Tag Archives: arts

Concert review: Dylan with Knopfler.

So I went to a Bob Dylan concert and I could barely understand a word he said.

No surprises there, of course. Dylan came through Edmonton with his band and Mark Knopfler last Tuesday, and I went with a friend. Dylan played an outdoor show in Lloydminster in August which I had wanted to attend, but that didn’t work out. I think an outdoor show would have been better, but I wouldn’t have seen Knopfler.

It wasn’t clear to me whether Knopfler was opening for Dylan or playing with Dylan and his band. As it turned out, it was more of a double-billing. Knopfler essentially played his own full-length concert before Dylan. And that’s perhaps how it should be. Dylan may be a legend, but Knopfler’s no slouch either.

The Knopfler set was excellent. I didn’t come to see Knopfler; he was a bonus and I had no idea what to expect. He played what was as far as I could tell mostly new material. Only his encore went back to his Dire Straits days. That song (“So Far Away”) sounded vaguely familiar, but it was the cheering from the audience that clued me in. Knopfler’s sound (new album released just a couple of weeks ago, I think) these days hovers around the Celtic–mandolins, flutes, fiddles, etc–with a touch of country blues, but always with his signature finger-picking stratocaster sound. The Edmonton Journal Review said that “Their flute and fiddle tunes sometimes bordered on Zamfir and Titanic cheese.” False. This is only cheese if you have something against the flute and fiddle in the first place. Don’t bring Zamfir or Titanic (i.e. the James Cameron film) into this. There was no cheese in Knopflers music. But there was bittersweetness, melancholy, and much beauty, and at times it bordered on the spiritually moving (I may or may not have closed my eyes prayerfully at one point).

Knopfler was appreciative of and engaging with the audience–thanking us, telling us he was having a great time. Whether he was or not doesn’t matter. He engaged us (you can probably anticipate where this is going). His sound was tight, crisp, and well-mixed, and their technicians made good, mood-appropriate use of the stage lights. After Knopfler’s show I was that much more of a Knopfler fan.

Dylan… I went in with high expectations, low expectations, and not knowing what to expect. I had various stories about how Dylan does not interact with the audience at all, that I wouldn’t recognize any of the songs, that he is either on or off and if he’s off he’s really off. So here’s the lowdown: it was underneath a number of issues, a great concert. Actually, it was really only one issue: sound. It was way too loud. This is a common problem at concerts, but Knopfler managed to be loud without having all his music become a wash of lows. I wish I had remembered to bring earplugs–I don’t know how many concerts I’ve been too where it was clear that plugging my ears provided the perfect filter, presenting me with crisp, balanced sound and distinct instruments. But I didn’t want to sit with my fingers in my ears all night. Well there was also the lighting–which mostly had kind of a streetlights-in-Paris kind of feel, which is nice, but does not work well in such a large setting–and the fact that when Dylan was sitting at the keyboard he was nearly indistinguishable from the stage set.

He didn’t really interact with the audience. I was suprised to see him get up from his keyboard and walk around stage singing. He may have even gestured at the audience, though with my eyesight at my seats I couldn’t really tell. He even spoke outside of introducing the band: he bleated something about not playing his best or something (which I later learned was an apology for a poor cover of a Gordon Lightfoot song).

It was true what they said about not recognizing the songs: pretty much every song had a new arrangements. The only songs remotely close to the original were “Watching the River Flow” (the opening number) and “Summer Days” (from Love and Theft). With the rest of the songs it took some careful listening to Dylan’s semi-intelligible, and in the words of the Edmonton Journal writer, “raspy, cram-all-his-lyrics-into-one-sentence delivery” to discover what song he was doing. The set included “Things Have Changed,” his Oscar-winning 2000 song, but with a polka beat; “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”; “Tangled Up in Blue”; “Thunder on the Mountain.” The set included 15 songs total. I recognized most of them, but here’s perhaps the biggest oddity of the evening: he did not play a single song from his recently released album Tempest. Sort of bizarre, but then maybe by the time an album is recorded an artist is sick of those songs. Only slightly less disappointing than the mix was his one-song encore. It was “Blowing in the Wind,” mind you, but one song? Not a good encore.

