Bob Dylan – Wembley Arena First 2007 (Crystal Cat CC 822-823)


Wembley Arena First 2007 (Crystal Cat CC 822-823)

Wembley Arena, London, England – April 15th, 2007
Disc 1: Introduction, Cat’s In The Well, It Ain’t Me Babe, Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues, It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), The Levee’s Gonna Break, Spirit On The Water, Highway 61 Revisited, When The Deal Goes Down, Rollin’ And Tumblin’

Disc 2: Chimes Of Freedom, Blind Willie McTell, Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, Nettie Moore, Summer Days, Like A Rolling Stone, Thunder On The Mountain, All Along The Watchtower. Bonus tracks: Joey (Frontier Field, Rochester, NY – August 30th, 2006), Shooting Star (Rabobank Arena, Bakersfield, CA – April 5th, 2006), The Man In Me (Mullins Center, University Of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA – November 15th, 2006)

This is the first of two titles on Crystal Cat covering Bob Dylan’s two nights in London on the 2007 European tour. The tape is a complete stereo audience recording in excellent quality and with Crystal Cat’s usual emphasis upon the higher frequencies offering a crystal clear aural experience.

For the first night in London Dylan plays the first four songs on guitar before switching to keyboards for the first Modern Times track of the evening “The Levee’s Gonna Break.” The tape picks up almost the complete introduction with most of the Copeland present before the disembodied voice gives the introduction. “Cat’s In The Well” is the most common opener (it will be employed in the second London show too) and sounds very tight.

“It Ain’t Me, Babe” sounds quicker than usual as does “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” which threatens to turn metallic with Freeman spitting out blistering notes in two guitar solos. It isn’t until “Spirit On The Water” that Dylan and the band slow down to catch their breath. Freeman plays an interesting solo by bending notes to their breaking point.

The song ends with Dylan on the harp which he continues playing as a bridge to the next song “Highway 61 Revisited,” another song with a fast tempo and hard cadences. Dylan’s voice on the next song “When The Deal Goes Down” sounds almost ghostly as he dispenses his wisdom gained over the years and whose voice offers inspiring comfort in the face of an uncertain future. “Rollin’ And Tumblin'” closes out the first disc, a return to an up-tempo fun song to lighten the mood of what came before and a prelude of the extraordinary latter part of the set.

The latter half of the show is dominated by a run of four outstanding performances starting with the surprise “Chimes Of Freedom.” This is the second of two performances in Europe (the first occurring on April 8 in Amsterdam). Dylan plays the song with a new arrangement which some complain is too close to “Every Grain Of Sand.” The ancient melody is perceivable in the song as Dylan recites the words.

This is followed by “Blind Willie McTell,” played here on the tour for the first time and enriched by Donnie Herron’s banjo. “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” is next and this is a very good version with many harmonica breaks between the verses. The highlight in the opinion of many who attended the show is “Nettie Moore.”

The reason why they speak about this rendition is a “lightness of touch” that supersedes the Modern Times recording and Dylan’s voice is clear and plaintive producing an ethereal atmosphere.

Also Denny Freeman’s guitar was remarkable throughout making this a classic. The final song of the set “Summer Days” sounds almost limp and uninspired after this, sounding as if the band wasted their energy on the preceding four songs. In fact the three-song encore set also sounds rote and mechanical by contrast.

Crystal Cat includes an insert titled “We’ve Just Had A Whopping Good Time!” this short review is written by nine-year-old Jessica Nasmyth-Miller and eleven year old Hannah Nasmyth-Miller. Among their observations they say, “Bob’s singing … (and throughout the night) was clear and mellow and beautiful. He never mumbled, forgot his words or indeed made them up,” “all songs were recognizable by either the introduction or by the first line,” and “it was an incredible evening – so much so that we had to ring mum and wake her up to tell her about it.”

This release contains only three bonus tracks, but each of them is a separate gem worthy of inclusion. The first is “Joey” from Desire from Rochester, New York on August 30, 2006. This is the first time it was played in over two years (April 7th, 2004 in North Carolina) and was played two more times after this, in Colorado and in Chicago. It is a very good to excellent tape although somewhat distant from the stage.

It isn’t as good and clear as the Wembley tape. This version of the song is several minutes longer than the studio version. Dylan drops some verses by the end and mixes others together, but the narrative of the ballad to Joey Gallo is otherwise intact. Many reviews of the Rochester show claim this was the absolute highlight of the concert and it’s hard to argue.

It comes as a nice surprise and Crystal Cat are to be commended for including this track as a bonus somewhere (although the complete show would be nice!) the second bonus is “Shooting Star” from the April 5th, 2006 Bakersfield, California gig. This is the first of only two performances of the song in 2006 with the second occurring the same Colorado show as “Joey.”

The sound quality is better than the Rochester tape with crisp sound. The final bonus is “The Man In Me” from the November 15th, 2006 Amherst concert. The tape for this track leans too far to the right and is hard to listen to. This is the second of only two performances of the song with the first being on September 1, 2006 in Wappingers Falls, New York and Bob ending the song with a beautiful harp solo.

Wembley Arena First 2007 is packaged in a double slimline jewel case, gorgeous picture discs and a thick booklet with the aforementioned review and many photos from the tour.

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