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Twice in Osaka, Thirteen Years Apart
2010-03-11, Zepp Osaka, Osaka, Japan
Next month, Bob Dylan resumes his Rough and Rowdy Ways tour in Osaka, Japan. So today, I figured we’d do a quick look back at another early-spring tour in Japan, in March 2010. Like he will next month, Dylan kicked off that Japan tour – his first there in nine years – in Osaka. He played five nights in the city, compared to only three this year.
Different venue too. This year, he will be playing the Osaka Festival Hall theater, which looks like this:
In 2010, he played the Zepp Osaka club, which has a different vibe:
I found an interesting fan review at Bob Links that sets the scene for this first Osaka 2010 show, exploring the vibe both outside and in the room – and how both might differ from shows that outsiders would see back home. Here’s a condensed excerpt from the writer named Kathleen. It’s still pretty long, so I bolded some bits that jumped out.
I got to the venue around 4:30 p.m. to try to see how things worked. It was very organized, with a guy with a megaphone stating directions every 15 minutes or so. There was a line, even though there didn't need to be a line… At some point we were divided up into groups of about three hundred as per our GA ticket number (the seating in the balcony is tiny, barely any seats are there), then further divided into groups of 100. As you can imagine, this is incredibly organized compared to a GA concert anywhere else on the planet. At exactly 6 p.m. (everything happens exactly on time here - the bullet trains' average delay last year was six seconds), the first 20 people were each called by number and went in in numerical order.
After that we went in in groups of about 10, they called by number. It sounded like an auction in the U.S., the person at the front called the number and he had a relay person midway through the crowd to megaphone singsong the number again. (For some reason, Japanese megaphones are effective, yet not loud and obnoxious like everywhere else.)…
By some miracle that could probably only happen in Japan, the venue was filled in a very orderly manner, probably by about 6:40 p.m. For that first half hour, you could hear a pin drop, no one spoke. Then when the people got in the seats in the balcony, there was a murmur, but not much of one. The background music was some type of U.S. '50s music; sorry I can't remember it exactly due to later stress, but think, "Blueberry Hill." At 7 p.m. exactly, one of the songs ended so the crowd assumed the show would start and started politely clapping. But then another song started. And ended. More polite clapping and a few hoots and hollers. This went on for like six songs. I think the crowd was a bit perplexed/stressed/worried about why the show was not starting.
Anyway, at 7:17 p.m. the show started. (It ended at about 9:10 p.m.) After what had been a peaceful and happy wait, it went downhill very quickly once the lights went down. The crowd surged, or shall I say, catapulted forward (at least in my area). I was pinned, and I mean crushed, for the rest of the concert with tall Japanese people all around me… I was surprised at how it went and how crazed the people around me were, trying to get closer to the stage, ostensibly by climbing over my head. It's not what I expected in Japan and my struggling seemed to improve the peoples' resolve to pretend I wasn't there. (No security in sight, but also no cameras…people were very mindful of the rules - just not other people.)
One postscript to that tale. In a review of a show two nights later at the same venue, Kathleen discovered the source of that crowd surge:
I also found out why things are so wild on the GA floor--security is walking back and forth behind the rail with a sign that says for everyone to move forward and stand closer together.
I’m planning to have one or two contributors bring us dispatches from Japan next month (current shows typically go to paid subscribers only so upgrade your subscription if you want ‘em!), and maybe they can shed light on how the crowd behavior compares. Judging by that photo above of the sedate and seated Osaka Festival Hall, not much risk of a crowd crunch this year.
Music-wise, 2010 wasn’t yet the era of same-setlist-every-night, but it was already closing in, with less variety than there had been a few years prior. Good news though: Dylan had resumed playing guitar a few songs every night – tonight, on “Girl from the North Country” and “Things Have Changed.” He’d also recently begun singing some songs standing center stage with just a harmonica – at this show, an excellent “I Don't Believe You,” “Ballad of a Thin Man” (the big showstopping finale around this time), and “Can’t Wait,” in a cool new arrangement that hints at the disco-funk guise it would take in 2019 (included on my Fragments companion comp).
Otherwise, he played a keyboard permanently set to the “circus organ” setting; the “Instrument of Torture,” as some fans dubbed it. It sounds great on songs like “Spirit on the Water” and “The Levee’s Gonna Break,” but adds goofy chaos to the quieter songs. Hard to take “Hard Rain” seriously when it sounds like it’s being played by a crazed carnie.
Which of the songs from this 2010 show will reappear when the Rough and Rowdy Ways tour resumes in Osaka next month? If he sticks with the current setlist, which seems unlikely to change now, just one. He’ll probably open with the exact same song he opened with 13 years ago: “Watching the River Flow.” After that, the show will look entirely different.
PS. I tracked down a fun fanmade compilation of this Japan 2010 tour titled Made in Japan. Including it here as a bonus download:
PS. Welcome to everyone who came aboard from this week’s New York Times shoutout! Click around the archives for many more Dylan-in-concert essays, interviews, etc. My back pages are organized by show-year here or by the most-popular posts here.