I think the Edmonton Journal headline was right–“Knopfler outshines Dylan at Rexall Place concert”–but not because Dylan and his band played a poor set. Underneath the poor mix was a great band playing some excellent arrangement of classic Dylan songs. I’m glad I got to see Dylan. I even bought a t-shirt. And you know what? I’d go to another one of his concerts in a heartbeat (but maybe I’d opt for an outdoor show), though I have the feeling there won’t be many more of those.

But Knopfler earned an album sale or two from me.

World of Wonders

Another classic by Bruce Cockburn: “World of Wonders”, and somewhat relevant to my last post, I think.

Lyrics:

Stand on a bridge before the cavern of night
Darkness alive with possibility
Nose to this wind full of twinkling lights
Trying to catch the scent of what’s coming to be (in this…)

World of wonders…

Somewhere a saxophone slides through changes
Like a wet pipe dripping down my neck
Gives me a chill — sounds like danger
But I can’t stop moving till I cross this sector (of this…)

World of wonders…

There’s a rainbow shining in a bead of spittle
Falling diamonds in rattling rain
Light flexed on moving muscle
I stand here dazzled with my heart in flames (at this…)

World of wonders…

Moment of peace like brief arctic bloom
Red/gold ripple of the sun going down
Line of black hills makes my bed
Sky full of love pulled over my head

World of wonders…

House concert – Dale Nikkel – March 14

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we would be having a house concert this coming Saturday (March 14, which I had mistakenly said was the 15th).  There is still a house concert, but plans have changed slightly.  The concert will no longer be at our house (it will be at someone else’s), but you are still welcome to come if you’re interested.  

Dale Nikkel is an award-winning folk singer/songwriter and storyteller, family man, former-teacher-turned-student out of Winnipeg (though I don’t think he lives there right now).  Check out his website for more information about Dale and for free mp3s and samples of his music.  Also, go to YouTube for some videos of live performances.

Dale is the brother of a friend of mine from my tree planting days.  Dixie and I saw Dale in concert in Saskatoon several years ago and we loved the concert.  We had also seen Bruce Cockburn in concert several weeks prior and in an email to Dale’s brother I remarked that Dale’s concert was as good as Bruce’s–probably even better because it was in a more intimate setting.

His songs are introspective, other times funny.  He’s a great story teller–a Dale Nikkel concert experience is not unlike a Steve Bell concert: a healthy mix of song and story.

I’m not a great promoter.  Don’t hire me as your PR guy.  

Here are some blurbs I nicked from his website:

“An engagingly personal performer…” – The Toronto Star

“Captivating images in streams of poetic beauty” – The Edmonton Journal

“Lyrics that can raise the hairs on your neck.”  – Uptown Magazine, Winnipeg

“The easy cadence of Paul Simon colors the voice of Canada’s Dale Nikkel…” – Performing Songwriter

All true.  Seriously: Dale Nikkel is an excellent singer/songwriter.  If you ever have a chance to see him in concert, go.

The concert will be at about 8:00 this Saturday.  Contact me if you’re interested.  I’m not posting details here because it’s a house concert, so space will be limited and I don’t want a horde of unexpected people showing up at the door.  Dale is touring to promote his new album, Second Hand.  There is no charge for the concert, but there is a suggested donation of $10 per person to cover some of his costs.  His concert will be more than worth that price.

You can contact me about it by clicking “Email Me” above or emailing me at theeagleandchild AT gmail DOT com (please make the subject “Dale Nikkel” to make absolutely sure it doesn’t get picked up by my spam filter).

In the meantime, here are a couple of YouTube clips:

Dale and his friend Kimbal Siebert (who will apparently be joining Dale for the concert) performing “Closer to the Flame”:

And here is Dale doing a duet of his song “Silver and Gold” with Samantha Schultz:

More videos here.

Hope to hear from you (certain Prince Albert people who will be attending a certain birthday party in town on Saturday need not worry. The concert will follow some of the birthday festivities. Stick around.)

No Line on the Horizon

I’m ridiculously loyal to U2.  I keep buying their CDs upon release without listening to them first.   I have continued to do this even though I effectively stopped listening to new U2 material a decade ago (Pop was the last album I paid much attention to).  Even now, when they’ve already looking forward to the follow-up album coming out in the fall. Why do I do this?  I don’t know.  Continuity?  Loyalty?  Obsessive compulsiveness?

