Friday, July 23, 2010

Alive and well in Olympia

I thought this long summer break would be a time of intense online activity, and a time to revive this blog.

It may well be -- but not yet.

I have here for a week and a half, and have been doing anything and everything but using my favorite social networking sites.

Facebook has been serving as communications central for getting together with friends here; I've issued a few tweets, but haven't felt much desire to follow Twitter; I figure I'm going to have to clear my Google Reader when it gets to 1000 unread posts.

Replacing all of this are emails to my family back in France, connecting to my work email platform to check up on how my students are doing on their foreign internships, and some online work on the syllabi for my classes next year.

Of course, plenty of offline stuff is going on: seeing my family and friends, outings to restaurants and shows, reading, watching movies and baseball games...

It's summer and I think I needed a break from all of my routines. But I'm not gone forever.

I hope you are all enjoying your summer as much as I am. I will be back in touch.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Homeward Bound

(Photo courtesy of Thierry Jouanneteau)

Whether grey and gloomy, cool and misty, or warm and watery, Olympia is sounding awfully good to me right now...and I'll be there in little more than two days.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

While my conscience explodes: Bob Dylan in Carcassonne, June 28 2010

Before writing a review of Monday's Bob Dylan concert in Carcassonne, I first felt like I needed to write a whole prologue to the experience: my personal journey into the labyrinthical world of Dylan's music, why I had never seen him in concert before, my expectations for the show, and so forth.

But I've decided to dive into the concert itself while it is fresh in my mind -- not that I'll be forgetting it any time soon.

On face value, the Théâtre Jean Deschamps (Théâtre Antique) in Carcassonne would seem to be an extraordinary venue for a rock concert:

The medieval atmosphere combined with the drop-dead gorgeous weather boded well for a lively evening, but the setting didn't entirely hold its promises... we will see when I write about the audience.

I had been following the setlists of Bob's European dates closely, so I knew what to expect -- sort of.

One of the fascinating aspects of the Never-Ending Tour, on which Dylan has played well over 2,000 shows all over the world since the late 1980s, is that every show is different.

Sure, there have been common points in the 2010 European leg that started on May 29 in Athens. But if I compare that setlist with the one performed in Carcassonne, only 6 songs are the same.

Seeing the great variety of material Dylan does on tour makes me wish I could have taken a few weeks off to follow the show, as some fans do. But I had one concert only, and here is its playlist:

  1. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
  2. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
  3. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight
  4. Just Like a Woman
  5. The Levee's Gonna Break
  6. Tangled up in Blue
  7. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum
  8. Love Sick
  9. Cold Irons Bound
  10. Mr. Tambourine Man
  11. Highway 61 Revisited
  12. Not Dark Yet
  13. Thunder on the Mountain
  14. Ballad of a Thin Man
Encore: 15. Like a Rolling Stone
16. Jolene
17. Blowing in the Wind

This was just dandy with me. All I was really sure of going in was that Ballad of a Thin Man and Like a Rolling Stone had been part of the end of every recent concert; I was looking forward to that. For the rest, I was flexible.

I was also prepared, as I had taken the time to get to know all of the "recent" material (as in from about the past 20 years) that he had been performing -- an effort that I would highly recommend to anyone who decides to see a Dylan concert in the future.

Dylan never ceases to surprise and amaze, and this concert was no exception. I knew all the songs, had checked out a few YouTube videos of previous dates, and, well, I know my Dylan fairly honorably. Yet all of this homework did not prepare me for the three main observations I drew from the show.

(Photo courtesy of Daphné Jouanneteau)

1. Forever young?

The concept of "for his age" ended up having absolutely no relevance to my evaluation of the concert.

This man not only rocks; he may be at the top of his form.
He cut a fine figure in his dark suit and white hat, and was clearly on stage to give an even finer concert. Assuring virtually non-stop vocals for nearly two hours while alternating between guitar, organ, and harmonica, his energy and showmanship were breathtaking.

Although Dylan didn't speak (directly) to the public except to introduce his band at the end, he certainly doesn't seem to be in a phase of erratic performances and diffidence.

