town / All Or Nothing At All / Long And Wasted Years / Autumn Leaves / Blowin’ In the Wind / Love Sick

The first disk opens with a short acoustic prelude by Stu Kimball before Dylan seems to appear by magic (if to a rapturous applause) and gallops seamlessly in to a gentle if gently brewing,‘Things Have Changed’, Dylan’s voice stands proudly against the backdrop of the music and because of the quality of the recording, it’s easy to place each instrument in it’s own context, graceful lead guitar grazes against furiously strummed acoustic while George Recicilly patters generously and assuredly keeping a solid pace.

Dylan’s voice, rich and rusty, sounds poised but, obviously down to the lyrics, nonchalant to the person that he’s singing too. He mutters a little because of the sprinting speed of the song but does well to keep up regardless. ‘She Belongs To Me’ follows closely behind, a brooding stomp, Dylan, as he’s want to do, plays with his phrasing, drawing out the end of every other line. The breakdowns after the choruses veer between country hoe-down to waltzing swish, Dylan’s see-sawing harp playing lazily but purposefully spiking the track.

The first Sinatra song is ‘The Night We Called It A Day’, unveiled to the setlist only days ago, to my ears when Dylan played this track on the last Letterman show, he made a pigs ear of it, it sounded desperate and hoarse, tonight however, it’s luscious, stirring and wistful, some of the higher notes bump their heads against the ceiling but the rest is placidly beautiful.

The second track from “Shadows ..”, ‘What’ll I Do’, is steeped in merry memories, crooned not crowed, the gossamer delicate playing by the band underpins the gracefulness of the rendition but like a bolted shock, ‘Pay In Blood’ kicks out the jams and launches itself on to the stage like a mafia don, pushing up it’s chest, rolling up it’s sleeves and jabbing you in the chest, it’s a sharp appearance, hackles are raised, the register deepens, a menacing air descends, Dylan is point on with every word he speaks and sounds like he means it too!

After this we step back to the more gracious sounds of the crooner, ‘I’m A Fool To Want You’ makes an attractive partner to the former, Dylan seems to have paired this as the answer to ‘Pay In Blood’, playing the gangsters moll. A woozy, gin-soaked, sway holds the track as Bob wonders aloud about just what he’s doing, how he go it and how he gets out. The Cat’s recording captures the delicate balance perfectly, Dylan’s voice calls close to the ears and the croak is almost textural.

As we finish up the first disk, ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ raises it’s hat from a formulating instrumental. Stu’s intro is strident, yet simple, the song threatens to really lift and roar but keeps it’s composure as Dylan’s vocals from more and more impassioned, changing the lyrics at a whim – Sometimes it’s difficult to catch just what he says but the changes are obvious. Rather frustratingly the regular harp solo before Dylan walks to the piano is a little weedy and un-impassioned. His piano playing begins to border on the self-caricature, his one-two notes lessening the impact of the song. It’s a shame that he continues to do this but it just seems like there’s nothing to do otherwise before he calls it quits for the first half.

Upon the bands return to the stage and the start of disk two (Is Dylan aiding the bootleggers nowadays?) we have a brief blues intro from Stu Kimball, a chance for the audience to clap along. This pushes through to ‘High Water (For Charly Patton)’. Seems Dylan has no problem with the lyrics to this and the alpacian / rock hybrid bristles with a dark mood, grinding and jostling with itself.

‘Why Try To Change Me Now’ lazily and wistfully swoons, Bob’s delicacy at great terms as he sounds like he’s singing to himself or for himself.

Thankfully, ‘Scarlet Town’ doesn’t rattle the nerves as much as some of the crooned songs, true, it’s hardly a late revival but at the same time, it justifies it’s appearance in the set by being a close tie to the slower “Shadows ..” tracks and classically wordy in Dylan’s best songwriting sense, even the mood is darkly sombre, the electric solos, a peeling antique paint. It receives one of the largest applauses of the night from this generally sedate crowd. A special mention should also go towards, “All Or Nothing All All”, originally premiered 3 days earlier in Oslo, this was relatively brand new to the set, tonight, it appears limpid and unexpressive, a strange choice to bring to the party, really.

Back again to the style that ‘Why Try To Change Me Now’ brought us, ‘Long And Wasted Years’ reminds us why he returned to the standards on the last album, though there was evidently a shift in styles, the structures and themes are never too far apart and brought together in context of the show, lean against each other like old bar buddies. ‘Autumn Leaves’ receives a flourish of applause right at the beginning when nothing else does! It was the first inkling that Dylan was heading in this promised direction and may be the best known of the covers that he plays.

