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August 14, 2006

It's life and life only

Last night was "Leg One" for what I've dubbed "Summer Rock Month," since I'm going to three "high profile" concerts in the span of about two weeks.  I caught the Bob Dylan show last night at Cooper Stadium here in Columbus.  It's part of Dylan's now annual tour of minor league baseball stadiums.  Next week I'm heading over to Washington, PA to see him play at the home of the independent-league Washington Wildcats (if you don't have tickets, you can probably stand on the side of I-70 and catch the show).

Anyway, this was actually my first time seeing Dylan in concert, so I was interested to see how it would go.  I made it in to see the beginning of Junior Brown's set.  The only thing I really know about Junior Brown is that he plays a hybrid traditional electric/pedal steel guitar, which I think he invented.  I saw him sit in with the David Letterman band about 10 years ago.  Junior sounded nice, but I honestly wasn't paying too much attention.

Stevie Ray Vaughn's brother, Jimmy Vaughn, took the stage after Junior Brown.  Again, I didn't pay much attention.  (I was standing on the first base line of the field, and I was trying to get to the bottom of why so many Major Leaguers run inside the first base line, rather than in the "safety box."  I figure that it's actually shorter for right handers to run inside the line, depending on where they're standing in the batter's box, but I dunno.)  The "highlight" of Vaughn's set was about halfway through, when he said he was bringing out out a surprise guest who was a really good guitar player.  He said, "Let's welcome Eric Clapton."  There was a few seconds where I thought he was going to say, "Just kidding, here's Albert Poindexter from New Albany," but Eric Clapton really did walk on stage and play a few songs with the band.  I'm not really a fan of Clapton's, but he is a great guitar player and pretty much a legendary rock figure, so it was cool seeing him on stage.  Mostly I just got a kick out of seeing the guy who played lead guitar on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."  (Then I started thinking about how I'm bummed that I never got to see John Lennon or George Harrison live, and if I want to see a Beatle play I have to settle for Ringo or Paul, but I digress.)

Clapton's appearance had me asking the inevitable question, "What the hell is Eric Clapton doing making a surprise appearance in Columbus, Ohio?"  My friend, Jim, told me that word is (that's my Roger Brown tribute) that Clapton's wife is from Central Ohio, and they have a house in the area.  Other people in the crowd were saying the same thing later on, so I guess it must be at least a somewhat valid theory.

The crowd was predictably diverse--everybody from old folks to middle-aged parents with their young children to high school sophomores wearing tie-died T-shirts.  The headline of the Columbus Dispatch review was "Sparse crowd hears Dylan play old tunes."  I guess that's about right.  The crowd was pretty sparse--the field was only at about two-thirds capacity (I'm guestimating), and the stands were about half-full (how's that for optimistic phrasing?).  It was still a good crowd, though, and I'm selfishly glad there weren't more people there because otherwise I would've had to spend another half hour waiting for the parking lot to clear out.

Dylan's set was good.  The first thing that hit me when they came out with "Maggie's Farm" was that Dylan's voice really is almost shot.  He tends to hit a wall in the middle of a line where his voice gives out, and he's left kinda coughing out the rest.  The mix seemed to emphasize the cough-singing because the vocals were a bit bass-heavy.  It reminded me a lot of the experience of seeing Brian Wilson about three or four years ago--I was constantly wincing a bit hoping that we'd all get through the rough parts.

Thankfully, though, Dylan's voice got warmed up after a while, and the cough-singing was kept to trace amounts through the second half of the set.  Probably the best vocal performance was on "Summer Days," which closed the main set.  We got a nice harmonica solo on "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" (the band really sounded good on that one) and the crowd was into the encores, "Like A Rolling Stone" and "All Along The Watchtower."  Right before the encore, I wondered for a second how many smart-asses shout out "Judas!" as Dylan comes on for his encores, knowing that it seems like he always plays "Rolling Stone" as his encore-opener.

