Saturday, October 10, 2009

We Love Uncle Bobby

We love Bob Dylan. We love his new album, and that he's gone in a decidedly blues-oriented direction during the last 15 years or so. We loved his show at the Moore Theatre last week. When the Seattle Times ran Jonathan Zwickel's concert review, we were pleasantly surprised to see our name in print. Here's the mention:

"Backed by a crack quintet, including Texas-born ace guitarist Charlie Sexton, he spent the next half-hour doling out rote boogie blues jams - tight, sure, but the Highway 99 Blues Club is equally so on any given Tuesday."
Is this a compliment for us and the Tuesday night Scarlet Tree All Stars series? Is it a mild slight toward Dylan? A little bit of both? Who knows. Overall, the review was positive. All we can say is, it's quite an honor to be mentioned in the same breath as Bob Dylan. Click here for the full Seattle Times review

Our comments on the show:
We (the Maloney Brothers, Eric and Ed) have been huge Dylan fans all our lives and have seen dozens of his shows. Boston, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, Minnesota, Wisonsin, Seattle... We were at the Moore and while the show was at times simply awesome and at times kind of mundane, overall we were happy for its favorable balance of strong points. Rarely played chestnuts like "Gonna Change My Way of Thinking" and "Shooting Star" plus inspired takes on "Ballad of a Thin Man", "Don't Think Twice" and "I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)" outweighed our opinion that he ignored the true gems of the new album (we wanted to hear "My Wife's Home Town" and "It's All Good").

As we talked about the show over slices at Belltown Pizza that night, we discussed the idea of "What would be your ideal Dylan show?" Tough question, even when you limit the answer to current realities and avails (he can't reunite with the Hawks, for example). Some nights, Dylan is "on." Other nights, not so much. The set list is always different. You never know what you're gonna get. It's not as simple as an artist favoring the new album - we've seen him play a lot of brand new stuff and then very little brand new stuff, within the same tour. At the Moore, he played two songs from the new album, four from Modern Times (2006), three from Love & Theft (2001), one each from the late 70s gospel period and the 80s, and five from the 60s. Nothing from the albums many argue as his career best, Blood on the Tracks and Blonde On Blonde. The following night, a mile down the road at Wamu Theatre, Dylan's set list comprised not even half of the songs we saw and heard at the Moore. The following night, exactly half the songs had been played at either of the two Seattle shows. The night after that in Eugene, same deal, half the set list had anything in common with the prior two nights. As we watch these set lists from town the town, there's not even a formula, as in, "he always opens with a song from Album X, the first song of the encore is always something from Album Y, there's a 3-song piece in the middle that's always the same" and so on. There is no apparent structure or architecture. Dylan plays a song one night as the opener, he may not play it again for 20 years, or he may play it again a few days later but it's done mid-show, or in the encore; one night, he may favor his newest material; another night, he may favor something from the previous album (as he did at the Moore); yet another night, he may favor any particularly identifying slice of his career, be it a period, an album, a subject matter, a style or genre, or none at all. It could be seemingly random. As Jonathan Zwickel so thoughtfully wrote in his Seattle Times review, It's Dylan being Dylan. You don't get the Dylan you want. You get the Dylan you get.

We decided that we like it the way it is. If Dylan felt compelled to get on the nostalgia circuit and play a bunch of his major hits every night, he may as well take it to the casinos. He stopped having anything to prove a long time ago, yet from his late 50s to late 60s he's been putting out material that stands aside his classic stuff of three and four decades ago. The only artist who comes close to Dylan in terms of issuing artistically and musically endearing stuff in his 60s is Tom Waits. Springsteen just turned 60 and to qualify for the discussion, he'll have to do better than he did in his 40s and his 50s. We love Bruce and his output of the last 20 years, but in terms of rivaling the output of his 20s and 30s in his 60s, all signs point to No. Anyway, that's all we've got for now.

The moral to this story is that we are all very lucky to have Bob Dylan as an active, productive artist who tours as actively as he does. He is not just a great journeyman troubadour. He is the most prolific and profound recording artist we can think of, and he continues to create new music, albums, and plays about a hundred shows a year. Not bad for a 68 year-old guy. His legacy as a recording artist is far greater than any other. If anyone has massive laurels on which to rest, it his Bob Dylan. But while far lesser artists do that, he doesn't. Artistically, the guy has balls of steel and an ambitious output of work to back it up.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Redemption, Sanctification, Gospelization

The other night, we hosted the secular debut of a gospel band called Brothers of the Empty Tomb. What we did know: they're a very good band, a nine-piece whirlwind of rhythm & blues, gospel and soul music complete with horns, backing vocals, a dynamite organist, a hard-driving rhythm section, and what makes them truly dangerous are the soaring lead vocals of James Armstrong and the mind-boggling, filthy, nasty, furious guitar work of Gareth Best. What we didn't know: how many people would show up to see a band which has only played in its church, and on a Thursday night, never mind the matter of how nervous the band might be. The result? Totally sold out, and they blew the roof off the dump. They played traditional hymns re-worked as soul and r&b rave-ups, original gospel tunes, rhythm & blues covers by the likes of Sam & Dave and Freddie King. Here's some video of the song that closed their first set, a souped-up cover of Parliament's "Testify."