If you weren't at the Kohl Center on Halloween, you missed a helluva show by Bob Dylan and the Foo Fighters. I was lucky enough to get tickets not too long before the show, thrilled to be able see Dylan for the first time after missing his concert with Willie Nelson at Warner Park back in the summer of 2004.
My brief thoughts? The Foo Fighters were awesome, their "acoustic" approach taking on epic orchestral post-rock qualities at times, an altogether different sound from the last time I saw them. Dylan was something different altogether. Trying to approach the concert with minimal expectations given widely divergent opinions about his continuing coherence in a live setting, I left the stadium satisfied. I was happy to hear performances of songs from Dylan's excellent new Modern Times album as well as some of his most enduring classics. Yes, I could barely understand many lyrics throughout, but I didn't really care; simply the experience of the show was enough. As noted by Isthmus music writer Tom Laskin in his review of the show, Dylan remains feisty, enough for some fun on Tuesday night.
Given the strong emotions Dylan has made a career of stirring, it's entirely expected and appropriate that online reactions to the show are hardly any different. If you want to catch a brief glimpse of what everybody is talking about, though, you're in luck. One intrepid concert-goer shot two concert clips of Dylan's opening and penultimate songs in his Halloween set, both classics in the rocker's oeuvre.
The first live concert clip features Dylan performing "Like a Rolling Stone." This follows below, along with two more videos and a mountain of commentary about the show.
If that's not enough to form an opinion, there's two more concert videos of Dylan playing his classics at the Halloween show. The first clip that features "Maggie's Farm," the first song performed by Bob Dylan and his Band after taking the stage to a roaring crowd. The second clip features the final song of the show, "All Along the Watchtower."
In addition to these two videos, there were many, many other concert attendees who were inspired to discuss how it feels when it came to Tuesday night's concert. What follows is only a sampling of the comments about the show published online over the last 48 hours:
- Frank Paynter declared the Foo Fighters acoustic opening set to be "farging fabulous." He wrote:
Acoustic is kind of an understatement of course. The instruments were acoustic but so wonderfully amplified that they blew my ears out.He also provided the Foo Fighter's ten-song set list and later wrote briefly about Dylan:
There was a brief intermission and then an industrial music assemblage of older men in hats and a pedal steel guitar player took the stage and jumped into a song called "Maggie's Farm." The keyboard player (who occasionally swapped out on harmonica) was a thin guy in a black suit with red trim wearing a flat brimmed zorro hat with silver conchos on the band. The drummer wore some kind of brimless middle eastern looking thing. The three guitarists wore classic fedoras. (The lead guitarist had the best one). The pedal steel player needed no hat. He was younger with a full head of hair. They played another fifteen songs before they were through.
- The set list for both the Foo and Dylan were published by another attendee, who generally praised both performances. Of the latter, he wrote:
After waiting about 30 minutes it was time for the icon himself, Bobby Z. Dylan is always transforming himself...grew up in Northern Minnesota, became hipster king of NYC, found Jesus, and glued himself to the road. These days he dresses like an old saloon gambler cowboy and tonight he had on a spiffy black western suit. Dylan keeps to the keyboards now but his show still brings the fun. This was a better set than I saw from him the first time, at Bonnaroo '04. He played a few songs off the new record as well as classics.
- Another concert attendee had high praise for the Foo Fighters. He wrote:
I must say, however, that I enjoyed the Foo Fighters' portion more than Bob Dylan. I like their music more, and while this may sound corny or just plain stupid I find their music to be something I can immerse myself in and can seem to connect with on a deeper level than on a mere auditory stimulus/reaction basis. Their hour-long set alone was worth the $40 ticket price. They interact with each other and the audience and put on a very good show.He also commented on Dylan's inscrutable voice, an ongoing theme whenever one talks about the musician's live performances.
- One Madison-based blogger published a photo of Dylan and his band as seen from stage right on the second level.
- One fan provided the complete set list to the show (from "Maggie's Farm" through "All Along the Watchtower," and noted that four of the songs were drawn from Dylan's new release Modern Times. They were: "Rollin' & Tumblin'," "Workingman's Blues #2," "When the Deal Goes Down," and "Thunder on the Mountain."
