Japan Tour Wrap-Up (with Sergi Fabregat)
Three nights in Osaka, five in Tokyo, and three in Nagoya
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Only hours after the first night of Bob Dylan’s 2023 Japan tour wrapped, Our Man in Osaka Sergi Fabregat was in our inboxes with his terrific show report. He continued on with the tour, seeing all three shows in Osaka followed by all five in Tokyo. That means he was at 8 of the tour’s 11 total shows.
Today, following the tour finale in Nagoya yesterday, he shares his final thoughts — and a little playlist of his most memorable moments across all eight nights. Below that I throw in a few memorable clips from the Nagoya tapes to put a bow on these Japan dispatches.
Not the same that it was only a minute ago – Bob Dylan in Japan, 2023
“It’s what a song makes you feel about your own life that’s important,” writes Bob Dylan about Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” in The Philosophy of Modern Song. When an extremely important part of your own life is chasing a singer singing his songs wherever it takes, what those songs make you feel can get pretty personal and intense, even complicated I would say. For me, with Bob it usually goes like this: during a concert, he sings a line in a specific way and somehow something clicks in my brain and makes me feel like some unfathomable truth has been handed to me, then I cherish it forever if possible. During my latest trips, especially the ones I’ve done with my mother, like this last one in Japan, I take lots of pictures, and I’ve ended up convincing myself that one of the reasons of that is that in a way they are time-stoppers, photographic reminders of happy days that can go away so easily. In the same way, Bob’s performances are full of photography-like moments in which feelings are expressed in its purest form. I think that that’s why I keep coming around, because in Bob the meaning of the word and how the word is spoken become one, forever inseparable.
When I think about how deep a Bob Dylan concert can run into your soul, I realize a big part of it goes down to the setlist — or, better phrased, that the setlist can help in understanding the process. Right in the middle of the concert, there’s a song that usually is a bit overlooked, “Crossing the Rubicon,” but in this Japanese tour has gained new life thanks to the vocal prominence Bob has put into it, mellowing down the aggressiveness of some of the lines (“I’ll make your wife a widow, you’ll never see old age”) and giving them some meditative quality, like one is toying with those thoughts rather than relating them.
If up to “Crossing the Rubicon” we get a narrator that sings about the world being observed from the outside, after the crossing we are in a more inner state of mind, and the point of view seems to me a lot more subjective, personal and fallible. Bob goes from singing, “I opened my heart to the world and the world came in,” “You’ve seen the great world and you’ve seen the small,” or “I paint landscapes - I paint nudes… I contain multitudes” to singing “Radio signal clear as can be, I’m so deep in love I can hardly see,” “Forge my identity from the inside out,” or “I can’t sing a song that I don’t understand.” More than the lyrical shift that to me changes the singer’s perspective from an objective narrator to a subjective one, singing first as a moving observer and later as an still-standing emotionally and mind-troubled troubadour, it’s also the music that changes.
The first half of the concert moves between restraint and unleash, but after “Crossing the Rubicon” (in fact also bound to that tension, with those abrupt cacophonies bursting after some verses and then going away in the dust) comes “To Be Alone With You,” the first free-sounding song of the show, that light that freedom gives within each musician, that together with Bob embark on those beautiful, violin-topped, jams at the end of the song. The run from “Key West” to “Every Grain of Sand” (what song could be more fitting to this kind of concert?) just deepens that feeling that we’re into the singer’s mind now, and that we better be careful to what we believe.
The Japanese audiences during the eight shows I’ve attended during what I like to call Bob Dylan’s 2023 Sakura Tour have had also that very Dylanesque essence between restraint and unleash, from the most silence I’ve ever heard at a concert to rapturous applause and, especially, very sincere emotions. Some of the best moments I’ve experienced during these eight shows have had a lot to do with the fellow Bobcats surrounding me, so let me take you to a little summarized trip of the highlights (in chronological order) of these concerts; now they are over, but as the cherry blossoms, today and tomorrow, and yesterday too, they’ll be reborn, like all things do.
Osaka Night 1 (April 6) – Jazzy “I Contain Multitudes”
In the first night of 2022 Fall Tour in Oslo, we got an almost brand-new “When I Paint My Masterpiece” in the form of an acoustic trio that did not stick much in the rest of the shows. Similarly, in the first night in Osaka, Bob debuted an amazingly jazzy “I Contain Multitudes” that gave the song a new approach, full of crescendos and new textures, new multitudes. For me, this version would make also a great show opener, and it gave the rest of the show (together with the closeness between all musicians on stage) a very clubby touch. However, from the following night onwards, not much of the arrangement stuck.
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