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Bob Dylan 980624 in Birmingham, England

       National Exhibition Centre (NEC)
       NEC Arena
       Capacity: 12,500 
       Double bill with Van Morrison 
       Showtime: 7:30 PM 

Subject: Sheffield/Birmingham/Manchester Reviews (long) From: MPMCGOWAN1 ( Date: 27 Jun 1998 11:40:37 GMT Three consecutive shows this week, and an all important England world cup game last night have meant that this is my first opportunity to write about the shows. The reviews were good from Belgium, Glasgow and Newcastle.....friends had been phoning up with increasingly enthusiastic reviews and consistently exciting setlists, so the drive to Sheffield seemed to fly by as the feeling of expectation was shaping up to be one of those easy trip, met up with friends effortlessly, took our seats (fantastic seats - Thanks John Baldwin, if you're reading) just in time for Van the Man. Now I'm a Van Morrison fan....I've seen him 20 or so times....but Tuesday night, as so often in recent years he was crap! It was just so spineless....nice songs, tight band, good voice and absolutely no passion or invention. (more of Van later) Soon enough those magic words were ringing out......"Ladies and Gentlemen....Columbia Recording Artist ....Bob Dylan!" Gotta Serve Somebody just roared.....the crowd rushed the stage immediately.....Bob looked fantastic, lean mean and in the mood....this was no warm up number....the days of lousy first songs seem to be well behind us.....the sound was fantastic and Bobs singing.......he was AWESOME....every word of every song in the whole show......just so beautiful....I looked around me and people were open mouthed.....this was our man....on form, and really rocking. If You See Her, Say Hello benefited from this vocal delicacy so much....a truly excellent performance of the song Cold Irons Bound & Just Like A Woman were next and both were excellent...Woman especially benefitting from wonderful phrasing and delicacy. I don't think I've ever seen Bob sing so carefully for a whole was just a revelation. Silvio was fine, but a little restrained I felt.....the same was true of H61 later in the set. Mr. Tambourine Man @ Masters Of War @ Mama, You've Been On My Mind @ The Times They Are A-Changin' @ w/harp Tangled Up In Blue @ Forever Young @ A truly magnificent acoustic set.....delicate on Forever Young, masterful phrasing on Tamb. Man, menacing Masters of War....really menacing!! Tangled was fantastic....better than ever....Bob wrapping himself around the lyrics - spitting out the words...eyes sparkling in the lights....the years just seemed to fall away...the smiles on the faces around me became grins, then cheers.....The highlight of the show! As I said... Highway 61 Revisited was a bit restrained....not too much, just a bit...Bob was still taking real care with his vocals, and I think the band were sympathetic to this. As they hit the instrumental break Bob started really fooling around...someone in the crowd was cracking him up....he was laughing!! He started throwing guitar hero poses....the crowd would scream and clap....Bob would laugh, pause, and throw another was glorious to see him enjoying himself so much....genuinely having a ball! Love Sick was lovely...last year it was frightening...a maelstrom of fear and anger...a huge beast of a song that stopped you in your tracks. This year - a delicate love song, every word caressed and delivered to perfection. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 & Blowing In The Wind closed the show...Tony having to unpack his acoustic Bass for Blowin... A great show all in all....the rockers were a bit restrained, but the delicate numbers were just perfect....Roll on Birmingham!!
Bob was on first tonight and he opened with Gotta Serve Somebody again, but this was different. I left Sheffield thinking I'd seen a fine show....but something was happening was obvious from the off that Bob meant business....this was a bit more raw, a bit more on edge, a bit less polished....., and so it went on...a fine Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You was followed by a raging Cold Irons Bound. Bob could only just be heard above the band. Born In Time was just perfect and Silvio was back to the way we know and love (or hate) it. No fooling around grinning......very business like. Girl From The North Country @ John Brown @ Mama, You've Been On My Mind @ Desolation Row @ Tangled Up In Blue @ Knockin' On Heaven's Door (w/ Van M on harp) The acoustic set was just one highlight after another....John Brown was outstanding....Bob singing the first few verses almost unaccompanied....just the odd pluck of a guitar was so menacing....eventually the band joined in and the tale of the traumas and reality of war unfolded. Masters of War last night, this tonight - could Bob have something on his mind? The duet with Van was a real treat...Van sang a verse...with great passion....and the two of them improvised brilliantly as they sang "just like so many times before" over and over to bring the song to an end. Highway 61 Revisited rocked fooling around...just rock'n'roll...and loud! Love Sick/Rainy Day Women #12 & 35/Blowing In The Wind @ The encores passed without breal incident.....all were great, but not particularly noteworthy. People began to leave immediately after Bobs set, and continued to leave throughout the interval and the first half hour of Vans set. It was just like the night before, no real I left too....