He smiled repeatedly (and charmingly,) never slipped up, and made every song (with the possible exception of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," which was kind of tossed out) a show in itself.

The synergy with his excellent band was palpable, and the musical arrangements carefully crafted (unlike certain concerts decades back, ahem) while still leaving room for improvisation.

If you want further proof, take a look at this video of "Thunder on the Mountain" and "Ballad of a Thin Man."

2. Now everything's a little upside down...
Even if I knew and had grown to like the "recent" numbers that I thought I might hear, I was intrigued to find myself enjoying them as much, if not more, than the "oldies." The following songs were undoubtedly among the highlights of the evening:

The Levee's Gonna Break
(Modern Times, 2006)

Cold Irons Bound (Time Out of Mind, 1997)

Not Dark Yet (Time Out of Mind, 1997)

Thunder on the Mountain (Modern Times, 2006)

Jolene (Together Through Life, 2009)

The Levee's Gonna Break
and Thunder on the Mountain are unapologetic rock 'n' roll songs that work much better live than in their respectable studio versions -- as unapologetic rock 'n' roll songs should, I might add.

Jolene, performed at about twice the speed of the recording, kept the crowd on its feet and dancing during the encore.

Cold Irons Bound was one of Bobby's most impressive vocal performances of the evening, in my opinion topped only by Ballad of a Thin Man.

As far as slower numbers, Not Dark Yet moved me to tears. Interestingly, it was also one of the only songs in the main set to elicit an immediately enthusiastic reaction from the crowd.

It's not dark yet, but it's getting there...

(Photo courtesy of Daphné Jouanneteau)

3. Highways Revisited

I knew rule number one of Dylan concerts: don't expect to hear your favorite songs sounding like they did on the original albums, or on some old live CD (or LP) that you particularly cherish.

On Monday, I learned rule number two: expect to have your vision of certain songs changed forever.

In Carcassonne, Dylan slipped in a slightly eerie, processional version of "Mr. Tambourine Man," little-played in Europe 2010, and mixed in a bit of playful mockery of his 60s voice. It sure worked for me, and gave me a new take on a song I have grown weary of.

Just Like a Woman has never been one of my favorite Dylan tunes, but the current live performance is especially polished, and I ended up enjoying it more than personal favorites It's All Over Now, Baby Blue and Tangled Up in Blue.
The concert also made me acutely aware of the anthemic power of "Like a Rolling Stone." Of course I recognize its greatness, but I would easily put many Dylan songs on par with it.
Not so the lethargic Carcassonne audience, who after an hour and a half of treating the concert like a chamber music recital finally figured out they were at a rock concert when they heard "Once upon a time you dressed so fine..."

How does it know you've been sitting on your butts for 90 minutes rather than giving Bob Dylan his due?

(Photo courtesy of Daphné Jouanneteau)

To the Carcassonne Dylan audience: I wish you could stand inside my'd know what a drag it was to see you.
I was most distressed by the public's unresponsiveness at this show; my daughter finally had to tell me to get a grip because I was ruining the concert I had so looked forward to. She was right, of course, but I was living in fear that Bob might calmly leave the stage earlier than planned.

That didn't happen, and he even went in for a three-song encore, which hadn't been the case at every Europe 2010 show. I'm not sure Carcassonne deserved it.

Was it me, was it France, was it Carcassonne?

Apparently it was Carcassonne, as a contributor to the message board (re)assured me: You were unlucky. I went to all the French shows and this was definitely the dullest audience of all. You should have been in Bordeaux the day after, it was a different thing altogether, a young and very enthusiastic crowd and the show was really great.
Oh, perhaps I should have, but I was still delighted with the show overall.
The changing of the guards

One final word before I (finally) finish this lengthy post.

I was lucky enough to attend this concert with my 17-year-old daughter and a friend of hers, and they were appropriately awestruck. I certainly didn't have to drag them along either.

I did the math: this would be the equivalent of my being fascinated, in the 70s, with an artist over 50 years my senior who had started his or her career in the mid-1920s.

That would SO never have happened...but I was so much older then; they're younger than that now.