Sunday, December 1, 2019

Dylan at the Beacon--Philip Hale Shares Why Fans Keep Coming Back for More

At the Beacon Theater, 2018. Courtesy Nelson French
Bob Dylan is just past the midpoint of his ten shows at the Beacon Theater in New York, winding up the latest leg of his Never Ending Tour with an exclamation point in Washington, DC next weekend on the 8th. The reviews throughout have been stellar, especially the fan reviews at BobLinks.com where you can also see his ongoing schedule. (His April tour in Japan is now on the calendar.)

As most longtime fans know there are a number of fan forums and sites to follow Dylan, and as you've no doubt surmised, some are on Facebook. Though I had something else on the docket to post today, I so enjoyed Philip Hale's summary of the recent show he saw at the Beacon that it pre-empted everything else.

Hale hails from Brooklyn, a famous hometown for many writers. (Noteworthy: Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life by Nathan Hale) It's also a nesting place for many Dylan fans, some who are themselves noteworthy writers.

This was Philip Hale's review which I read at The Bob Dylan Fan Club on FB this morning, shared with permission.

* * * *

“Bring down my fiddle
Tune up my strings
I'm gonna break it wide open
Like the early Roman kings”

This time last year I was halfway through Dylan’s residency at the Beacon. I was a guest on an episode of Rob Kelly’s Poddylan. (You should check the podcast out and I thoroughly recommend Tara-Jane Hulligan Zuk ‘s appearance where she discussed Highlands if you want a good starting point--mine not so much unless you are studying the stupefying effects of obsession!).

Rob asked what I got out of seeing multiple shows and I totally punted the answer, rambling about walking on tightropes (Dylan not me) or some similar cliched nonsense. Anyway, I find myself again at the mid-point of eight Beacon shows.

Last night Dylan reached out into that beautiful theater and provided the definitive answer. I go again and again because as an artist Dylan sometimes accesses a place in himself that pours out an other-worldly energy through the conduit of a distinctly human form.

There are shows where he is a musician, a clearly exceptionally talented performer going about his job. Then there are nights like last night. There were many stunning moments but Early Roman Kings is illustrative of the point I am trying to convey. It’s a minor song in the context of Dylan’s canon but it’s a song that he has played the most from Tempest, clearly a song he is still chasing. Last night he vamped, he twisted his body, he snarled and pointed, singing from center stage delivering the defiance and the menace of the lyrics with body language that was lining up behind a vocal of such intensity that it rattled the brain. The band pushed the song to places Dylan’s commitment demanded. He knew it too.

The song has been a highlight of the other three nights but here it was stripped down to some essential nature and then rebuilt into a towering edifice. He seems to have revisited this song searching for exactly this moment, forcing the audience to meet him where, as a friend put it, he is in his ongoing conversation with himself through his music. Having delivered all of that he walked to the piano to emote quietly on Girl from the North Country.

Last night that juxtaposition was at once devastating in its power and ethereal in its impact. I could have gone to one night, but if it didn’t happen to be this one then I would have missed a moment where being entertained is replaced by being transported by a piece of art. The whole show was sublime but that two-song combo was mesmerizing. If you are open to it, Dylan tugs at your heart and rips at your soul. I am grateful to have the opportunity to give him multiple goes at it.

Philip Hale, 30 November 2019


Early Roman Kings is just such a great song, even if not his most important. And like so many songs this guy writes, I mean, who else writes songs like this? It's amazing the way Bob re-invents himself. It begins...

All the early Roman Kings in their sharkskin suits
Bowties and buttons, high top boots
Driving the spikes in, blazing the rails
Nailed in their coffins in top hats and tails
Fly away little bird, fly away, flap your wings
Fly by night like the early Roman Kings

For me it's the presentation, as much as anything, that carries you, conveying something menacing yet deceptively something else. In my mind, I see and hear Bob strutting.

You can tell Dylan likes the song because by the end of this round of his NET he'll have played it more than 500 times since released in 2012.

For a totally different take on the song, if you want a deep dive, visit Tony Attwood's Untold Dylan where he addresses the song from a couple other angles. I disagree with some of his speculation, but always like the links to other sources.

For some reason an image from Slow Train Coming comes to mind for me where he describes "Sheiks walkin' around like kings, wearing fancy jewels and nose rings." It's maybe an echo and not a rhyme.

If you want do dig further, here's where you'll find the rest of the lyrics for Early Roman Kings.

Meantime, life goes on... and so does the Never Ending Tour.

9 comments:

Unknown said...

Love reading this! Saw one show this tour and it was great (Ithaca College). Would love to experience all of an extended run like the Beacon. Thank you for bringing it alive in your writing! Lifelong Dylan Fan

Ed Newman said...

Thanks for the note. I visited Ithaca once when I was in college.
I also happened to mention it in my blog post this morning about great small cities to visit.
https://pioneerproductions.blogspot.com/2019/12/best-small-cities-in-america-why-duluth.html

Best,
e.

Funisnumberone said...

Nice job. I’ve done three night stints before (Chicago twice, LA) and it was especially fun when the setlist changed night to night. Caught two last year at the Beacon and loved it, of course. I almost never take my eyes off the guy, although the band deserves our attention as well. Consummate artist putting it out there and letting each of experience it collectively and individually, simultaneously.

Howard Modell said...

Saw that Ithaca show too, from the third row. What a treat watching Bob on the piano, on guitar, on harmonica and straight up vocals backed by his tight as a drum band. Great night, one of his best shows in the last few years.

Unknown said...

Was at the Saturday show and was taken to someplace special where only Bob can bring you gong Friday with my 27 yr is daughter . It Will be her 13 th Bob show . I wish I could have squeezed in a third The Becon is always the best venue !!

Unknown said...

How lucky and fortunate for those that had the opportunity to see the greatest. I have lived my entire life enamored by the words and music of such a beautiful man.

Unknown said...

I've seen him in the philly area for the last 20yrs and I've loved every show, only dylan could play a majority of "newer" songs and get away with it, god bless bob dylan

Unknown said...

On the theme of why??? Why does he keep doing it and why we keep coming back, I can only offer this: from the upper deck at whatever the Wells Fargo Center in Philly was called in 2001 (?) when Love and Theft was new, and Bob was jamming with Charlie Sexton and Larry Campbell, I was given my most vivid uunderstanding of the notion of the the world being sung (danced, played) out in sound. My image was of Shiva's Elves, playing it out directly from the source. You come back for that. Yoou keep touring for that.

Ed Newman said...

Thank you, all, for the various insights from different angles, all valid. How lucky we have been, to have Bob with us for so much of our lives.... or, as he aptly states it, Together Through Life.
e