Negotiations and love songs: a couple weeks ago, Carol and I received tickets to go to the Albany Symphony on September 28. Bereft of babysitters, it meant one of us could go, but one would have to stay home with Lydia. Since my friend Rocco, who I’ve known since my FantaCo days in the early 1980s, had finally secured tickets for him, his girlfriend Kara and me to see Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello at the Times Union Center on October 6, guess who went to ASO? Hint: she went with one of her girlfriends.
On October 6, Rocco picked me up at home, having already dropped off Kara and another couple. We parked only three blocks away, on Madison Avenue, but the rainstorm of a couple hours earlier returned, so Rocco got a little wet; I was wearing my rain slicker, just in case. I went looking for cheap souvenirs; in the land of $35 and $40 T-shirts, there were none.
Amos Lee and his band started; I must admit that, though he must have at least two albums, I had never heard of him. The music was somewhat folky and jazzy, sometimes sounding like The Band, maybe because of the heavy organ sound. He did five uptempo songs, then two slower sons – a mistake for an opening act, I think, because, in anticipating the headliners, everyone knows he’s not going to end with a ballad. That said, I really liked the band and all the vocals; on at least one song, he sounded eeriely like John Hiatt. I enjoyed the songs, too, except the slower What’s Going On Here, which just couldn’t stand up next to the song it evoked, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.
There’s a 10- or-15-minute break, then, without warning or introduction, Elvis Costello, all dressed in black, launches into The Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes, followed by Blue Chair; I was trying to remember if he had any songs with the word Yellow in them, so that he could cover all the primary colors. During these two songs, streams of people were pouring back to their seats, more or less in our sight line, so this was a bit distracting. Elvis then did a great set on solo guitar. On Oliver’s Army, and later songs, he did a false ending that milked the applause.
Elvis talked a bit about how his father always told him to “look down on a note”; he admits that he STILL has no idea what he’s talking about. After Down Among the Wines and Spirits, which I presume is a (great) new song, he talked about his twin boys, who had turned ten months old that day, and American citizens, and he expressed his hope that, someday, his sons will be President and Vice-President, something, he noted, the current governor of California cannot do. He mentioned, not by name, his wife, who is “a piano player” (Diana Krall), who was backstage with the boys, and that the sons were “carny kids”. I theorized that Elvis was particularly chatty because of his long history in Albany, going back over a quarter century.
He ended with Veronica; Radio Sweetheart, the “first song I ever recorded”, which effectively segued into Van Morrison’s Jackie Wilson Said; Peace, Love and Understanding, surprisingly maintaining its anthemic quality with just guitar and vocal; and the moving The Scarlet Tide.
A somewhat longer break took place, and I went out to try to figure out something. As I noted, we were in Section 102. So there was a sign in the hall that read 102 – 101, then another that read 103-102, 104-103, etc. This meant that the higher number was on the left and the lower number was on the right. This explained why no fewer than 10 parties came into our section telling people that they were sitting in their seats, when in fact, THEY were in the wrong section. One person sat in Kara’s seat while she and Rocco were in the lobby, and I redirected her. In retrospect, the designers should have numbered the sections from left to right, rather than from right to left, but we figured it out; why couldn’t the others?
I also ran into my friend Bill and his wife Brenda. I’ve known Bill since kindergarten in Binghamton, and attended their wedding near Albany 20-some years ago. While we were talking, the auditorium got dark and a voiceover came on, so I rushed back to my seat. The narrative was about an icon of the ’60s and Christianity, and losing his way, only to come back, starting in the late ’90s with three great albums; something like that. Then Dylan (also in black) and his band (in maroon suits) began.
I checked with people later, and the sense of the people in the cheap seats, not necessarily the people on the floor, was the same. While the band was solid, Dylan’s vocals were even more indecipherable than usual. Worse, the sound was muddy. My experience was not enhanced by a woman behind me and to my left yelling, at least six times, “Play something we grew up with,” peculiar, because the second and fourth songs (Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right and Simple Twist of Fate) certainly should have qualified; but he deconstructed them so much that maybe she didn’t recognize them. The people behind me and to my right were bored, as they were talking throughout, and not about the music; one woman was text-messaging. The guy immediately in front of me, probably in his mid-20s, had a a hash pipe he was sharing at least a half dozen times with his girlfriend or wife and another couple. None of these enhanced my experience.
It wasn’t until they, and lots of others that I could see, left, that the show became halfway enjoyable to me. Summer Days, the 13th song, was a crowd favorite. By the time of the second encore tune, a tremendous All Along the Watchtower, which somehow cut through the sonic mire, another woman behind me was dancing. Afterwards, I thanked her for appreciating what the music was rather than what she wanted it to be. Rocco asked if I knew her; no, I did not.
It was the consensus of everyone I talked to, including Bill and Brenda, that Amos Lee was excellent. There was generally positive opinions about Costello; I enjoyed him a great deal. But it was unanimous that the Dylan experience was disappointing. Rocco thought the show started strong, hit a lull in the middle, then ended great. Bill had gone to find another couple, who had better seats, still along the sides, and the sound was MUCH better, which makes me theorize that, depending on where you sat would have HEAVILY influenced how you felt about Bobby Z. and his band. Indeed I checked with someone with seats on the floor, and the sound was fine, though Dylan’s words were not, and even he suggested that the music didn’t really gel until the sixth or seventh song.
Still, I really enjoyed the first two acts, and the latter stages of the third, I got to meet Rocco’s girlfriend and hang out with Rocco, so it wasn’t as though the night were a total bust.
Sarge Blotto’s review and Dylan’s and Costello’s playlist.