Bob and Mark: Hound dog howling

Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler
Greek Theater
October 19, 2012
Berkeley, CA

The untold story of this blog is that the idea of a concert review blog began bubbling through the cobwebs of my addled brain after a friend asked me how was a recent concert I had attended by legend, icon, mythic hero Bob Dylan.  I sent her a short email summary of the show and she replied by saying that the review was poorly written and the reviewer understood nothing about the greatness of Bob Dylan.  Four years later and after over 75 (!) concert reviews, I think I’ve proven that I can consistently post poorly written reviews that understand nothing about the artist performing.  So, here's one more!
Mark Knopfler, former lead guitarist of Dire Straits, opened the concert on Friday night at the Greek Theater with a bland set of dazzling guitar work.  MK is one of the best guitarists in rock history but his music sounded rather dated on Friday night.  His opening set also highlighted a perennial dilemma for artists with extensive oeuvres.  Should they play songs that they enjoy, deep cuts that only direhard fans will appreciate, or should they stick to popular songs that they have played thousands of times and are sick of playing.  I think artists need to do a mix.  If they are sick of a popular song, they just need to suck it up!  Not to put too fine a point on it.  MK has had close to a dozen genuinely popular songs with Dire Straits and played none on Friday.  His final song was a smaller Dire Straits hit, “So Far Away From Me,” which, frankly is not enough.

Bob Dylan is an icon and a legend.  He is certainly the best songwriter in American history.  It’s difficult for me to say anything negative about Bob since his music is art and his lyrics are poetry.  He revolutionized popular music.  And he accomplished all this without having much a singing voice.  When young, his voice was nasally, creaking but warm and world-weary.  It invited you into the poetry of his songs and made you feel understood.  Now, his voice is a croaking bullfrog.  It was difficult at times to even identify the songs with his staccato, sing-songy rasping.  It was very difficult to listen to.  On the plus side, he didn't have to worry about singing in the right key.  Bob played Tangled Up in Blue, Highway 61 Revisited, Make You Feel My Love, Desolation Row.  A fantastic set list.  However, I will need to go home and listen to the recordings to remind myself how fantastic these songs are because they were not fantastic at the Greek on Friday night.

First Aid Kit: To Sweden and Beyond

First Aid Kit
October 17, 2012
San Francisco, CA

First Aid Kit: Naiveté of Youth

First Aid Kit is a folk duo comprised of two sisters, Johanna and Klara Soderberg, from Stockholm Sweden, aged 22 and 19.  Though, they look like they are about 18 and 15 years old.  They are part of the growing trend for musicians to kick-start their careers with viral video success.  First Aid Kit first garnered attention with a viral video of their cover of a Fleet Foxes song.  There was something very touching about the beautiful harmonies of two sisters singing in the woods together.  It seemed genuine, two sisters simply enjoying playing music and being with one another, and displayed real talent besides.   The sisters continued to post songs on Youtube, recorded an album, got more attention from indie music enthusiasts and now are on a world tour after releasing their second album.  The haphazard, dumb luck of having a viral video makes me a little uncomfortable about the growing frequency of this pattern of new music success.  But if Youtube is to be the new FM radio, so be it.  There are certainly worse ways to find new music.  
I also cannot deny the quality of musicianship and singing in First Aid Kit.  The insistence to harmonize their voices on every song is a bit tiresome as is their insistence on the poignancy of loss in their songs.  However, I remember being 19 when everything was new and profound.  And their performance at Fillmore was a nice reminder of that youthful enthusiasm.  But more importantly, their music, if not their stage presence, demonstrated maturity beyond their years and shows real promise.  They are a couple of sister to watch.

David Byrne and St. Vincent: Giant

David Byrne and St. Vincent
Orpheum Theater
October 15, 2012
San Francisco, CA

On his latest album and tour, David Byrne (nee Talking Heads) has teamed up with indie darling St. Vincent (nee Annie Clark).  The collaboration has divided the SF hipster subculture.  For young urban hipsters, the collaboration is a stab at relevance by DB, a once great, faded musical icon and pop star; and for aging suburban hipsters, it is an attempt by promising, neophyte SV to gain greater exposure.  But for an aging music enthusiast and concert reviewer, it was all good fun. 

DB was last seen on MV&R over three years ago when he brought down the house at the Greek with one of the best shows in recent years in the Bay Area.  Nothing could live up to that show and Monday’s night performance didn’t.  However, DB again demonstrated that he is a man of class and talent.  From his perfect, clean, white, starched jacket to his never aging, refined voice.  His voice can transform despair into comfortable beauty, his robotic dancing transforms awkwardness into fun.  And his lyrics transform the mundane to the poetic.  When he sings, “I’m an ordinary guy, burning down the house.”  It is clear that he is not ordinary and that he is burning down something else.  The song is a celebration of liberation.
However, SV is no slouch either.  First, she’s super cute.  So, she’s got that going for her.  And she’s a damn good singer and songwriter.  Though, perhaps she should refrain from taking dancing cues from DB since she ended up looking a bit like C-3PO from Star Wars jerking across the sparse stage.

Most notable and remarkable about this show was that 8 of the 12 people on stage were playing horns: trombones, trumpets, tuba, flugel horn and saxophones (technically a reed instrument).  Yet they were able to recreate “Burning Down the House,” “This Must be the Place,” and “Road to Nowhere” amongst other hits, with great enthusiasm.   A good start to a long week of fun and music.

Photos by: Award-winning photographer Joe S.