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Bob Dylan 2001.07.26 in Napoli

By Axel Jost

By Axel Jost

Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2001 11:57:55 +0200 (CEST) From: Axel Jost Napoli Review When we roamed the streets of the beautiful city of Naples on that special Thursday afternoon we saw a big white helicopter doing a scenic flight over the old town and the coastline - IMO a sure sign that Dylan was in town, because we had experienced the same thing in Santiago de Compostela in 1999. Two hours before the show we finally got our tickets from the most serious looking scalpers you'll ever meet. Why buy from scalpers? Well, it had been impossible for us foreigners to get a ticket via the box office because the show had been sold out several weeks before. Even many locals were frustrated because they couldn't get a decent ticket. So we had to pay 80.000 instead of 50.000 lira which was quite okay and still way below German ticket prices. The Arena Flegrea is a fully renovated, no, I'd better say: a totally new and really gorgeous looking amphitheatre, made from the finest of materials, the nicest place I'd ever seen Bob Dylan play so far. It sits in a large park with big old large-headed pine trees. Due to the arrangement of the seats in a semicircle around and above the stage a totally unspoilt view from every marble bench was guaranteed. Beyond the stage, you could see a chain of rolling hills. You mustn't forget: the Italians have got 2000 years of experience in building amphitheatres - and it shows! So the setting was perfect for the night and for Bob. From about 7.30 people began to fill the place and everything and everybody vibrated from anticipation. Dylan's gig was a big social event in Naples because it was the inauguration of the arena, and about 2000 seats (out of 6.000) were reserved for important people from politics, arts and music. So for example a large applause arose out of nowhere when Eduardo Bennato, a famous Italian singer, was guided to his seat. The next day I read in the paper that Bennato even was allowed to film the whole thing. I myself finally ran into the best German Dylan-writer and we talked for a few minutes - hey, G.A., may you stay, too! At exactly 9.30 (showtime) our beloved Columbia recording artist and his brethren entered the stage to the sound of fanfares while the audience rose collectively from their seats to give the man a thundering welcoming applause. When he told us that, hallelujah, he was ready to go, we collectively sat down again and things really started rolling. I won't even try to describe the fantastic atmosphere of the night, the fully risen (and from then on sinking) half-moon, the amazingly disciplined, devoted and loving audience, the great sound, the warm and fresh south-Italian air, the friendly and good-looking people everywhere - the night truly was a one of a kind experience that I'll never forget. I won't (and I can't) give you a song-by-song review now because to me the music seemed to be a continuous flowing river of sound, even the changes between the acoustic and electric sets were so fast that you wouldn't notice them. When a song was over you didn't have the time to eye the stage because everybody including myself was busy clapping or whistling or beating their cellular phones to give their friends an acoustic glimpse of the show. When the next song started the setting might have changed from electric to acoustic or vice versa. Dylan's singing was extremely good. Impressive, emotional, heartfelt, self-confident, strong -convincing in every way. His voice was full and deep and clear. And he - watch my lips - really s-a-n-g. No one could have done it better. But OTHO: his guitar playing. Call me a fool, but I didn't and I don't understand it. Give a five year old an electric guitar and it probably sounds the same as much of Dylan's playing during that night. Way up in the mix, it - at least to my poor old ears - destroyed the cohesive sound of the rest of the band. Sometimes he very slowly and persistently developed a solo like a piece of minimal art, at last then you got the feeling that his way of handling the instrument made some kind of sense. He got applauded for that in the middle of a song several times. Well, it might be the truest form of art since the paintings of the stone age people or maybe Dylan approaches music like Picasso (sometimes) approached art. But maybe Dylan makes a fool of himself or of us. Maybe I shouldn't ask myself these questions because nobody did. And nobody seemed to care. So be it. And let it be because it wouldn't change a thing - the show was fantastic in its own special way. When he was looking for his harmonica, when he stopped playing his guitar, the band sounded good to me. The best rock'n'roll band in the world in fact. Then Bob joined in again and the sound was falling apart, and maybe even this configuration of the band will: Dylan and Sexton seemed to communicate all the time while Campbell was busy doing other things like playing the pedal-steel at the side of the stage. Strange, estranging, enigmatic. But don't get me wrong: the guy was in command, the audience was enthusiastic, I was enthusiastic, the night was great. To some of the songs: Hallelujah I'm Ready To Go - very well done for an opening song, nice chorus, I love it; Mr. Tambourine Man - yep, there was a diamond sky that night, but I wasn't dancing (in my head ) because I got distracted from Bob's playing and the mixing-up of words - does he do that on purpose? Lay Lady Lay - what a nice surprise, sweet and soft; Gotta Serve Somebody - strong with some new words, Masters of War - anybody seen the pictures of the G8-summit in Genova? Everything Is Broken - this one was flawless from beginning to end, the first true highlight; Make You Feel My Love - nearly all of its text sounded new to me, anybody got a tape? Knockin' - sweetest version I'd ever heard and finally: Blowin' - well, did he miss his entry at first or did he want the audience to start singing (which we did)? A very short formation at the very end; suddenly Dylan held a bunch of long red roses in his hands and he showed it to the public, sporting a Mona-Lisa-smile. He seemed to be deeply touched. So were we. Clapping, hoping. Maybe another encore. A new song. Something really surprising. The fireworks put an end to that wishing and hoping and praying and finally the lights went on. The people walked up the stairs of the theatre and left the building slowly, very slowly (and I mean slowly). I looked around me and I didn't see anybody who was not smiling or in high spirits. You ain't seen Dylan yet till you've seen him play live in Italy. The man himself was probably already back at his hotel „Vesuvioš from where he embarked the next day to his last date in Sicily close to an active volcano, where he played another amphitheatre (this time a real old one) and then sat and watched a fiery river flow.

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