Thursday, May 25, 2006

ROCK 'EM DEAD BABY





The Heartbreakers: a little band that came out in the 70s, sounding like the American version of the Clash, then going through and through the American legacy of the XX century music: from the Byrds to 50s rockabilly, from pure traditional country music to the psychedelic moments, really the only band able to go through about every aspect of American music, with such ability that is no wonder that they have worked with just about every great performer, from Bob Dylan to Johnny Cash to a dozen others, something that the E Street Band never was able to do. It is no wonder that without their Boss they have done about nothing, with the exception of the fantastic piano player Prof. Roy Bittan. And, also: can you imagine the E Street Band doing something like Don’t Come Around Here No More? I guess no.

Bob Dylan meets The Heartbreakers: yes, it was the 80s, Bob Dylan was trying almost desperately to recapture an audience, something that in a way he lost during the Gospel years, and to do that he had to fight against Rock ’n’ Roll Star #1, yes Bruce Springsteen and the bombastic Born in the USA stadium tour and everything that that means (already in 1981 Bob Dylan had had to fight with him: they both played London at the same time in that year and the press verdict was hard for Dylan: “the new rock ’n’ roll #1 is Bruce”, they said, while Bob Dylan was considered a failure..) Of course we know that the music Dylan was playing that year was fabulous, but the rising star of Bruce Springsteen surely had an effect on him. Don’t forget that at least until the beginning of the NET, Dylan was always very sensible to this kind of problem: who is Mr. #1 in the rock scene?

This is to say that everything needs to be put in a context: the 1986 tour was clearly planned with the desperate intent to fight Bruce Springsteen in his own field. Even the Bob Dylan look in that year (which I find damn cool, as much as some of you hate it... It was clearly the look of a “rock star”..) So it is very useless to compare this particular tour with every other one, I know, but in the end, while I’m writing this, I’m listening to some songs from the concert in Hoffman Estates, Ill., June 29th, I can’t help it but I’m hearing a man that is absolutely enjoying the music, having a lot of fun and trying something new.
Yes, in a way the arrangements of many songs are very similar to the original studio versions: listen to Ballad Of A Thin Man, you can hear the same Al Kooper organ licks (but when Mike Campbell explodes his solo that’s another level), or Positively 4th Street, so similar to the original studio 65 version, but here is a man trying to find again the meaning of many of his old songs, having fun rediscovering that original sound, and to me he is sounding completely free, like sometimes he was not when performing some of his 60s songs during the 1981 or the 84 tours. And this is because he feels that the band behind him is supporting him completely. He knows that, like The Band or the Hawks years ago, these people can play just about anything.

Then we have, during this tour (I’m quoting Paul Williams here) in “24/26 songs every night, only 8 or 10 greatest hits, 4 or 5 songs from Empire Burlesque, 4 from 1980/1983 albums and 6 or 7 covers (!! First time ever he is trying so many covers)”: and the covers are about rediscovering his youthfulness, the days of rockabilly, or the beautiful traditional American music, or even contemporary songwriters. I mean: if this is not a man free and willing to take some risks… When I listen to Across The Borderline I can hear the same man who recorded that beautiful solo take on piano, Spanish Is The Loving Tongue, a man who doesn’t care about anything other than his joy in performing a particular song he love to sings. Or when he sings I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know with Tom Petty: ain’t it stunning to hear how gorgeous is their singing?
I’m listening to a band that can play dirty reggae music (I and I), a band that can rock like nobody else (Rock ‘em Baby, Rock ‘em Dead) and the leader of this band is having the time of his life (yes, Bob Dylan, who is no one else, here, than a member of the gang). I can hear the beautiful male voices vs. the voices of the female singers in the long ending of License To Kill (a song, that in this tour, is completely recreated to a new life), and how can I not cry during the lonesome feeling of That Lucky Old Sun? Just gorgeous.
And what about his inspiring speeches, during this tour, like the In The Garden intro (oh I forgot how great was this band when it was about playing gospel music…) or the Tennessee Williams speech? Hey, if this is not a completely free Bob Dylan, playing freewheeling to show there is no Bruce Springsteen that can beat him…

To me the 1986 tour was a great moment in Dylan’s career: of course I’m more than happy that it was a moment that lasted only one year, but it is a moment that, exactly like the 66 tour, or the 75/76 tour, when I want to show somebody who Bob Dylan is as a performer, I know what I’m doing.

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