October 28, 2020

Peter Stone Brown Archives

Archives of musician and writer Peter Stone Brown

The Theater (MSG), NYC 1/17/98

I was wondering what it would be like when the two people I consider to
be the most intense and greatest singer-songwriters of the last part of
this century would bet together.  

When I got inside and realized the stage was set up for Dylan to open
the show, it was something I wasn’t mentally prepared for.  Compared to
the much more intimate Troc shows of a month ago, Dylan seemed
lackluster.  I wondered if he’d been up real late the night before with
Keith and Ronnie.  Sweet Marie was okay, but not as intense and rocking
as Maggie’s Farm at the club shows (and if I had a choice of the two
songs, normally I would pick Sweet Marie.)  When he went into Senor, I
though oh no, he’s not gonna do Not Dark Yet, but Bob had some surprises
in store.  Now it didn’t help that there some real assholes sitting
around me who decided to converse the entire night.  I felt like asking
if they were millionaires.  I really cannot comprehend how someone can
pay almost $100 for a ticket (after ticket monster service charges) and
talk through a show.  Anyway, Can’t Wait was third, a bit of surprise,
kind of a quick version, followed by Not Dark Yet.  As has been pointed
out elsewhere, it’s not quite there yet.  I kept thinking this should
really be affecting me, but it isn’t.  Part of the reason may be is that
Dylan sang it in a lower key than on the album, and just wasn’t able to
emote as powerfully.

Sylvio as usual rocked hard.  A pretty exquisite Tomorrow Is A Long Time
followed with Larry providing nice harmony on the chorus, and this was
followed by Hattie Carrol, also very strong.  Then came Tangled Up In
Blue which had a lot of tangled up verses.  Bob sang verse 4 (topless
place) 2nd and then worked his way back to verse 3 then 2.  There was
one great part (I think when he finally did verse 2) when he delivered
this really amazing “And” I believe on and they drove that car as far as
they could, he just held it like AANNNNNNDDDDDDDD  and it was one of
those great Dylan moments.  The rest of the show was okay with Love Sick
the standout and Bob messing up lyrics, a slight flub on “Tears of
Rage,” and a sort of amazing mixup on “Forever Young” where he sang the
last part of verse 3 on verse 2 or something and then added an
additional 2nd part of the verse going back to what it should’ve been or
something like that.  

The sound (at least where I was sitting) was also a little strange with
Bob’s voice far out front at first and the guitar sound muddy
throughout.  On the electric numbers Dylan left most of the lead work in
Larry’s hands.  Now though, I’m wishing I had tickets for an additional
night because I would like to see the show with Dylan in the closing
spot.

Van Morrison on the other hand was totally awesome.  It’s been something
like ten years since I’ve seen him and this show totally blew away the
last shows I saw him do.  Doing mostly recent material, he was on from
the very first note and just kept taking things higher.  His shows these
days are half high spirited R&B, half revival meeting, and Van was in a
great mood (he is easily as unpredictable as Bob when it comes to
moodiness, but he has a tendency to let his moods get in the way of a
show), but not tonight.  Like Dylan, it really doesn’t matter ultimately
what he sings, but how he sings it and tonight he was in top form,
joking around and having a great time.  Morrison has stage presence, but
he doesn’t always show it and doesn’t always use it. He’s so short (even
shorter than Bob) that sometimes he was amost hidden behind a music
stand and he likes to prowl around the stage often disappearing behind
the other musicians, and you can hear him but not see him.  As Rich so
excellent reported, he joked about the Stones playing up stairs, paid
tribute to James Brown and Junior Wells, even mentioned the net.  His
band (and his bands are almost always great) was just impeccable, so
professional, so tight, that at the end I wasn’t sure if it was the
dream bill I thought it was gonna be.  And the thing is I love Dylan’s
current band.  I think with this line-up, he finally has everything
really in place, the right guitarist, the right drummer, a band that can
rock hard, but can also play the acoustic folk and country stuff the way
that it should be played, a band that is totally sympathetic musically
to his unique needs.  But halfway through Van’s set, I started wishing
Dylan had Keltner and Drummond even though there were times when I saw
him with Keltner and Drummond where I thought their arena-rock sound
wasn’t necessarily right for Dylan at all.  Then I started wishing for
The Band, not the Band as it is now, but The Band as it can never be
again.  But then again, if somehow I’d been able to take the show I saw
first night at the Troc a month ago, and put it on the stage last night,
it would’ve been a totally different show.

I’m not into competition among musicians.  It has nothing to do with the
music, and the two singers I saw last night are the two who are the most
important to me and have been the most important to me for three
decades.  But last night it was Van Morrison who delivered the more
powerful and inspired performance.