Bob Dylan, Professional Mumbler.

The sky opened and started pouring sheets of rain over London as we hurried towards Albert Hall to see Bob Dylan.  We were running a little late, and not being terribly familiar with that part of London, we had a bit of trouble finding where we were going. Was this a sign from the Weather Gods that we shouldn’t be doing this?

We arrived drenched and I spent the first half of the show shaking with cold because the temperature inside the Royal Albert Hall was not warm enough to dry off from the October rain.

Bob Dylan Albert Hall rain London 2015
Two drowned rats at a silly angle: This was after we arrived at Albert Hall and my Dearest had a sausage roll. Sorry about the blacking out but he works in a job where he might get into trouble if he gets found on the internet.

Before we go any further, I need to make it quite clear – I have no idea what 80% of the songs were that Bob Dylan sang that night. It didn’t really make a difference. The guy’s a genius. Do you know any other musical artist who can professionally mumble for 2 hours in the Albert Hall, London, and get a standing ovation? No profanities, no “I’m so pleased to be here” no “without you there’d be no us” it was just a man with a sparkly suit (a beautiful ensemble in black with a lovely teal embroidery-and-sequins accent, that was co-ordinated with the rest of the band wearing the same in the opposite colors, I really loved the outfits) doing whatever the damn hell he pleased on stage.  There were a couple of songs I recognized from his latest album – Shadows In The Night – a re-imagining of sorts of some Frank Sinatra classics.  Aside from that, I recognized Blowin’ In The Wind.  The rest was a mystery.

I got the distinct impression that he did this tour out of a sense of humor – he was entertaining himself rather than the crowd, he didn’t feel he owed the audience a single thing. You had to admire his audacity. The amount of time and effort that went into putting this show together, and the music was great. It didn’t really matter that we couldn’t understand what he was saying – consider Enya, for a moment. She invented her own language to make her songs’ vocals sound more lyrical and fluid. She doesn’t perform live tours, of course, because her whole act is so post-processed that it wouldn’t be do-able as a live act. Bob Dylan seems to have taken the concept of music and once again turned it on its head. Do the audience need to be able to discern the lyrics? Are discernible lyrics part of what it takes to make a legendary show? Apparently not.
A thoroughly good time was had by all.

His re-interpretation of Blowin’ In The Wind was phenomenal. But then, it should be – he wrote the original.

One thing I didn’t like from my vantage point, sat behind the stage, two rows from the musicians, was the amount of people who flouted the no flash photography rule. If there hadn’t been a rule, I probably wouldn’t have cared, I dunno. But because of where I sat, it meant there were dozens of people getting photos and I couldn’t get any. Right at the very end of the show, when the band and Bob Dylan took a bow, I got my phone out and caught a couple of quick snaps, but they’ve mysteriously disappeared from my computer.  Maybe the reason he didn’t want any photography is because he’s secretly a vampire and doesn’t show up in cameras or mirrors?????  Or maybe the idiots who left their flash turned on just bugged the hell out of him.
I felt like the night was complete, since I’d also acquired two patches for my battle vest.

Bob Dylan concert London 2015 Royal Albert Hall
Bob Dylan concert London 2015 Royal Albert Hall

I feel incredibly privileged to have seen Bob Dylan (especially with the harmonica) and I don’t think I regret going in any way at all, but I think it’s not for everyone and you have to go in knowing that he probably isn’t going to spend 2 hours singing catchy tunes.

This review of Bob Dylan’s concert is quite short, so I thought I’d ask my Dearest to weigh in with his perspective on the Bob Dylan concert, since he was there too.

