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Early Roman Kings


In his triumvirate/kinda top-three
Well there’s Bob and there’s Neil and there’s me
Loudon Wainwright III “My Biggest Fan”

Shot. Wrecked. Like oil sizzling in a pan. Bob Dylan’s voice has drawn unflattering description in recent years but it’s not like they were ever comparing him to Johnny Mathis anyway. Last week was the second time I’d seen him perform in my neighborhood and he spoke even less. Four years ago at the Bandshell in Prospect Park he paused momentarily halfway through a two hour set, noting “gee I wish the Dodgers still played in Brooklyn” .. and that was it. Not exactly the social commentary some of the older hippies in attendance were hoping for. This time it was all in the songs, and you had to listen carefully if you were going to catch it. It isn’t the rasped tone of Dylan’s voice that strikes me most but the staccato inflection he forces upon each chopped verse. On the recordings he’s pushed to forefront, undeniably rough but clear. Live he takes on a more desperate quality accentuating both his age and the time in his career. You have to squint to make him out, too. He’s illuminated on stage by what appears to be a few yellow-tinged 45-watt bulbs and no spotlight. A few medium-sized framed mirrors are haphazardly arranged and leaned audience-facing and floor-level here and there. It’s as though he’s made a last minute stop at Bed, Bath and Beyond after deciding “let them look at themselves ..”

It’s the manner in which Bob’s recent efforts hit me that indicates how he’s holding up. Tempest was an impulse buy along with a couple of other CDs. I gave it a few spins and decided it was OK despite its featuring a fourteen-minute song about the Titanic. A few weeks later I found myself at altitude in the California Sierras, circling the block at four in the morning .. staying up late and making amends, as it were. “Scarlet Town” (track #6) was playing, forever jamming itself in my head. Up on a hill where the chilly wind blows fighting my father’s foes. You’ve got legs / that can drive men mad / lot of things we didn’t do / that I wish we had. The boy can flat-out write. You heard it here first.

I followed up Dylan this week with Neil Young and Crazy Horse at Madison Square Garden. Call me Mr. Rock & Roll (just don’t call me late for dinner.) Neil, at a spry 67, is Bob’s junior by four years and still takes the white hot spotlight directly on him, its searing shine serving to obliterate fine details and outline him in grunge god purity. The New Yorker calls Crazy Horse “the most elemental of all Young’s musical vehicles” and I’d go along with that description. He’s been coming back to this ensemble – Ralph, Billy and Poncho – for over forty years and once described them as the “third best garage band in the world.” It’s a hell of a trick turning the Garden in to your personal garage but he’d pulled it off about five minutes in to the soaring opener, Love and Only Love. They work new songs within the songs and this time I was almost certain I could hear “Smoke on the Water” jammed in between Neil’s over-driven leads. Something eternally refreshing about a 67 year-old dude who can breathe new irony-free life in to a tune called “(Why Do I Keep) Fuckin’ Up”. The picture above was self-snapped at West 30th and 7th Avenue, a block or two from the gig and at an exclusive little bistro that goes by The New Pizza Town II. Sausage rolls and Crazy Horse .. long live New York City.

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