Monday, May 22, 1995

Obviously One Believer

The last time I made a West Coast swing that included Los Angeles was before the flood back in 1989. It was a different time, I, a different person, and the reflection I was with witnessed many memorable moments from the debut of a one armed pitcher, to the thrills of one arm bandits. But like a pebble plopped in a puddle, the memories spread, dissipate and waver. I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.

Well that high tide's risin, mama, don't you let me down. Pack up your suitcase, mama, don't you make a sound. Now it's king for king, queen for queen, it's gonna be the meanest flood that anybody's seen. Oh mama, ain't you gonna miss your best friend now? Yes, you're gonna have to find yourself another best friend, somehow.

The Palladium is an old renovated ballroom located on Sunset Boulevard in the heart of Hollywood. The once elegant building has a scrubbed wood dance floor, grand chandeliers, two red carpeted balconies and holds about one thousand people. In recent years, the Palladium has become yet another Los Angeles night club, attracting acts like the Pretenders, Hootie and the Blowfish, and the Golden Palominos. In the past few months there have been a few incidences of violence, so as you enter the building, you are frisked (and I mean frisked) so thoroughly one almost wants to ask for a cigarette after the search is finished.

If not for you my sky would fall, rain would gather too, without your love I'd be nowhere at all, I'd be lost if not for you.

The crowd that gathered for Bob Dylan's Palladium appearance last Wednesday was sort of at a generational tug of war. You had your usual collection of Dead Heads driving up in their Volkswagen vans, tye-dyed and dread locked. You had your aging middle aged couples, sweatered, bespectled, arm in arm, and waiting for a nostalgic evening along side of punkers dressed in black carrying lunch boxes. Defining his audience and then playing to them, is not something Bob spends a lot of time worrying about. For his concerts, Bob doesn't seem to mind that those attending might not hear the songs they came to hear. Who is his audience these days? The problem cropped up during Bob's participation in the Unplugged episode. He filmed two concerts which in usual Bob fashion were a mixture of his well known "classics" and some more obscure, off the cuff material. The marriage between Bob and the MTV audience, the MTV format, and his history of uneasy television appearances made for some interesting choices in what was eventually aired. The final choice for songs was in nearly all cases, uninspired and exactly what one might expect from a Dylan show; in other words Bob fell into the predicability trap he has always strived to avoid. Yet his performance was solid, and the recent CD release does include a more complete picture of what and who Dylan is.

But you and I have been through that, and this is not our fate. Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.

On each leg of his "Never Ending Tour," (now over seven years old), Bob has added or subtracted something from the shows to give them a different flavor. This time around almost seemingly in response to "Unplugged" Bob has abbreviated the acoustic portion of the shows (constantly a highlight over the years) from five or six songs down to three, so anyone who bought the newest CD expecting to see the same from the show, is bound to walk away disappointed. There is a bigger surprise awaiting fans in these shows however; as the lights go down, and the shadows on the stage move to their marks, and that deep booming voice says, "Please welcome, Columbia recording artist, Bob Dylan," the lights go up to a Bob dressed in a fancy blue coat and purple pants, without his guitar, only a microphone in hand.

The dramatic velvet lighting and the way Bob awkwardly plays the audience, pointing, turning, stepping and swinging, and the fact he played a couple of shows in Vegas before stopping in L.A., proves that he is every bit the crooner Sinatra ever was. Without his guitar to protect him, Bob's jerky movement is enhanced by greater focus on his singing; both nights I saw him, this unusual twist was performed with surprising effect on the first two numbers.

Well the room is so stuffy, I can hardly breathe. Everybody's gone but me and you and I can't be the last to leave. I'm pledging my time to you, hopin' you'll come through too.

I was sitting at my desk last Monday trying to psyche myself up for another stressed filled, meeting consumed, work week. I grabbed Bob's Empire Burlesque (a much maligned, but sadly overlooked release from 1983) and plopped it into my portable CD player. The fifth song Never Gonna Be The Same Again, caught my ear for some reason, and I listened to the lyrics for the first time in years. You give me something to think about baby, every time I see ya. Don't worry baby, I don't mind leavin' I just like it to be my idea. The song used to annoy me; perhaps because like the other ballads on Empire Burlesque, the lyrics are deceptively simple and unlike any other Dylan language. Maybe the song never appealed to me because of the lackluster recording and performance, another of Bob's missed chances. For whatever reason, on this particular Monday, at this particular moment in my life, somehow something about the song struck me deep inside. I liked the sentiment expressed and the place I've been to- You took my reality and cast it to the wind, and I ain't never gonna be the same again. So as I was standing there at the Palladium two days later and for whatever reason Bob pulled out this song (one I don't think he's ever performed live before), it was an odd experience to say the least. Sorry if I hurt you baby, sorry if I did. Sorry if I touched the place where your secrets are hid.

There were other wonderful surprises too; night one's Pledging My Time; night three's roarin' Tombstone Blues so unlike the jangling Unplugged version; both night's Seeing the Real You At Last, and God Knows, and the closing number on both nights, Obviously Five Believers with its terrific running riff and Bob's playful phrasing on some of his best lyrics. Night three's Hattie Carroll got an extremely moving reading with Bob playing out the song's dramatic tone to full effect- Now is the time for your tears. And for those wondering why one would continue to see Bob at every opportunity, the difference between night one's Mr. Tambourine Man, and night three's reading of the same song, demonstrates what some of the fuss is about. Maybe it was the crowd, maybe it was Bob's mood, and his interplay with his band, but night one's performance seemed to me, to be tentative and lacking. Night three's performance however, although played the same way, really moved me. I guess you had to be there. Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

Bob closed Friday night with three encores. He was much more animated and playful than he has been for any of his Twin Cities' appearances. "We gotta go now, places to be..." The second encore featured the best version of I Shall Be Released I've ever heard with Sheryl Crow singing harmony. She hugged Bob, he shrugged, then played a rollicking Rainy Day Woman, pointed to the crowd with a two finger gun salute, slapped some hands, and swaggered out of sight once more.

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