Chapter 28
About Guitars and Kissing

NOT A CONCERT REVIEW OF SOME FALL SHOWS, 2003

Stockholm and Karlstad

IVE SPENT SOME TIME thinking (and talking) badly about Larry lately. Before the current tour, and especially after the Stockholm show. I heard about this great version of ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’ from Helsinki, and had some expectations, which were all thrashed after hearing it in Stockholm. Usually, I welcome a new arrangement, but this? A dull run of parallel thirds and sixths, with some dubious part writing (yeah, well, music analysis is what I do for a living, so what can you expect?), and my guess is it comes from Larry – he’s the one playing it, and it fits well in with what I consider to be his style: very professional, very stylized, pretty, pretty, but, hey, there’s something missing in there, isn’t there? He probably has a bag of tricks ’n’ licks bigger than most guitar players alive, and he is capable of piecing them together in a way that both works musically in their own right and holds the back-bone of the song. But still – his playing is a musical reflection of his clothes style: impeccable, elegant, in style, but where is the deep involvement with the world, with experience, blood, guts, love, dirt under finger nails? Larry has no dirt under his finger nails.

Cue to the other guy, the scruffy little bum standing on the left, the slightly old, slightly bald punk who looks like he slept in his suit. His playing is unpredictable. Not that he doesn’t repeat himself – he has his bag of tricks as well, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Dylan will get bored by them after a while: the asymmetrical rhythms, the quick pull-off ornaments, the odd sustained notes. But still, they are subversive rather than conservative. Here’s a transcript from the brainwave recorder placed on Koella’s skull:

Wonder what happens if I put my finger somewhere around here on the fretboard and strike the string now?

Hm. Interesting sound.

What if I just move the finger up and down a little? Yeah, I’ll do that.

Wow! That was cool! I’ll do it some more.

Hey, there’s a thick string way up here on my guitar, wonder what kind of sound that produces.

Fascinating! It’s really dark! Once more!

Etc. Something like that. Sometimes it doesn’t work and falls flat. But surprisingly often, one is left with a wide grin on one’s face, and a bewildered feeling of what-on-earth-just-happened?

Cue back to the tall guy with the fancy beard again. Transcript again:

“ C       Dm        C       C#o       Dm                G       F   G  
  :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .  
|-----------------|-----------------|-----------------|-----------------|  
|-5---3---1-------|-1---------------|-3---3-----------|-3---3---1---3---|  
|-5---4---2---2---|-0-----------0---|-2---0-----------|-4---4---2---4---|  
|-------------3---|-2---3---2---2---|-3---2---3---2---|-5---5---3---5---|  
|-----------------|-----5---4-------|---------5---3---|-----------------|  
|-----------------|-----------------|-----------------|-----------------|

[Looks to the right:] Why is he moving his finger up and down like that? Odd. Bob seems to like it, though. Well, it sounds just like Bob too – jeez, I thought we would be spared that ploink ploink when he decided to buy this toy piano (how long will we have to tour before he can afford a music stand too? I want my steel guitar back), and then he brings in a guitarist who plays in the same way. [Sigh . . . ]

OK, my turn again, I have to play some notes. Don’t I have just the perfect lick for this particular situation? Let’s see: key of A, going to Bm, square time, tempo 124 bpm – OK, got it, lick A-214b-J897678-(1978).

I cannot reveal my source for these brain transcripts, but they are accurate. An important point is that they were made in Stockholm. Karlstad was a completely different thing, for several reasons. Strangely enough (given my assessment above), the show was superior to Stockholm on all or most songs, but Koella could hardly be heard, owing to a bad mix and him taking only a few solos. I can’t judge quite how bad the mix was, because I was standing up front, right in front of Larry – and Larry’s monitors, which was all I heard during the second half of the show. This of course made the musical experience (as opposed to the concert experience) slightly odd, but I must admit that it was fascinating to hear exactly what Larry did all the time. Tweedly Dum, for example – he’s really at work throughout the whole song, and the way he keeps the riff going, while at the same time playing solos – impressive. It was also interesting to hear how many different things he does during Watchtower, not in his solos, but in his rhythm playing.

Oslo

OK. So Larry was the star of the Karlstad show, guitarwise (even though the greatness of the show did not lie in the guitar playing). Oslo was something else again. Significantly enough, the three string-players wore identical suits, and it’s hard to tell which of the two guitarists ‘won’. Not that that was an issue. The word ‘concert’ has often been mistranslated as a concourse, a competition, while the real meaning is more in the direction of concord, playing togehter, and that’s what they did in Oslo. (I sadly had to skip Gothenburg, but according to reports, the interplay between Freddie and Larry was the special thing about that show.)