- One attendee declared the show awesome, yet still felt something was missing. "I realized about halfway through that I really do not know Bob Dylan," she writes. "I feel like going through the set list, finding the lyrics, finding a bootleg of the concert (it's gotta be out there somewhere) and re-listening to it again and again because there's just so much that I couldn't have perceived in the arena."
- In subsequent comments, Frank Paynter discussed the show more extensively. He wrote:
We all loved the show. Sometimes Bob mumbles the words we all know. The smoke that surrounds us and the storm front of sound are equally contrived to do the big bad wolf number if you need a rhyme with all that rhythm. The decibels relieve you of your reason. Garnier has a double bass with a pick-up and amplification that is almost cruel. Playing "When the Deal Goes Down" someone warped the song so far out of tune that only the pedal steel following it and normalizing it made it anything but bad. Soon the harmonies were some kind of distorted but distorted in harmony, the band drifting together to that place they'd rather not be, following the monster bass's out-of-tune direction like leaves blown and tumbling in the street sucked along following the passage of a city bus, they were drawn by the power of that monster bass. There was much smiling and eye-contact and body language on stage as they pulled new chords out of their minds to shore up the erosion at the bottom that had left everyone a half tone flat.
- Another fan traveling from St. Paul praised both performances, highlighting both the Foo's performance of "Marigold" (a Nirvana song written by Grohl) and favorites from Dylan:
My favorites were, "Tangled Up In Blue," "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," "Like A Rolling Stone," and "All Along The Watchtower." The latter was fun because he played Hendrix's version. So it was Bob Dylan covering Hendrix, covering Bob Dylan!
- Sitting on the lower level at stage right, Valerian Powell approved of both performances by the Foo Fighters and Bob Dylan. He also described the crowd:
The crowd was a diverse bunch. High schoolers drinking coke and wearing Abercrombie. Young and old hippies, stinking alike. People of all ages in Halloween costumes (the Foo Fighters pointed out a Jesus, and said "Look at the balls on Jesus!" Who knows that that meant -- everybody laughed, anyways.) There were people about Bob's age, dressed and acting ordinarily. Even a few people who appeared older than Bob. Some college age couples, one of them sharing a joint in the seats in front of Amy and me. And everyone loved him.
- Respected Madison music blogger Ryan Matteson was disappointed by the performance, noting it as his "second worst concert experience" ever, with the first also provided by Dylan. He wrote:
Dylan's voice is so terrible and mumbled that I couldn't even realize he was playing "Tangled Up In Blue" until about three verses in. Not only that but the anthem that used to be "Like A Rolling Stone," has now been reduced to nothing but Dylan and his band going through the motions, which is quite unfortunate. It's hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that someone whose records that I've listened to countless times could also be the same person that would provide me with the two worst concerts experiences of my life.
- Matt Glaman was also disappointed with Dylan's performance. He wrote:
Bob Dylan finally came on, I was pumped, but then let down. He played the piano the whole time, the whole time. I thought it was going to be a full acoustic show where he'd have his guitar and folk music, but no. They played blues and classic rock 'n' roll, I felt like I should've been seeing Elvis instead. He only played two songs I like, and he played maybe 2 older songs, "Tangled Up In Blue" and "Like a Rolling Stone."
We all left disappointed, very.
- However, Madison's best-known Dylanphile Stu Levitan approved of the performance, writing on TDPF that Dylan's voice was "in tremendous shape."
- Sitting near the center of the floor, one Dylan fan published an extensive series of thoughts about the show -- from the seat location to walking out of the arena. -- not to mention everything in between:
Gosh, I wish everyone I love could've been there?.and that they would enjoy him even half as much as me. They way he pronounces his words CRACKS ME UP. I love the guy. My brother says that he hates him live. I just don't get that. (He also votes Republican, which I don't get, either). Tonight while I was listening I was thinking, "Does he ever get sick of playing "Tangled Up in Blue?" And he might... but it's different every time, so maybe not. â˜º That's part of his charm, IMHO. And why is it that half the crowd doesn't even know it's "Tangled Up in Blue" until the chorus? WTF? Shouldn't they be fans??? Maybe that's just the half that was there to see the Foo Fighters?????
- Finally, another copy of the set list and an ongoing review archive are available thanks to Dylan historian Bill Pagel.
Should Bob Dylan return to Madison, there's no doubt he will continue to elicit such an intense and extensive level commentary and attention.