DH Says: “Bob Dylan was using his voice like a musical instrument, not like a voice.  It was interesting being behind the stage because you could see all the stuff that was going on that the audience don’t normally see, such as that the whole band used ipads with all the scores, you could see the technical adjustments on the sound set, and exactly how the drummer was playing, that I really liked. It turned it into a very sit-back-and-listen, rather than sing along. Was it because Bob Dylan maybe didn’t like people singing along? I suppose you have to ask, would the same effect have been done if he’d just played an instrument such as the piano or guitar rather than singing. He was using his voice as a musical instrument, I think, rather than a voice. To some extent it worked. Do you think if you had expected the Bob Dylan gig to be like that, then you would have felt differently? I knew the concert was likely to be like that, Bob Dylan’s known for mumbling, so I don’t think that’s the case. But I think part of that is not knowing anything, so you can’t sing along, different music, unintelligible lyrics… I don’t think the Bob Dylan concert was ever going to be an outstanding night, but neither was it a disappointment – unlike Megadeth. I think it comes down to: Do I think its a shame I wasn’t doing something else that evening? Certainly not.”

So there you have it.  We both had a great time seeing Bob Dylan in concert but I think his act can possibly be classified as avant-garde; don’t go if you’re expecting to hear Subterranean Homesick Blues.  Another one for me to tick off my Official Bands Bucket List – the list of bands and musical acts that I need to see before they kick the bucket.

Download 2015: Day 2: Muse, Apocalyptica and Marilyn Manson

I awoke early to the sound of it raining inside the tent.  The water was dripping on my face.  I wrung everything out and carefully placed it all in the centre of the tent – the only place that wasn’t submerged.  My friend appeared and we held a conference.  We would sleep in her tent and try and move anything water-sensitive in there, because hers was considerably less wet than mine.
Download 2015 Review Day 1: Slipknot can be found here.

Apocalyptica.
Apocalyptica.  Sorry about the stupid date stamp on all the pix; I only found out about it when I got home.

We went to see Apocalyptica around lunchtime.  We got there just as they were starting and got a place reasonably towards the front, where we could see what was going on quite well.  They played their cellos, got to the end of their set, then said “well, we were only supposed to be on for half an hour but f**k it; we want to play another song” and they proceeded to do so.  It was awesome.  I think there were more than a few people in the crowd who didn’t know who they were, so it was nice to see people discovering awesome electric cello industrial music.  They also played our national anthem which was amusing because half the people in the crowd started singing (myself included) and half of them kind of mumbled and blustered like they were in a school assembly.   It was hilarious to think that we must be the only nation in the world where we don’t all know every word to our national anthem, but it doesn’t get taught in many schools and is distinctly lacking from the national curriculum – as a child, I didn’t know what the words were until I was about fourteen after reading an article that is sadly not findable on the internet, which basically showed that in a random survey of 500 people, something like 25% didn’t know what our national anthem was (it’s God Save The Queen, natch), and only 46% knew any of the words!  But Finnish band Apocalyptica can play it on the cello and it sounds awesome (like all their music does).  I was particularly interested to read that they started out as a Metallica tribute band, and later branched into their own music.    I was very impressed by how much music they managed to cram into their half hour slot whilst at the same time talking to the audience, not long conversations, but just enough little snippets so you knew what they were playing and that they had noticed a rather large crowd had gathered in front of their stage.

Apocalyptica playing download 2015
Apocalyptica.

Later in the day (I’ll spare you the day), we got back very late, and had a few minutes to find a spot so we could watch some of Marilyn Manson before we went to see Muse.  Unfortunately, my friend wanted food, so we went to get her some food instead of getting a good spot, and while we were waiting for the food to appear, Marilyn Manson started.  We stood at the top of the hill and watched from a distance, we got two songs in, Mobscene and Disposable Teens (both excellent tracks) but then I dragged us away to see Muse, because from our vantage point, I could hear the bass lines from Chris Wolstenholme’s bass guitar and they were calling to me, compelling me, dragging me away from the spectacle of Marilyn to observe the performance of the masters.

All I got from Marilyn Manson due to distance.
All I got from Marilyn Manson due to distance.