The plan had been that Bob would go on first in Birmingham/Manchester and Wembley, but following the number of early departures in B/ham they must have decided it was best for Van to go first, and so it was in Manchester. It was a tiny bit better tonight...Van seemed to find a bit of a spark on a couple of songs...Mr Thomas was very strong with Van finding a bit of fire in his vocal....a bit of invention and drama....and then things slipped back into mediocrity until out of nowhere, after a bout an hour he hit his magical best with Moondance, gliding teasingly into My Funny Valentine. The Healing Game and Summertime in England featured a delicious doo-wop call and response sequence which had Van chuckling and cracking gags, but soon he was barking out lyrics like a man posesed. The highlight of the set was a truly massive version of Just Like A Woman...Van screamed the lyrics, and the band followed his every move - he moaned and groaned - pulling the song from thunder to silence and back again. This was the real Van Morrison!! It was a collosal performance .After a storming version of Burning Ground, Morrison stode off stage, triumphant, magnificent....and back!! Dylan was going to struggle to top that.....Van really had pulled out all the stops. But he did. Van had really worked the crowd into a frenzy....The lights went down and the place F*****G erupted, Bob and the band hit the stage and an absolute raging inferno of noise swept over the whole place and rocked me back on my heels......this was louder than thunder, louder than Crazy Horse, louder than anything.... I Want You passed without incident and then the most ominous rumbling, a maelstom brewing, the ground shook beneath us and Cold Irons Bound erupted forth from the stage, moved amongst us and unrelentingly pummeled our senses for what seemed like an age. There is no other word....this was just trancendant. As the echoes of the last few bars rumbled around the back of the Arena the opening chords of Make You Feel My Love edged their way nervously from the stage. It was beautiful, delicate, tender and over too quickly. Silvio picked up right where Cold Irons Bound had left started loud, got louder and stayed loud....Bob and Larry thrashing their guitars - they hit a groove from the start and the song just grew and grew - harder, louder, faster, an impeneterable wall of noise...Bob and the band in perfect unison as they reeled the song back in and then slowly but surely let loose again... We were in need of a break by now...I was exhausted....staggered that Bob was even better than the night before, shocked at how hard he was rocking. Respite came in the form of To Ramona....the band were struggling to hold keep the song delicate and was straining at the leash. Masters Of War couldn't be contained. Bob growled the lyrics with real venom again. Tony picked up the bow and started stroking his double bass. It was It's All Over Now, Baby Blue, but it too couldn't be held was moving too fast and too loud to be played with the bow...Tony had to ditch it and start plucking the strings. This was really turning into an event.....the crowd were enthusiastic and every song had that extra edge, that extra tension...Sheffield had been Good, Birmingham excellent, but this was one of those rare nights where everything was inspired... Mama, You Been On My Mind was a joyous old time string band celebration. Tangled Up In Blue rocked.....louder than some of the electic songs...really driving along, the rhythm section and Bobs vocals taking it in turns to push the song and maintain the pace. It was brilliant to watch...Forever Young somehow managed to remain delicate and beautiful, but then....Highway 61 Revisited. You can guess the rest! But you would be wrong! Yes it was hard, and loud, and long, but as they hit the instrumental break Bob started smiling and pointing at someone on the front row. He was obviously quite taken with whoever it was. Then the young lady concerned leapt up onto the stage and planted a kiss on Bobs face...she returned to the audience quickly and Bob was clearly quite excited. He stumbled around...pretending to go weak at the knees "Oh me oh my" he said...."Is that your husband?....Do you have a husband?". Before the encores were over he went back over to her, bending down and saying a few words. The encores were great....Love Sick brilliant....12&35 raucus and Blowin was really tender. The show was over and the whole arena was baying for more. This was a sensational show. The merchandise sellers totally sold out....they were pulling shirts down off the walls to sell. Everyone wanted a souvenir of this great show.....I still cant get over it. Wish I was going to Wembley!
