Friday, June 07, 2013

25 Years Ago Today: The NeverEnding Tour Begins

It's been a while. Sorry about that, folks. I'll to be back more regularly. Here, to mark the 25th anniversary of the NET, is the "local" newspaper review of that opening concert. Not the most enthusiastic review, of course. But things got better quickly. There were two photos with this article when it ran in the paper, but I haven't been able to turn them up. Review is copyright 1988 San Francisco Chronicle

Bob Dylan Goes Through the Poses
Joel Selvin, The San Francisco Chronicle, June 9, 1988

Bob Dylan makes attitude part of his artwork. From the studied insolence of "Bringing It All Back Home" to the harsh romanticism of "Blood on the Tracks," he always gets across more with a flowing undercurrent, a tension beneath the specifics, than anything explicit.

But Tuesday at the Concord Pavilion, what Dylan displayed most of all was a nonchalant indifference that expressed very little other than that the magic is wearing mighty thin these days, perhaps even for Dylan himself.

Certainly the popular appeal no longer remains what it once was. Not only did little better than a half house turn up at Concord, but plenty of seats remain unsold for shows tomorrow at UC Berkeley's Greek Theater and Saturday at Mountain View's Shoreline Amphitheatre.

None of his albums during the '80s has hit the Top 10 and, where the release of a new Dylan album once qualified as major event, his latest, "Down in the Groove," slipped into the stores in the past couple of weeks with a barely a whimper.

The performance he gave, hardly more than a dozen songs in the 70-minute set at Concord, was no more than cursory. Not even the appearance throughout the brief concert of guest guitarist Neil Young could whip up any excitement. The crowd only took to their feet at the final moments of "Like a Rolling Stone," just before Dylan left the stage to return with an encore of "Maggie's Farm."

Backed by a quartet that included Young, guitarist G. E. Smith from the Hall and Oates band, bassist Kenny Aaronson (who looked like a refugee from the Stray Cats in his slicked-back pompadour) and veteran session drummer Christopher Parker, Dylan stumbled through the music. There were ragged endings, a sloppy mix and a tentative, uncertain ensemble sound not helped at all, undoubtedly, by carrying an unrehearsed guitarist like Young. Smith shouted out chord changes and directed the band with constant hand signals, but chaos nonetheless prevailed.

Dylan, for his part, mumbled lyrics, never dug into his songs with any kind of feeling and generally tossed off the tunes like he could hardly wait to get out of there. He spoke nary a word to the audience other than a quick introduction of Young and one thank you when he returned for the encore.

His anti-show business sentiments notwithstanding, Dylan also did himself serious injustice in the program selection. Outside of an opening pair of "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and "Absolutely Sweet Marie" and the two closers, he stuck to an undistinguished lot of songs drawn from throughout his career.

He trotted out "Man of Constant Sorrow" from the first of his more than 30 albums during a three-song acoustic segment in the middle of the show, reworked "Gates of Eden" toward the end and offered "Gotta Serve Somebody" from his gospel period, just before playing "In the Garden," one of his most biblically drenched songs from his obscure second Christian album, "Saved." He handled "You're a Big Girl Now" from "Blood on the Tracks." And as for recent material, he tried "Driftin' a Little Too Far From Shore" from his 1986 album, "Empire Burlesque," but little else.

Standing pigeon-toed and knock-kneed, his wooly mane tousled by the breeze, he strummed guitar, looking confident and relatively poised but failed utterly to appear as if he cared in the slightest about what he was doing. Smith and Young scurried around behind him, holding frequent consultations during songs and trying mightily to keep things together, while the booming bass and busy drumming took the forefront of the instrumental sound. One meager spotlight served to dim the shadows created by the heavy-handed back lighting, but Dylan still managed to perform the entire set in relative darkness.

It may have been a personal appearance by one of rock's immortals, but the show offered nothing more than his physical presence. He boasts one of the deepest repertoires of great songs anybody could claim but roundly ignored the cornerstones, other than the obligatory "Like a Rolling Stone" (John Cougar Mellencamp gave a far more intense and heartfelt reading at his recent Bay Area concerts). There were no particular highlights or dramatic moments, just a flat, uninspired - almost rote - recitation of inconsequential selections.

The opening act, U2-ish Welsh rockers The Alarm, gave a more emotional performance during an opening set of Dylan-derived, new wave rock that was hardly anything out of the ordinary. At least they put their heart into their part of the show, more than Dylan could say for himself.

Dylan used to matter. His records all made personal artistic statements that had a kind of integrity rare in the pop music field. Even as he began to churn out a steady stream of minor albums, he could be counted on for the occasional gem. His concert Tuesday seemed to say that he himself can no longer tell what is special about his work.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A quarter of a century! I suppose the NET is, arguably, Bob's finest achievement and who could have predicted it thirty and more years ago? Thanks for everything, Bob.