Thursday, October 18, 2007
Despite the fact that Louisville's Freedom Hall is not a good place to see a concert, last nights show with Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan was for the most part pretty spectacular.
The arena, with its uncomfortable makeshift chairs facing away from the stage, never got above half full last night even though the building was housing a show with two of the most legendary and important figures in popular music. The show began promptly at seven o'clock with Amos Lee performing a spirited opening half hour set. Lee, and his solid band, tried out a couple of new songs among some older ones and the audience that was there gave him a decent welcoming.
The night really began though when the lights dimmed and a defiant looking Elvis Costello walked out on stage and burst into a roaring THE ANGELS WANNA WEAR MY RED SHOES. The early part of Costello's set was marred by people taking their seats late, a problem I have noticed becoming more and more apparent with each show I attend. It just seemed to fuel Costello's fire as the great man put on a spitting, angry and politically charged set which also included a couple of new songs.
Highlights of Costello's solo set included a stunning rendition of BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE'S searing UNCOMPLICATED and a surprising performance of GET HAPPY'S NEW AMSTERDAM (with a little of The Beatles YOU'VE GOT TO HIDE YOUR LOVE AWAY thrown in for good measure). Costello chatter in between songs shows a man clearly infused with lot of rage at the war in Iraq and the country's political situation in general. He mentioned his renewed political passion had come with the arrival of his new children, who were backstage with wife Diana Krall, and bragged that as they were American born they could one day become President and Vice President.
Costello is frankly astonishing live and his vocal power and sharp guitar work clearly floored many in the audience. Probably the night's most moving moment came on the more recent EITHER SIDE OF THE SAME TOWN, which seemed to send a trickle of chills throughout the entire room. Costello ended his stand with his COLD MOUNTAIN contribution SCARLET TIDE, and the song's clear anti-war message rang through with Elvis' impassioned performance. A well deserved standing ovation was given as the great man stomped off the stage.
Not many people could follow someone like Elvis Costello, but Bob Dylan is certainly one of them. Taking the stage just past eight thirty, Dylan (dressed in black and frankly looking more bad ass than he has in years) came on stage with his band and without a word of introduction sprang into a sloppy and rollicking LEOPARD-SKIN PILL-BOX HAT. The, maybe about Edie Sedgwick, song from BLONDE ON BLONDE was the perfect opening for the gloriously fiery set Dylan was about to deliver and it merged perfectly into a spirited DON'T THINK TWICE IT'S ALL RIGHT. Dylan, swinging an electric ax, sounded vocally rougher than usual at first but he improved as the impassioned performance went on.
After WATCHING THE RIVER FLOW, Dylan left stage front and moved back to his keyboards and delivered one of the highlights of the evening, a menacing and slightly extended LOVE SICK. His band was really smoking on this track and throughout the night they were really extraordinary, with special note going to the fret work of Denny Freeman and the stomping percussive stylings of George Recile. LOVE SICK gave way to a fun rendition of ROLLING AND TUMBLIN', a song that the band clearly love playing. A double shot of SPIRIT ON THE WATER and HIGH WATER followed before one of the evening's major highlights, a moving take of MODERN TIMES'S WORKINGMAN'S BLUES #2.
Dylan's heartfelt performance of WORKINGMAN'S BLUES was chilling and put tears in my eyes, with the final lines "Some people never worked a day in their life,
Don't know what work even means" hitting like an little emotional bulldozer to the already captivated audience. Even better was the follow up, a brutal and long version of THINGS HAVE CHANGED. Recile's drumming was particularly effective on this song and the band just smoked on Dylan's terrifying lament (and tribute) on not caring anymore. The evening's most pulverising moment came after with a gut wrenching reading of THE LONESOME DEATH OF HATTIE CARROLL. It's hard to imagine anyone injecting more feeling into a song than Dylan did last night when he seemed to put it all on the line with:
"Hattie Carroll was a maid of the kitchen.
She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children
Who carried the dishes and took out the garbage
And never sat once at the head of the table
And didn't even talk to the people at the table
Who just cleaned up all the food from the table
And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level,
Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane
That sailed through the air and came down through the room,
Doomed and determined to destroy all the gentle."
The effect was pulverising and its a moment I'll not soon forget...
Something special had to follow up HATTIE CARROLL and Dylan didn't disappoint as the opening chords of HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED started rippling through the room. Dylan's frantic take was astounding, and he still manages to make the song sound as fresh and invigorating as the original. The eerie AIN'T TALKIN' followed which quickly gave way to the awesome SUMMER DAYS, which again showed the band as a totally together unit. The set ended with a strangely mumbled but incredibly effective version of the searing MASTER'S OF WAR. This performance, added on with Costello's opening, made this one of the most overtly angry and political shows I have seen in a long time.
As MASTER'S OF WAR came to a close, Dylan and his band silently left the stage to another full standing ovation. After a few minutes the band returned for a short but powerful encore of THUNDER ON THE MOUNTAIN and a slowed down, slightly menacing take of LIKE A ROLLING STONE. The band and Dylan then grouped together at the front of the stage and after a few waves exited and never re-appeared.
This was my third Dylan show and it was one of the best. He looked fantastic and seemed like he was in good physical shape. Whether it was Costello opening that fired him up so much, or something else, I don't know, but Bob Dylan seemed about half his age last night and could have blown almost anyone off the stage. His band was great and, despite a small crowd and bad venue, this was one of the best shows I have seen in a while. I would have loved to have seen Dylan and Costello play together but since I didn't expect it, I wasn't disappointed. Frankly just having the two of them in the same building was enough to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
Throughout last night's show, many thoughts of Dylan's career ran through my head. One that I kept returning to was his character Alias in Peckinpah's PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID. Why that mysterious character kept popping into my head last night I don't know, but as the small and slightly hunched over man walked off the stage I thought of a moment in Peckinpah's masterful film. That moment when James Coburn's Garrett sadly tells Kris Kristoferson's Billy, "It feels like times have changed." to which Billy responds with a pointed and defiant, "Times maybe...but not me."