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Last Night in London
2022-10-23, London Palladium, London, England
As I did at the earlier Rough and Rowdy Ways Tour shows I saw (Milwaukee, Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans), some quick next-morning thoughts on last night’s show. With — bonus — an early recording! I’ll do it again after tonight’s show.
The more things stay the same, the more they change. Last night’s show had the same setlist as the last one I saw in New Orleans back in March (minus one non-Bob song). Same band and stage arrangement. Same Bob too. But for all that similarity, it felt quite different.
For one, it’s a slower, more meditative performance now — and it wasn’t exactly a punk show before! Most of the uptempo songs have been paced down. “False Prophet” in particular has lost most of the bite I loved so much in New Orleans. What works better though, is the near-solo piano openings to several songs: “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” “To Be Alone with You,” and “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Hearing these, you could envision what it might be like for Bob to hit the road solo, just him and the ivories taking his piano-man routine from town to town. I’d go.
Take a listen to all three songs’ piano openings from last night’ show, before the band kicks in (thanks to Brian for getting me a tape so fast!):
Those are some things that changed since the spring, but here are some things that almost changed…but didn’t:
Guitarist Bob Britt. At the London show two nights earlier, he was nowhere to be seen onstage. I assumed illness (Covid?), but the rumor circulating last night, which I can’t verify, was that he had to fly back to the U.S. for some corporate gig. Gotta be more to the story though; I find it unlikely Dylan just lets his band members leave whenever they want now.
The tour’s opening show in Oslo saw two changes that didn’t stick. Most notably, “When I Paint My Masterpiece” was played as a trio with the two Bobs and Donnie Herron on violin. The other band members left the stage. The arrangement showed potential, but didn’t really land. Dylan must not have thought so either, as it was gone by night two. You can hear it here.
Also gone: Dylan playing guitar. He’d opened most shows on the most recent U.S. tour with a few minutes of instrumental guitar on “Watching the River Flow,” but dumped it after the first night in Europe. Too bad. It didn’t sound great on bootlegs, admittedly, but I’m sure Bob strumming away was fun to see live.
Dylan opened at least one show recently with a short instrumental snippet of “Oh Susannah.” You can hear it here. Whatever he played last night didn’t sound like “Oh Susannah” to me, but it did sound like more than ambient noodling. Can anyone ID it?
It’s great that Dylan does such extensive vocal warmups for each show. But it’s a shame that he chooses the first few songs of the set as the time to do them. As often, the show got off to a fairly phlegmy start. He didn’t start really singing-singing until “Black Rider,” six song in. But from there on, he was in top form.
Speaking of “Black Rider,” that was a high point of the show. In general, the quietest songs are the standouts now, letting Bob really croon while the band layers gentle atmospherics behind him. “Crossing the Rubicon” falls in that category too. Here’s “Black Rider.” At time the band is barely even playing anything. With singing like this, they don’t need to.
It’s the midtempo songs that drag the show down a bit, not loud enough to provide a jolt of energy nor quiet enough to really spotlight Dylan. Again, RIP the once-great “False Prophet.”
The only real rocker remaining is, after the solo piano intro I mentioned, “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Finally the band can let loose a bit, most notably when the two guitarists face each other center-stage for a fast-strummed break:
The other big moment of loud energy was, get this, “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You!” Okay, “moment” is right — the song is still 99% slow and quiet — but features one big sonic crescendo near the end. You can hear it on the recording, but imagine it even louder live:
I’ve lost track of how many arrangements “Key West” has gone through now, but the highlight of this new one is drummer Charley Drayton, using his mallets on the toms for what sounded like meditative tribal drumming (honorable mention to Bob Britt’s Morricone-ish twangy guitar strums). Drayton in general continues to be this lineup’s star, using inventive percussion when the songs are too slow for proper drumming. The chains he dragged along the cymbals on “Black Rider” were a particularly atmospheric touch.
The one setlist change I mentioned, which debuted in the final US show and has lasted the entire European tour, is a Sinatra-swap. “Melancholy Mood” is out, “That Old Black Magic” is in. I slightly preferred the former, largely for giving often-obscured (sonically by the mix, visually by Bob and his piano) Doug Lancio a chance in the spotlight. But primarily it’s funny that, several years after it seemed Bob left the “songbook years” behind, he’s re-added a Standards Slot. Will his next album be Quadruplicate?
Tony Garnier is a great bass player! “Dude, where have you been the last 33 years?” I know, duh. But his abilities as Dylan’s bandleader and musical consigliere is sometimes more clear than his bass playing, particularly on the tapes where recorders have trouble picking it up. It was loud and clear last night in the room through. His walking bass line saved the otherwise unmemorable blues song “Goodbye Jimmy Reed.” You can hear it somewhat on the tape too:
Bob Dylan is not a great piano player, but last night it felt less cat-walking-across-the-keyboard than at some earlier shows. His solos had melody and, for the most part, didn’t stretch on too long (I remember one of those absolutely killing “Every Grain of Sand” in Philadelphia). He sat down for some of the solos, which made you glad he didn’t so that more often; from the orchestra (sorry, it’s “stalls” over here), when he sat all you could see is his a-little-too-brown-for-81 hair bobbing around.
“Every Grain of Sand” finally lived up to its promise to me. On paper, it’s a truly knockout set closer. But the two times I saw it before, it didn’t land as I’d expected. Seemed like going out with a whimper. But last night he sold it, capping the night perfectly with his first and only harmonica playing of the night. If Bob keeps the setlist forever, and “Every Grain of Sand” one day ends up as the last song he ever plays onstage, it would prove a fitting way to end. Here’s the last verse and harmonica:
Finally, it was great to meet so many of you! For anyone attending tonight’s show, meetup at The King & Queen Pub at 6 PM.