Date: Mon, 13 Jul 1998 20:02:52 +0100 To: Karl Erik Andersen ( From: "A.Sheppard" ( Subject: Birmingham, England, 24 June 1998 ... N.E.C., Birmingham, 24 June 1998 N.E.C., Birmingham, capacity 12,500, more like an aircraft hangar than a concert hall, but that's where Bob and "Van the Man" were playing, so that's where we all were on the night of Wednesday 24 June 1998. Access from the motorway network is good and, although the motorways around Birmingham are frequently choked, the drive up from Devon was OK, with not too many roadworks or other delays. Pulling into the car park, I spotted a large sign that said Car Parking £3.50. They surely didn't mean it when we had paid £26.00 (plus £2.75 booking fee) for our tickets? They did. It's not Bob who rips us off. It's always good to be in a Dylan crowd. People who understand (or even remember) the emotions of a young man who wrote Hard Rain and whose souls are moved by Blind Willie McTell aren't going to pick your pocket or walk on you if you get knocked over in a crush. This crowd was a bit unsure of itself, though. Maybe there were too many of us. I didn't see any of the hard core fans who stood front of stage at Bournemouth in October, though they were surely there somewhere. Most seemed to be there for Bob, but happy to see Van Morrison too. Lots of tee shirts and sweatshirts declared it. A few declared for Van. The stewards had obviously been briefed to check tickets every time anyone tried to move from one zone to another from the back of the hall to the front, but were friendly and relaxed. It didn't take much to get right up front, even though the best ticket I had been able to get was for block D. First surprise of the night, the stage was filled with nothing but Bob's stuff. That beautiful golden-brown drum kit, a guitar stand labelled "Dylan", Bucky's slide guitar and a double bass. Was Van Morrison not playing tonight? I asked a steward. "Sure, half past nine." He produced a schedule for the night. Bob Dylan 7.30 to 9.00, Interval 9.00 to 9.30, Van Morrison 9.30 to 11.00. Well, well. Bob playing first, and Van Morrison having to follow that. Was this Bob's unparalleled modesty and generosity, or did he just fancy an early night? Van would have to pull out all the stops - maybe he'd do like Jimi Hendrix following The Who and pour lighter fuel on a saxaphone and dance in the flames. Those coming late on the assumption Bob would play second and that, anyway, he always starts late, were going to miss out. I went back to block D, not sitting down but loitering in the aisle. The hall was filling fast now. It wasn't a sell-out, but the only seats left were the least attractive. OK, so they sold 11,500 of 12,500 seats, not bad. Up on stage it looked as if the show might really start on time. Towels were put out and cue sheets taped to the floor. If only we could see those cue sheets - Would Bob start with Gotta Serve Somebody tonight, as he had at all the UK shows so far. Cold Irons Bound at number 3 and Silvio at number 5 looked like certainties (Silvio had not appeared on the cue sheet for Glasgow, but got played anyway). Mama, You Been on My Mind had been played a couple of times and would make a nice change. Desolation Row had been on several cue sheets and would be more than welcome. Seven thirty sharp, lights out and Bob's on stage (I don't remember a "Ladies and Gentlemen, Columbia recording artist··" the tapes will tell) and straight into Gotta Serve Somebody. Bob was wearing the grey suit with a shiny stripe down the trouser legs, boot-lace tie, no shades, no hat. I never saw his feet, so don't know about boots/shoes. Bucky, Tony and David all in hats; Tony's was the trilby tonight, David's looked like a straw hat. Larry wore the usual long grey tail-coat. Gotta Serve Somebody was as reported from earlier UK shows; a good rendering, fresh, clear, with a lot of care taken over getting it right. Bob looked a bit tense, but nothing new there, he usually does until number three. As for me, I had walked right past the guy whose job it was to keep me out of blocks A to C and added myself to those standing in the fourth row from the front. I guess the owner of my 'seat' was one of those standing right in front of the stage, but there was more security between me and there and I didn't think I'd push my luck that far. The stage rush had started early; except it wasn't a rush, just a cautious amble. A folksy Tonight I'll be Staying Here With You followed - Bob not relaxed yet - then stage lights mostly out, Bob's back to the audience (from over by the drum riser, where his towel and drink were) and lots of 'atmospherics' to introduce Cold Irons Bound. For me the atmospherics were the best bit, the song has still to grow on me and tonight got 'noisy'. Tony knew it and stopped playing at one point. Bob and Larry just carried right on. Maybe the song will eventually click with me; Bob has been years ahead of me before - with Pledging My Time in particular. For now, I'd rather they played All Along the Watchtower, or about 298 other songs. Anyway, having got Cold Irons Bound over with, Bob gave us a really nice Born in Time. This hasn't been played a lot and was a new one for many in the audience, but it's on the "Pure Heat" collection from the spring '97 US tour so, like all the other songs tonight, I knew what it was before Bob started singing. Next up was Silvio. Not a surprise and those fans who see too many shows (or hear too many tapes) are tired of this. But it has effectively replaced Watchtower as the