Saturday, July 9, 2016

Bob Dylan Contributes to Forest Hills Stadium on July 8th 2016!

Last week I witnessed Paul Simon make history in what might be his last show of his career in Forrest Hills Stadium. Last evening Bob Dylan made another big mark in Forrest Hills Stadium History. For more information and a detailed review of the show, check out this guest post by my dear friend Jerry Graham. We attended a Bob Dylan show together at Barclays Center in November 2012.
This is a picture of Jerry,
his cousins ad I at a Furthur Show
 at Cyclones Stadium in July 2010. 

The Bob Dylan concert was great, which actually was not what I expected. It was 51 years ago that he played his first all-electric concert at the same stadium in Forest Hills (Newport was only half electric). It was great to see and pay homage to the man who wrote so many songs I enjoy. In my opinion the best contemporary poets in the English language are Bowie, Dylan, Lennon and Reed. Of those four, Dylan wrote the most songs by far. This Dylan concert was way better than any of his other recent concert in the NYC area. Having said that, I will now dissect it as systematically as possible.

Audience: Compared to a Grateful Dead related audience, the older people were older. There were far more women. There were young African American women (all with white men), but no African American men. I should note that Dylan’s second wife is African American. In general the audience members didn’t show a visible connection between their life style and their musical interest. They seemed like mostly middle aged and elderly white people from all walks of life, with some young people mixed in. It seemed like most were sincere fan, but like always there were a few assholes with too much money who kept on getting up to buy beer and piss.

Engineering: The engineering was superior to the last two or three times he was in New York. You could hear all the instruments and his voice pretty distinctly, or as distinctly as humanly possible. Of course I imagine it is less of a challenge to accomplish this in a smaller venue.

Lighting: As with the previous visit to Jones Beech the lighting was dim. People criticized him for wearing dark glasses to receive a medal from President Obama. I put two and two together and say his eyes are extremely sensitive to light.

Music: Dylan always gets the best backup musicians. It seemed the instruments were one guitar, a double bass, an electric bass and drums. He got a sound that was raw, bright, and articulate. Dylan played the piano and the harmonica. The harmonica riff was short and simple, but at least he did it. The piano playing was not terribly technical. It was beautiful, what you would expect from a good musician who is relaxing and not showing off.

Opening Act: The opening act was Mavis Staples. She’s a great singer and she knows how to work a crowd. She played some very danceable numbers She talked about the civil rights movement, how she had attended the March On Washington where Dr. King spoke. She sang a song that her father had wrote at the time for the occasion. She also had a small band: two backup singers, a male one and a female one with a tambourine. There was just guitar, bass and drums.

Rapport: By all accounts, Dylan is not a friendly man. And he has a lot of trouble with his voice, so when he speaks, no one can tell what he’s saying anyhow. But he did say “Thank you” and I think he thanked us for helping him sing Tangled Up and Blue. But no one could really tell exactly what he said. We were all asking each other. I thought his body language seemed appreciative rather than hostile or aloof.

Singing: Toward the beginning of the concert he seemed to have trouble with his voice, but he was going out his way to be audible and expressive. Later on he seemed to be doing better. You could hear almost every word he was singing. Interesting how he likes to keep touring despite this problem. My impression is that he really likes to see his fans as much was we like to see him, and aside from the voiced problem, which must be pretty frustrating, he enjoys it. I should note that he had a operation on his voice and overall it was somewhat better than in recent years.
I should clarify that I am not one of those people who thinks he always had a bad voice. I think he generally used it differently than other singers, very expressively if not always melodious.

Song Choice: He always plays the more recent songs more. Except for Blowing in the Wing, he played nothing earlier than Tangled Up and Blue. He also used to be more confrontational. For example he made a return from a long absence in Tanglewood during the beginning of the first Gulf War. He had his publicist tell everyone that most of his songs aren’t protest songs. Then of course he opened with Masters of War. I don’t know why he doesn’t play his early songs, but I can guess. I don’t think it’s because he doesn’t like them anymore or that he can’t sing them. Anyone who thinks he isn’t a businessman is mistaken. In addition to his songs, he intends to leave this world two herds of grandchildren and great-grandchildren who are multi-millionaires. He probably gets a much lower percentage of royalties on the earlier recordings.

Venue: The Forest Hills Stadium is the smallest venue I’ve seen him at, which I think is best for all concerned. There are much fewer bad seats. It is outdoors and most of the seats are benches with no backs. Also each exit serves more seats, so it would take forever to evacuate in the case of a terrorist attack. Otherwise a better venue. Not far from the city like Jones Beech. So why does he play places like the Barkley Center at all? Again it’s probably the grandchildren and great-grandchildren again.

Visual: It wasn’t really possible to see him, but it was still better than his other recent concerts. I remember when I saw him years ago at the Hurricane concert, I could see him pretty well. I think it’s the lighting rather than my eyes. He did at least where a white hat and pants with a vertical stripe on each side so you could kind of see what he was doing. He looked like a mushroom with that hat.

Weather: There was a light rain as people arrived and Mavis Staples started singing. The benches were wet. Fortunately there was a light breeze and I soon got dried up. I had on a hat very similar to Bob Dylan except that mine was black and waterproof.

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