’Blowin’ In The Wind’ and ‘Love Sick’ round out the shows, the former played in standard terms from the past few years, a delicately graceful ballad, you get the feeling that as much as Dylan could play this with his eyes closed, he does. An effectively dreamy and warm rendition, it warms almost immediately. The latter, a darker tread through life mysteries, Dylan’s voice steadies itself back to standing force and he sounds passionate in a deeper way. The crowd immediately engage with a ripple of applause and wolf whistles. No wonder Dylan returns to this closer so often, as both he and the band can fully interact, and bring out the best in each other.

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Waterfront, Stockholm, Sweden, Tuesday 6th October, 2015
Intro / Things Have Changed / She Belongs To Me / Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ / The Night We Called It A Day / Duquesne Whistle / What’ll I Do / Pay In Blood / I’m A Fool To Want You / Tangled Up In Blue (45:02)
Intro / High Water (For Charley Patton) / Where Are You? / Early Roman Kings / Why Try To Change Me Now / Spirit On The Water / Scarlet Town / All Or Nothing At All / Long And Wasted Years / Autumn Leaves / Blowin’ In the Wind / Love Sick (60:43)

The crowd on the second night seem to be a little more animated, they’re certainly clearer on the tape at least but this could be a consequence of the taper moving seats. Dylan’s mood remains the same however, this show is in effect a loose mirror image of the show the night before, most of the more excitable tracks are confined to the first set, Dylan takes a breather, paces himself towards the end and then finishes to a strong finale.

‘Things Have Changed’ doesn’t quite test Dylan as much tonight, he seems to have gone back to his crib notes and studied again, the words are clearer but the pace remains the same.

‘Beyond Here Lies Nothin’’ reverts back to the pace of the first track. His piano playing, slightly abstract but playful, bangs against the drums at inopportune moments like he’s pulling against the leash from time to time. It sounds heavier than the previous nights rendition too, clattering to a climax.

‘Duquesne Whistle’ begins with a playful little discordant intro as the band warm up together and shake up the mood, the song skittles and taps along, mainly in parts to George’s ratterty-tat drumming, towards the second half, Dylan matches the ascent and decent of his piano chords to his phrasing, obviously having a whale of a time, the silliness is infectious, the coda allows the band to bully around and jazz up the jamming.

“What’ll I Do” changes ever so slightly, tonight’s rendition loses the sharpness of the previous nights version, the nagging feel of a chatty audience bothers too as they seem to get bored a little easier and from time to time, you’ll catch the very snippet of conversation, a little annoying if you’re listening through headphones.

‘Tangled Up In Blue’ greets a change in phrase, Bob almost sounds coy at times and whispers lines, his harp playing is thankfully a little more boisterous and sharp. At the end of the track, Dylan thanks us and leaves, the Cat also captures the spoken announcement from the venue with regards to the intermission.

‘Where Are You’ might be the low point of the night. Mercifully, it is short but why Dylan figured he should show it off is beyond my expectations and so, ‘Early Roman Kings’, kicking like an itchy mule, George shuffles to a lolopping beat, while Stu’s guitar wriggles like a salted worm, Dylan smiles to himself throughout as he enjoys spitting out his lyrics, full -stop sentence by full-stop-sentence, his words come out straight and like he’s reading someone their rights.

‘High Water (For Charly Patton)’ sounds a bit more spry than the night before, lighter on it’s feet, more rumpus about it. It has a very excitable Dylan at it’s helm so badgers to be heard. ’Spirit On The Water’, the fans favourite, skips along as usual and in the same spirit that it’s always played in, unfortunately, it’s a little past it’s best now, and while it’s no ‘Where Are You’, it should be disemployed from the set list this year and a relative oldies or rarities section should over take it. Seem’s early likely though as Dylan seems to believe it fits with his current remit and sounds like he enjoys playing it.

“All Or Nothing At All” shows a marked change around from it’s previous outing, impish and light, it skittles around and sounds a delight, there’s a marked difference on last nights performance.
Both ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ and ‘Love Sick’ repeat last nights successes, ’Love Sick’ gathers just a little more passion however and Bob adds a few more full stops. They need no extra embellishment though and as Dylan’s in no want to change much anyway, there’s no problem. They are the perfect ending to a pair of very good shows.

The Crystal Cat has once again presented us with two sterling recordings, the packaging that presents them is also very handsome – two slim jewel cases in a glossy, psychedelic box, with an extra 16 page booklet that features the lyrics to the ’Shadows in The Night’ album. The booklets that accompany each double disk set are filled with images from the shows, the venue, the tour bus, the merch stall, all typical CC traits, the unfortunate traits are still around though as some of the images are blown up far beyond their resolutions and so look a little pixelated. It’s not specifically the cat’s fault – they want to offer a full presentation but if the images aren’t there for the show, they wisely don’t use any others.

Tiny things aside, this is another brilliant release and a success for the Cat. A must have!

If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)

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