Exhuming Bob 32: Didn’t We Ramble Though, A Review Of The Bob Dylan Show, Portland Performance 10/21/14

October 22, 2014

Exhuming Bob 32

Didn’t We Ramble Though

A Review Of The Bob Dylan Show, Portland Performance 10/21/14

by

R.E. Prindle

The steel is moanin’, the guitars are speakin’,

The piano plays a jelly roll.

The man on the drums is far from dumb,

The bassman he plays from his soul.

The tables are quakin’, and your nerves are shakin’

But you keep on beggin’ for more.

You’re havin’ your fun you lucky son of a gun

On that Honky Tonk hardwood floor.

Sung by the late great Johnny Horton

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The Bob Dylan show dropped into town last night. And what a show it was.  My first Dylan show, from reading all these reviews depicting the shows as atrocious my expectations were very low.

I can’t imagine what these critics are thinking. The Show was absolutely sensational.  Dylan is one of the great Rock and Roll showmen.  Beats anyone else I’ve ever seen.

I hope I can hit a stride here commensurate with the show and my muse doesn’t let me down. The venue, the Keller Auditorium, is a twenty-five hundred capacity house and it was filled.  The stage is relatively big about sixty wide and fifty high.  Bob and his musicians used the whole space like they had been performing there for a year.  The lighting while minimal was dramatic, effective and beautiful putting one in a good mood. An aura was provided that brought one into the Secret Garden.

The electronic gear seemed to be artfully scattered haphazardly across the whole stage. The musicians wore red blazers while Bob came out in a white planter’s outfit, uniting the Templars with the old plantation down South.  Jeb Stuart rides again.

The musicians appeared to be encamped among the gear with the lead and rhythm guitarists to the audience’s left.   The drum stand was middle as is proper flanked by the bass player and finally a steel guitar player cum banjoist on the right end.   Bob’s keyboard was forward and on a level with the steel.  It was all very minimalist and effective.  They filled the stage while being placed in perspective by the high fifty foot frame keeping everything human size.  Dylan must have been studying performance art under Yoko.

It is a mistake to go to the concert to hear Dylan sing. He apparently learned to vocalize by singing along to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music.  At first I thought it was a cabover with two cylinders not hitting coming up a mountain grade hauling a hundred thousand K in triple bottoms.  Then I saw that it was Bob.  The music is the thing; as a composer and conductor lies Bob’s genius.

The band was incredibly disciplined, everyone knew his role, fit tightly with the others and played their instruments without exhibitionism. The harmonics and spacing was incredible.

The drummer carried the band on his back. He was so sensational that like the Hindu elephant  he could carry the world on his back.  I mean, he had time in his hands, the money in his pocket and could walk the dog on a long leash.  I haven’t seen anyone like that since Michael Shrieve.  The guy was terrific, he couldn’t only play he looked good doing it.  The bass player standing next to the kit kept the beat rolling forward.  Bob understands the rhythm section.  No amateurishness near.

While relatively unobtrusive the steel player was carrying a lot of the weight.

Now, the band doesn’t play any songs; what Bob has written is some sort of symphonic suite in several movements.  The lead and rhythm play a succession of chord progressions loud; there is no melody as such.  The music has a strong forward flow that sweeps along like the Mississippi in flood before it was channeled and diked.

The band set the crowd off from the first chord; it was all daylight from there. Like nearly everyone else I flipped to the ozone, shouting and howling, lost in the noise.  Amazingly the audience responded differently to different chord progressions; sections would shoot from seats with a roar that competed with the amplification.  It was like a huge sea of deep rollers rising and falling.

A wonderful crowd, best I’ve ever seen. Everyone looked good and went way into the show.  There was no one not having the time of their life.  Dylan was flattered and showed it, trying a little harder to deliver the goods.

His singing was irrelevant. Why he is charged with plagiarism is beyond me.  I won’t say you couldn’t understand a word because I was able to snag a few while even getting a phrase or two- Tangled Up In Blue but he shouted that out in his normal voice.

If he was singing from his catalogue it was hardly noticeable although I did get the faint impression that one  of them was She Belongs To Me.  Either that or Love –  Zero = No Limits, or something else, might have been The Star Spangled Banner.  Didn’t matter, Bob had to do something to justify his being there.  He had the band so tight they could have performed without him.

The band was the cake. The progressions were so powerful it was like Godzilla walking in rhythm.  There were two sets and the first one was a power walk.  Just unbelievable.  If all Bob’s shows are like this one I can’t imagine what critics are belittling.  Forget the singing, it’s some kind of frosting to add a little variety.  So is Bob’s posturing.  He struts around a little like the Lord of the Manse directing the slaves striking what I suppose are meant to be power poses.

The end of the first set leaves you exhausted but energized and hoarse. During the intermission most people didn’t leave their seats but in their high excitement there was a huge billowing roar rising up.  I was in the first row, first balcony.  It was a kindly roar, mellow even.  Dylan’s fans are OK.  No weirdos there regardless of Kinney’s book, The Dylanologists:  Adventures In The Land Of Bob.

I was there with my wife and our friends Mark and Jenna, two old fans. On my left I sat next to a couple from Medicine Hat, Alberta who had driven down for the show.  He was a wheat farmer with 600 acres.  Using three John Deere combines he harvests all 600 acres in one day.  Gives him a lot of leisure I suppose.

The second set was a little more frivolous lowering the energy level considerably.   But, before you went to sleep he pepped it up a little ending on a power note.

I had heard that he doesn’t do encores but after a steady drum roll of applause for about ten minutes he and the band came back for not a one piece encore, but two, ending the show with a medium power progression while Bob mumbled the words to Blowing In The Wind apparently a very personal lyric. Ah, Hibbing.

By this time I had a firm grip on the situation paying attention to the band, but it is Bob’s band and I imagine that he has composed the music. As a composer he is no mean hand.  I hesitate to say it but the music is at least as good as Beethoven although falling short of Mozart.

I don’t know how long the piece was but they must have given us five to ten minutes with the crowd and myself going wild. The woman four seats to my left had virtually taken leave of her senses screaming doing a wild gyration of a dance. Really spectacular.

OK, I confess it. I did some involuntary things myself.  The band was really showing off their discipline and expertise.  Now this is really spectacular, they were powering along then cut off simultaneously leaving a half beat silence before resuming at the same pace and volume.  They did this three times in succession.

I sensed it coming on, now I’m not bragging because I wasn’t conscious of what I was doing, but in that brief half beat space was total silence. I shouted out a perfect rock and roll ‘hey’.  I did it the second time slipping that hey into that narrow opening. Perfect timing on both our parts.   I think the band was surprised by the first one then sort of amazed at the second one.  Then consciousness came slipping back and I missed the third opening.  It was still terrific.

As the encore drew to an end the cell phones came out and whole rows held them up to snap pictures. Endless tiny images shown back to up above.  Bob came center stage to pose for the cameras while the band lined up behind him.

The band was terrific. Dylan was terrific, the whole show was breathtaking and invigorating.  If you are being swayed by all the negative reviews, disregard them.  Dylan’s show is a can’t miss situation.  Carpe Diem!  Good things don’t last forever.

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