The special occasion in Oslo was that during the darkness before the encore, somehow a third guitar player had materialized on stage – a long, blond, slightly nervous-looking character, who turned out to be Mason Ruffner who plays on some tracks on Oh Mercy. I wouldn’t say that his playing made whole lot of a difference, but his presence did. Whether it was, as has been suggested, that Koella’s ego made him step forth just a little bit more frequently (and just happened to be stopping right in front of Ruffner, not taking the extra step towards centre stage that he usually does), or that the presence of another music maker on stage sharpened everyone’s attention and concentration, or simply that the extra sound source called for a different approach (I personally like the idea that the reason Tony changed from upright to electric bass during Summer Days, was musical – because the way the music developed called for a more forceful bass sound – and not something as trivial as a broken string). Be that as it may, it was the best encore set I’ve witnessed, for these reasons.

Copenhagen

I should perhaps say something about tonight’s show too. I must admit it is slightly difficult, since I’ve been having Desolation Row from Karlstad on auto-repeat, so that my face occasionally contracts into what feels like what I used to do when I was four and ran barefoot through grass that was greener (and warmer – this was in the summertime) than anything I’ve seen ever since; or my stomach feels like a stone that reminds me of a cat that has curled up like a stone, just as weightless and deprieved (liberated) of meaning as a stone. That kind of a stone.

Copenhagen, as I was about to say, was for me the best show so far. Thereby, I intend to say that there was not a single low point, all the way through it was wonderful, in the same way as in Beethoven’s first string quartet (I’m sorry, I don’t have anything better to compare with, and this is a compliment both to Dylan and Mr. Beety), where the tension that is generated from the first motif, keeps one floating/airborne right through the half (or two) hour(s) the quartet (or the show) lasts.

I don’t know how the rest of you feel, but me myself, I have to confess to often thinking, when the intro to Forever Young or LARS is intoned, that, shit, I could do without this – if I exchange the $5 that these minutes have cost me, I might afford one of those fast-forward buttons.

Not tonight.

Every minute mattered. Even during LARS (or, as a matter of fact, especially during LARS, which was treated by Koella just like a 40-years-old antique should be treated: hard and lovingly), I had no other thought than that this could go on forever.

And yet, lo and behold, never have I welcom’d more / the cut of one encore. (neat shakespearian internal rhyme, eh?) than when I heard the Highlander-intro to AATW, where Forever Young would have ruined everything, but where Watchtower was perfect as a Beethovenian final theme. Sometimes it’s right to descend into the quiet compound right before the end – sometimes it’s not. Tonight it was not, and Dylan did the right thing. So it goes.

I haven’t mentioned any highlights yet. I could do that, of course. HWY61. AATW. Love-0 was wonderfully slow. Summer Days was as good as I ever heard it. Even Memphis Blues, which I otherwise can hardly stand, was extremely enjoyable, almost incredibly good.

I could go on, but that would just ruin my point (which I’ve already indicated): that it was a brilliant concert. Fair enough, we didn’t get any D-Row, and I can’t really point to places where Dylan proved himself to be the demi-god, the descendant of Orpheus and Terpsichore, of Jubal and Erato, of Zeus and some cow in Gallup, New Mexico, that he certainly is, and where he, by way of a phrase or a plonk from his divine piano, turned it into an unforgettable evening; that it still turned out that way, was a happy coincidence involving a highly human icon (who had one too many harmonicas to keep track of); two guitar players who just keep on exciting with their differences; a rhythm section who somehow uphold both tact and tone; a magnificent sound on the 56th row; and great company.

 

*  *  *

 

My conclusion, whether it conforms with what I’ve written or not, is that I enjoy Koella tremendously – in Stockholm he was the only thing I really enjoyed – and the moral of this story is that there’s got to be some spit in a kiss, in order for the beauty of it to work.

 

Postscript: This is probably not a concert review; I haven’t listed all the song and the solos and the lyric variations, or the instruments (heck, there were instruments there that I don’t even know the name of; there was a huge pile of things that looked like kettles and pots, with a guy with a funny hat beating on them like they were a beast, CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?!? – and another huge wooden construction with some kind of metal cords attached to it, which this other strange guy kept PLUCKING in a strange way; – hey, it was a genuine wax cabinet, man) – so it can’t be a concert review. Take it for what it is, whatever that is.