rocker in every show and for the breaks the guys usually manage to find some variation on previous themes. Tonight we got duelling guitars between Bob and Larry and that was (more than) good enough for now. Five songs down and the first electric set over; it's looking like a 14 song show. But what more can you expect with Van Morrison waiting for a full turn too. Bob still looking tense. Then it's on with the acoustic guitars and a very sweet Girl of the North Country. I guess this one has been played somewhere around, but not in the UK on this tour and, again, many in the audience didn't seem to know it. The alternate was Cocaine, which would have been good, but we got Cocaine at Bournemouth last Fall and there are plenty of recordings around, so we got the better choice. John Brown was the alternate for Masters of War and, again, we got the better choice. This one was very carefully and precisely played. Playing his upright bass, Tony used the bow for the first verse or so, then reverted to just plucking the strings. Perhaps aware that many in the audience would not know this song either (there is not much excuse for this, it's on the Unplugged album - what do these people listen to?), Bob was at pains to make sure we caught every word, and he sang with great feeling. I began to wonder if there was something in the news that might have brought this one on. Then Mama, You've Been on My Mind. Another treat; the tape of this show is going to be worth having. Three acoustic numbers (all with full band, including drums), but no Mr Tambourine Man and no Tangled Up in Blue. This is unusual. However, at Newcastle, Glasgow and Sheffield (the three preceding shows), Bob played six acoustic numbers in a run, so it was no great surprise that the acoustic guitars were not put away yet. Desolation Row. Tremendous. Although much played over many years, this was a first live performance for me. I lost count of which verses and how many, but Einstein disguised as Robin Hood was in there and the sound of all those stringed instruments was wonderful. Bob still not loosened up. Maybe he's tired, or doesn't like aircraft hangar venues. I thought the acoustic guitars were coming off this time. Bob went back to the drum riser, staying there a bit longer than usual. Larry hesitated a bit, but didn't change guitars and, before Bob seemed ready, struck right into Tangled Up in Blue. Larry's confidence with Bob is amazing. He takes what appear to be liberties - stepping into Bob's space on stage, smiling and waving to the audience on his own account, and launching into this song before Bob seemed ready - but he was right, no extra bars were necessary before Bob was right up at the microphone singing "Early one mornin'/ the sun was shinin', I was layin' in bed/ Wond'rin' if she'd changed at all/ If her hair was still red". We've all heard it many times, but it's still worth hearing, not least because it obviously means so much to Bob. Now the band introductions, "Right now I'd like to introduce my band. On guitar Larry Campbell. (Enter Van Morrison) Mr Van Morrison, Ladies and Gentlemen. On drums, David Kemper. On steel guitar, Bucky Baxter, and on bass guitar tonight, Tony Garnier. And Van Morrison, give a big hand for Van Morrison". Knockin' on Heaven's Door was good and was probably rehearsed - it seemed like Bob and Van had arranged who was going to sing which verses. The instruments were still the acoustics. The alternate on the cue sheet was Like a Rolling Stone, bracketed. So, presumably, if Van didn't come out it was to have been an acoustic LARS, which would have been interesting. Anyway, Knockin' was well worth hearing, Bob finally loosened up, was obviously having a great time and the generosity of his gesture when he got a harmonica and gave it to Van to play had to be seen to be believed. It said, "Here you are, Van, I love the way you play harmonica and now is just the perfect moment for you to play". Van did, it was great. His best performance of the night, as it turned out (and he did try hard in his own set). Van nearly played harmonica again after another verse and chorus, but changed his mind with a characteristic 'disgusted with myself' gesture and shortly afterwards left the stage, without waiting for applause or coming back to acknowledge it. What a man; he arrived too early and left too early, but in between was great. That song made Bob's night. Broad smiles all round now. The electric guitars were strapped on and we got a rocking Highway 61 as a finale before all left the stage. A longish wait, then back for Love Sick and Rainy Day Women. Love Sick was effective, though now lacks the surprise element and tension through concentration that we got last year at Bournemouth. Rainy Day Women was a romp, with a fair measure of jamming, everyone having a good time. Off again. Another wait, not too long, and then back to finish off with Blowin' in the Wind. This was a classic version, not just a throwaway to reward a lot of energetic clapping. I'm not sure if the drums were in action for this one, but all the other guys were definitely on stage. More than anything else tonight, though, it had the feel of Bob up there on his own with an acoustic guitar. And that was it. They were gone. A classic show. Several previously, or lately, underplayed songs. Six successive acoustic numbers, plus Blowin' as an encore; a duet with Van Morrison and a harp solo from Van. A great show. "Thanks everybody." Thanks Bob, may God bless and keep you always. Andrew

June 1998 Setlists Tour