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Buffalo, NY -- April 5, 2013
My Review of the Bob Dylan Concert in Buffalo, NY on April 5, 2013
I left my apartment at 6:30am to catch the Greyhound bus to Buffalo on the day of the concert. My trip to Buffalo was uneventful. As usual on the Greyhound, it took about 45 minutes to pass through U.S. Customs, since all passengers must get off the bus and speak to Customs Officers individually. I had no problems.
After a filling breakfast at a restaurant in the Niagara Frontier Bus Station, I made my way into Buffalo. I walked to the Church Street Metro-Rail station to catch the rail transit. It operates on a Proof of Payment system, meaning you buy a ticket from a machine, and carry it with you as you ride in case an inspector asks to see it.
I had a bit of trouble with the machine. I was trying to stuff a U.S. $5 note into the machine. Noticing my confusion, a Buffalo native came to my aid. He helped me, pointing out that I had to push buttons to select my type of ticket first, and soon I had my ticket and I was on my way.
I rode the Metro-Rail to the last station, University, which is on the South Campus of SUNY-Buffalo. Unfortunately, the concert was on the North Campus! I rode a local bus to the North Campus, and then wandered the campus looking for the venue, which was Alumni Arena, a multi-use facility (basketball, tennis, swimming etc.) for student and faculty use.
There were only a few people in line when I arrived. There were two lines, one for students (who got in free with their ID) and the general public, who needed tickets. The lines were divided by a barrier. Over the front of the lines there were large banners explaining all the rules.
They had a lot of rules! No bottles, no cans, no umbrellas, no guns, no knives, nothing deemed by “us” as inappropriate or dangerous. The signage also explained that we would have to pass through metal detectors before the show, and would have to remove all metal from our bodies before entering the metal detectors. I put my keys, coins and phone into my knapsack and stashed it in a friend's car. A young woman in front of us (first in line!) was wearing lots of metal jewellery – necklaces, belts, bracelets, rings, etc. She took them all off and put them in a plastic bag before the show, and put them back on inside the venue.
I was happy to see my old friend Chris show up around 1pm. He didn't have a ticket, but that was a minor detail at that point. I assured him he would get in to the show. He did. He is from Buffalo, and I met him at a Bob show in Buffalo on February 23, 1999, when I gave him his first concert bootlegs. They were on cassette tapes in those days! He and his girlfriend Steph were regulars at Bob-shows and gatherings in Buffalo and Toronto. She wasn't present, so I feared the worst. However, Chris soon gave me the good news. They had recently been married! I gave my hearty congratulations. Chris and Steph had stayed with me and Beth at my place in Toronto when they came up for a Bob-gathering in the mid-2000s.
It is funny how these queues go. It seems like a small group show up between noon-1pm, and then no one else arrives until 5pm! That was the case on this day. More Canadians I knew showed up later – Jayne from Southern Ontario, Sue from Ottawa, Steve and his brother from Ontario, and others I may have overlooked. Apologies all 'round, if I have.
We found that there was a “digital art show” going on in a nearby College building. We were using their facilities, but there was also free coffee and sandwiches available, which we enjoyed. Every venue should do that for queuing Dylan fans!
The doors were set to open at 6:30. By 6pm the lines were very long. The excitement mounted as we were allowed to enter the building. The metal detectors and cattle-line barriers made it seem like airport security. However, since we had prepared and were at the front we got through quickly. We got through the seating area, scurried safely down the stairs and on to the floor.
When we finally ended up at our spot I was front and centre on the rail, right in front of the microphone Bob would sing into so much during tonight's show. I was standing with a bunch of Canadian friends like Jayne, Paul, Sue, Steve and his brother, all of us leaning on the rail, soon to be before Bob. We had to wait for the Dawes first. It was an anxious, one hour wait. The wait seems to drag on so long! At least when the Dawes came out we had some entertainment. I enjoyed their music. I'd call it soft rock, I guess. They reminded me of Jackson Brown. The lead singer referred a couple of times to how honoured he felt to be playing on that stage, although he didn't mention Bob by name.
No slight to the Dawes (their music was enjoyable), but looking forward to Bob as I was, I was glad when their set was finished. We only had to watch Bob's crew set-up first, and then Our Man would take to the stage!
During set-up, there was one surprise, a woman (part of the crew, I think ) came out and made an announcement about the importance of not taking photos or videos during the show. She said something like (not an exact quote by any means) “The Bob Dylan Touring Company would like to ask you not to take photos or videos during the show. Besides your arms blocking others' view of the stage, the lights are also distracting to others. The Bob Dylan Touring Company will take some photos during the show and they will be available for viewing or download on the official website”. I checked http://www.bobdylan.com/ and there were no sign of any photos.
This made me understand the purpose of the mirrors, which were again set up facing the audience low on the stage. Any flash photograph taken from the audience would be spoiled by the reflected flash from the mirror.