But yeah, the band sounded really good, with a nice country-blues vibe going throughout.  What I really liked about the show was that Dylan doesn't subscribe to the Mike Love Theory on concert performances.  We don't get note-for-note renditions of the records from the 60's (or any other decade for that matter).  Instead, we get interesting new arrangments.  If you want to hear the original version, listen to the record really loud.  I guess no one should be surprised or really even take note of the rearrangements, though, since Dylan's been doing that since the mid-60's.

Highlights for me included an awesomely heavy bluesy full-band rendition of "It's Allright Ma" (which was as fantastic in its own right as the original solo-acoustic version), "Blind Willie McTell" (which, I confess, I didn't recognize until about 30 or 45 seconds into the song), "New Morning," and "Highway 61."  The band (two guitars, pedal steel, bass, and drums--along with Dylans vocals/harmonica/keyboards) was pretty tight (but not too tight, if you know what I mean), and they put life into the interpretations.

I guess the set was good for those who enjoy the full breadth of Dylan's catalogue (I'd put myself in there).  For the casual fans, Dylan's voice (and the $55 tickets) might have been a bit too much.  I'll also take a moment to get on the Columbus Dispatch for lazy reporting.  The reviewer, Curtis Schieber, noted that it was "curious" that Dylan didn't play any stuff off of his new album, which is set for release in about two weeks.  A little research would've shown that Dylan, as a rule, never plays any songs off of upcoming albums for fear (perhaps overly paranoid fear) of bootleggers.  (See "Sugar Baby," which Dylan performed as well:  "Some of these bootleggers, they make pretty good stuff. / Plenty of places to hide things here if you wanna hide 'em bad enough.")   

I'll have a more thoughtful analysis of the Dylan experience after I catch leg two next week.  For a setlist from last night's show, check out Bob Links.

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August 09, 2006

Delays, delays...

Bad (well, not that bad) news from the NBR front.  We've got to push back the release dates for all the upcoming projects.  I'll post new dates here and on the main web site soon.

The short version:  the new Fortress of Solitude Studios aren't too close to completion.  Plus, we've only got two people "working" for the label.  And it's not like we have distributors or really anyone breathing down our necks for new "product."  The songs will come soon.  And I'll probably post some new MP3's soon.

Sorry to our legions of fans.  Just a few more weeks....

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August 04, 2006

Time to do the penguin dance

Thank goodness.  Tony Kornheiser is returning to PTI Monday.  Now I have a reason to start watching regularly again.

In celebration, I'll link to one of the more recent columns Tony's written for the Post.  Yes, it has a Cleveland connection.

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August 02, 2006

NBR Movie of the Month--August

It's that time again -- time for the NBR Movie of the Month.  For August, it's an old (well, 33 year old) favorite:  Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

I'm not well-versed in Westerns, but I like 'em every now and then.  Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid has a lot going for it.  Recently, I saw the 2005 special edition version of the film, and I found it really enjoyable -- the two hours or so went by quick. 

I like Kris Kristofferson as Billy the Kid.  I think the themes are fairly interesting.  You've got the evolution of the Old West into a "modern" society.  You've got the tearing apart of relationships.  You've got the decay of humanity, even as it tries to save itself (or something).  Anyways, I hate even attempting to be intellectual about films, so I'll stop while I've only made a bit of a fool out of myself.

So what else do I like about the film?  Well, obviously I'm going to say that I like Bob Dylan's roles.  First, as Alias, Dylan puts in one of the more memorable "minor" (perhaps intentionally minor, I dunno) performances in American cinematic history.  The scene where Alias is reading off the labels in the saloon is priceless ("Beans ... lima beans ... baked beans ... beans ... salmon ...")

And Dylan's soundtrack music is great too.  The original version of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" is classic.  The rest of the music also works well.  Dylan has always said that his talents as a composer are underappreciated.  He's right, and this film's soundtrack proves it.

So yeah, that's the NBR Movie of the Month for August.  While the summer is scorching hot, kick back, put Pat Garret and Billy the Kid in the DVD player, and feel fortunate you live in a time when air conditioning exists.

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