Cork, Ireland -- June 16, 2011

I was willing to forsake the customary Bloomsday bottle of cheap red and gorgonzola sandwich to make the trip down to a very special engagement in Cork, and with a long lunar eclipse the night before, where else are you going to go… Cork is the most European feeling city I've been to in Ireland. As New Orleans is the most European city I’ve visited in the States. There are cities with this kind of atmosphere – where the long history moves through the river in the middle of it, leafy streets housing varieties of shades of green meet you at the corners of it, and the semi-industrial Docklands areas with vast warehouses combine to be so inviting that you can’t help but be excited and delighted by it. You can stand in the Irish Channel along the Mississippi and think of the Danube, or stand at the Danube and think of the River Lee; each place reminding you that there is no such thing as an empty space. These cities can make you think of a thousand different songs, and we got some of them tonight. It started with a rocking, opening bang of ‘Gonna Change My Way of Thinkin’, with Bob and the band already fully charged - this was not going to be some warm up show. It was immediately apparent how focused they all were. Then it was centre stage then for ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’ and this was a treasure. It was a great performance, delivered with so much conviction that you were immediately taken in to the world of the song. His voice was steady and strong, the sound was crystal clear, and we got the first of many heart-stopping harmonica solos of the night. Much discussed after the show was the dance/stretch moves and fancy foot work which began here and lasted throughout. I wondered if Bob had picked up some ‘Wu Qin Qi’, or ‘Five Animal Frolics’ when he was in China. One person remarked that it was like he was doing ‘a crazy riverdance’, another person said ‘he was like a foal coming out of the paddock for the first time’, I thought he was channeling the ‘agile monkey and the flying crane’. My impression of a steady bear is the next person’s riverdance I suppose. What does it matter; he was absolutely vital and overflowing with energy. ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ was closer to Blood on the Tracks than other versions I’ve heard live over the years but with added layers of the years gone by in between. Joyce would have been proud of the story unfolding around us, and of the images that leapt from the stage. Bob brought himself almost to his knees on his harmonica on this one, and I was surprised at how much breath he had, it seemed never ending. The audience whooped and swooned when he sang ‘me I’m just trying to keep myself out of the jooiiinnntttt’. The Band was jamming out tonight and this was very clear during ‘Levee Gonna Break’. The mighty George and Tony really kicked this one forward, with Bob dictating from the keys. It was great to see and hear Stu and Charlie interacting together tonight. Stu, one time known as Tom Waits, seemed a lot more involved and it was a pleasure to hear him play tonight. I’ll never tire of this song in any shape or form. I’d passed St. Augustine’s Church on Washington Street the night before on the way to the B & B, opposite a pub called ‘Bob’s Foxes’. I’d had a sly smile that at least geographically I was in the right place. It’s funny how you can see the connections clearly when Bob’s in town; he is one of those guys. ‘I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine’ was gorgeous, and sung with a very tender voice. The audience loved it and the space became very still, ‘so alone and mystified’ The absolute gem of the night for me was “Trying to Get to Heaven’. The last time I tried to e-mail someone about this song was after Budapest in 2003. In the middle of writing I received an e-mail from the British Metropolitan Police alerting me to the fact that they were viewing my message, and each time I went back to it, they came back to it too. Who would have thought that ‘trying to get to heaven’ would be such a ‘buzz’ phrase for the PO-lice? I’d gone to the show with my Dad and we had crossed a couple of countries where we had been asked for our ‘papers’ by a cold faced guard. We both tapped in to some collective memories etched in to those freezing mountains and by the time we reached the edge of the Danube, this song was the only one on our minds. It was as tremendous tonight as it was then. Bob’s singing was clear and soft – he wasn’t in any rush. The images drew out a tangible sense of the difficulties we face, but he also brought with them a sense of the ‘something’ else arising on the sunny side of the hill. It was such a visceral moment, words won’t do it justice
‘High Water’ was blistering; with Donnie’s banjo really whipping it up, the crowd loved it. ‘Simple Twist Of Fate’ saw Bob centre stage again with his guitar, playing a little riff at the end of each verse that kind of made your head go from side to side. It was a sweet sound, and I’m really happy this song is being played again these days. ‘Thunder On The Mountain’ was another place where it turned pretty wild. It certainly brought the energy up to a different level. It can go at such a frenzied pace, I’m not sure how all the words get out sometimes. Bob looks like he enjoys himself on this one, with some sideways smiles, making himself laugh with ‘gonna forget about myself for a while, go out and see what others neeeeddd’. ‘Ballard of a Thin Man’ has become increasingly dramatic, and tonight was no different. This is the one that you hear people talking about as they leave the show. It enters a completely different zone, and you have to ask yourself what did just happen there... I wasn’t sure of where ‘Watchtower’ was going to go; it was kind of a swing shuffle, sort of spooky, kind of grew on me as it went along. ‘Forever Young’ was the perfect closer for a brilliant show. The lights went down, the guys lined up, Bob had one final stretch with his arms up above his head, his energy still very much moving and flowing and we said farewell. There was a definite sense of satisfaction leaving the show; all kinds of people were giddy, some singing walking back in town, with hazy eyes and semi-bewildered smiles. It was a gorgeous Bloomsday night. See you next time Bob!
Review Location: 
Cork, Ireland
Review Date: 
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Review Author: 
Romy Needham