Another wait...less anxious this time. The sense of positive expectation is heightened by watching the roadies set up the band's instruments. Gradually the number of crew members dwindles down to two and then only one. Finally he completes his all important task, and, like The Wizard of Oz, disappears behind the curtain.
The lights dim, gradually - no sudden cut-off. No introduction for Bob - the band just walks out to our applause and takes its places. In the near darkness, Bob walks out to centre stage and takes his spot behind his microphone right in front of those of us lucky enough to be front and centre, on the rail. Bob would stand there singing for the first three songs, and for five of the sixteen songs of the evening.
The first song was THINGS HAVE CHANGED. Bob sang it well, although his voice seemed a bit rough after his months off. I enjoyed it and let myself loosen-up and dance a bit, a huge relief since I'd been standing for over eight hours between being in line and at the show. Bob did the same, stepping back a bit and doing a little dance in between verses. While he may not have looked too dignified doing so, without a piano in front of him, or a guitar or harp in hand, he had to do something!
Bob got better with the second song, LOVE SICK. A fine performance, and quite moving, as many of the songs were tonight. So they should be. Isn't that why we come out to see Bob so often – the emotional power of his songs and his performances? His voice was better too. As always when I see it live, the song reminded me of the great performance on the Grammy Awards. The final, poignant, punch line of “I’d give anything to be with you “ was delivered perfectly.
The third song with Bob at centre stage was HIGH WATER (FOR CHARLEY PATTON). Bob seemed to give a little bit of “upsinging” finishing some of the lines at a higher note, but only slightly. I couldn't see Donnie when he was playing the pedal steel or electric mandolin, but when he played the banjo on this song, he seemed to be standing up, and visible to me. His banjo playing was fine, and entertaining.
Bob moved away from centre stage at this point, and sat at the grand piano. The next song that got me excited was what used to be a concert mainstay in the 1990s, TANGLED UP IN BLUE. Bob played this seated at the piano. He seemed to sing it a little gentler than he has in recent years. The best think about this song was Duke Robillard guitar solo. His lead was fresh and exciting. He brought something new to the song – something we haven't heard in a long time. I enjoyed it more than most songs of the evening.
I loved the three more emotional songs of the evening. VISIONS OF JOHANNA; BLIND WILLIE MCTELL; and WHAT GOOD AM I evoked feelings and brought back memories that I had not experienced in years. I'll keep going to see Bob (and so should you) as long as he keeps singing these songs and playing them like this. All three of these brought tears to my eyes.
The songs from TEMPEST brought some real fire to the show. It says a lot about Bob as a recording artist that his most recent album contributed some of the best songs to this show. It is a shame that much of the audience will not understand this. I could hear someone in a video with excerpts of this show that is circulating on Facebook say - near the end – that he did not know any of the songs. TANGLED UP IN BLUE? THINGS HAVE CHANGED - which got radio airplay and was played on the Oscar broadcast? But does this matter? If you are hearing a musical legend playing some of his most recent music, isn't that a good time to stand up and pay attention, to hear what this man has to say?
I know some of the dark, powerful lyrics from TEMPEST struck me to the core Friday night, even though I have not listened to the album very often (I will now!).
Listen to these excerpts of lyrics from TEMPEST songs Bob and his band played at the Buffalo Friday night:
"They lie and they dine in their blood
Two timing slim
Who's ever heard of him?
I'll drag his corpse through the mud"
"They buy and they sell
They destroyed your city
They'll destroy you as well
They're lecherous and treacherous"
"I could stone you to death for the wrongs that you done
Sooner or later you make a mistake,
I'll put you in a chain that you never will break
Legs and arms and body and bone
I pay in blood, but not my own."
"Set 'em Joe, play "Walkin' the Floor"
Play it for my flat-chested junkie whore
I'm staying up late, I'm making amends
While we smile, all heaven descends
If love is a sin, then beauty is a crime
All things are beautiful in their time"
When Bob Dylan sings lyrics like that I stand up straight, look him in the eye, and listen carefully, whether I recognize the song or not!
Tempest Songs==>(2012) 4
Modern Times(2006)==> 2
Oscar-winning songs(2000)==> 1
60s songs==> 3
70s songs==> 1
80s songs==> 2
90s songs==> 2
00s songs==> 4
10s songs==> 4
After the show, some of us – mostly Canadians – went to a bar for post-show drinks and conversation. Our group included Tom and Heather from Ottawa, Jayne from Ontario, Paul from Toronto, Sue from Ottawa, Steve and his brother from Ontario, Ross from California (he had blown his transmission driving coast to coast for the tour!), Hank from somewhere in the U.S. - Buffalo area I think.
Thank you to Tom Gillmore of Ottawa for giving me the setlist at the bar after the show so I could begin working on this review that night. Any errors in this review are mine.
-Martin Abela (a.k.a. AberdeenWatersFlow)
Friday, April 5, 2013