I don’t know what it was about All That You Can’t Leave Behind (ATYCLB), which was effectively a come-back album for the band in terms of popularity, after unorthodox (but still good) Zooropa and Pop (and–sort of–Passengers) and a somewhat lukewarm (relatively speaking, of course–because U2 and their work can really only be compared to themselves) response to the PopMart tour.  ATYCLB has some unquestionably good songs on it, but something about it seemed…I don’t know…forced.  And I think it might have been a bit overproduced to the point of being soft-around the edges–like something by Boston (I’m guessing there) or later Big Sugar or Wide Mouth Mason.  Yes: a little too polished.

In terms of production, the album which followed–How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (HTDMAAB)was a much grittier improvement.  Actually, I thought it was a much better album overall than ATYCLB, again with many good songs.  But still…something didn’t click.

In spite of this, I kept looking forward to the new album.  U2 set the bar incredibly high with both The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby and I suppose some part of me is anxious for them to do it again, even though that will be nearly impossible to do for them.  Shortly before the release of No Line on the Horizon (NLOTH), I read the Rolling Stone review, which gave the album five stars out of five and said it was their best album since Achtung Baby. My hopes skyrocketed again.

The problem with high hopes is that they’re rarely met.  After my first listen through of NLOTH I was “disappointingly underwhelmed”, to quote my own Facebook status.  Obscure, unsingable melodies; that annoying “Elevation”-“Vertigo”-“Get On Your Boots” guitar sound; seemingly pointless jangly guitar riffs.

Some of these review blurbs from MetaCritic summed it up for me:

“…a grab bag of underdeveloped ideas that never seemed to command the band’s full attention” — The Onion A.V. Club

“…reveal[s] not that U2 went into the studio with a dense, complicated blueprint, but rather, they had no plan at all” — All Music Guide

I was disappointed, unimpressed.

Where were the anthems of yesteryear?  Where were the must-be-sung melodies of old?  When will we hear something comparable to “Where the Streets Have No Name” or “One”, “Stay (Far Away, So Close)” or even “If God Will Send His Angels”?

And yet…

And yet I found the songs from NLOTH were stuck in my head and I didn’t mind them so much.  I’ve been spinning the album in my car for the last couple of days–much more attention than I gave the last two albums–and I’m beginning to wonder if this will be another one of those albums which, like Zooropa, will become better the more it is listened to.  It’s growing on me.  Already “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” is my favourite U2 song in more than 10 years–probably since 1993’s “Lemon”.

I’m not going to give it a rating. But I’ve given it enough time to realize that there is great potential here.  I was originally planning  on posting this review the day after the album was released, I’m glad I waited.  It may just be their best album since Achtung Baby, I don’t know.  It doesn’t complete the Joshua Tree-Achtung Baby trilogy, but I am getting the sense that it does eclipse their last two albums.  And, since they are not pretending to be something they’re not, perhaps it eclipses Zooropa as well (but, for purely subjective reasons, I’m not willing to commit to that suggestion).

Some things I realized while listening to this album:

  • Bono and The Edge get all the media attention, but the two quiet guys who use their own names–Larry and Adam (drums and bass, respectively)–are the musical heart and soul and foundation of this band.
  • In the post-Achtung Baby U2 world, my favourite songs tend to be those that are unusual and less U2-like.  On this album: “I’ll Got Crazy…” and “Stand Up Comedy”.  In the past: “Lemon” (Zooropa), “Miami” and “Please” (Pop)
  • Donald Miller (yes, the writer of Blue Like Jazz) has an interesting review of the album, in which he highlights a fact that we generally overlook, especially when we critique what U2 does: that they are an organization with hundreds of employees, many of whom will have families.  It’s not just the four of them that need to be considered, but a whole network of people are affected by how popular their music is and how well their tours do.  There is a U2 machine to keep oiled and running.

I’m still not fully convinced about NLOTH, but, as I say, it’s growing on me.

And on “I’ll Go Crazy…” alone (and their amazing tour set–it’s pretty amazing, if that thing falls apart during a concert, the band is dead) I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t make an effort to see them in concert in Vancouver or Chicago in the fall.