Muse were as technically accomplished as you would expect (probably the only way they could be more accomplished at playing music is if they hired Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page on second and third guitars), and I think a lot of the reason for their credible, un-astonishing but significant popularity is because of their ability to play their instruments.  Oh God, they can play their instruments.  And the time flew by as they played a nice selection of their songs (and they have so many to choose from).

I didn't get any good pictures of Muse playing because my camera couldn't focus past the lights.
I didn’t get any good pictures of Muse playing because my camera couldn’t focus past the lights.

However, I felt that both Marilyn Manson and Muse were distinctly lacking in the kind of showmanship and character that I’d been expecting.  Particularly Marilyn Manson, although I don’t know if his show got better after I left, so I can’t say as much about it.

This could be an album cover...
This could be an album cover…
Silver balls released over the crowd.
Silver balls released over the crowd.
Fireworks.
Fireworks.
Fireworks were part of Muse's performance
Fireworks were part of Muse’s performance
Streamers accompanied some pyrotechnics.
Streamers accompanied some pyrotechnics.

Muse had some incredible pyrotechnics and the giant silver balloons they released into the audience were really fun and cool, but they barely said hello, and didn’t really interact (apart from the perfunctory ‘I can identify which venue I’m playing’ greeting) and this created a distinct distance between performers and audience that directly contradicted the song lyrics for the setlist and made their lyrical persona feel hollow and pretentious.  I would hope it’s just the kind of stage fright that comes with playing for such a crowd.  Still, they put on a damn good show and they really can play their instruments, so I know I’m being over-analytical.

Marilyn Manson also felt hollow for the same reason – as the founder of the performance theory that states the artists’ existence is the performance, I expected more.  A grand entrance that never came.  A stage with some sort of a set.  Backing dancers.  I probably should keep all these notes to myself for if I ever play in my own band because I’ve learned so much about performance from watching all the great masters at work on my quest to fulfil my bands bucket list.

Day two ended after a spectacular firework display courtesy of Muse.  They are clearly trying to establish themselves as an “alternative rock” band (a la their Wikipedia page), and they certainly deserve to transcend Britpop (where they languished for most of the 2000s, as far as most people were concerned – Blur met the same fate in the ’90s, it was terribly sad), but I feel they need to shake off the performance nuances that make you seem awesome in a pop performance but in alternative rock, just don’t fly.  Alt fans want interaction, they want to know that the words of the songs have a wider meaning and significance.  They want to feel that you care about the fact that they’ve driven hundreds of miles, put up with awful weather, slept in puddles of water, not to mention spent a lot of money, just to see you.  And while I don’t think bands necessarily owe their fans anything, at the same time, it’s polite to acknowledge the people who are paying for you to do what you love full-time rather than put up that wall of idolatry.  It’s clearly a trade-off between talking too much (so you don’t get to play as many songs) and not talking enough, but they could definitely have stood to spend 60 more seconds chatting to the crowd, to tear down that barrier that they put up when they went into their musical trance and played their songs.  They had all the other elements of being the best band in the world ever, but the distance between performer and observer was profound, although I only think it was noticeable when compared to Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Who.  If I hadn’t gone to so many concerts recently I don’t think I would have seen it, I would have just been left with a feeling of isolation.

Apocalyptica, then, won the day for their stage presence, performance skills and musical talent, all of which they had in buckets, and for 2016, I would like to see Apocalyptica headlining or co-headlining at either Download, Sonisphere or Bloodstock, because they deserve a lot more accolade for their work and I do think they would draw the same size crowd as Slayer, Within Temptation or Slipknot; I hope the half-hour slot was due to scheduling conflicts rather than because the organizers didn’t know how awesome they were, and I for one would love to see them do a longer set.  I was just glad we didn’t miss Apocalyptica, because they really made my Saturday.

The first part of Download 2015 Day 3 can be found here.

See what’s on the rest of my Bands Bucket list
Other concerts I’ve reviewed.