Shadow Kingdom Part 2: An extra surprise at the end.

Bob Surprises us all, at least he surprises me.

By Tony Attwood

Pausing between writing up my review part one and the second section (imaginatively named, “part 2”), I saw a comment that had come in from a reader.

“It’s prerecorded. Disappointing. Staged. Would of been nice to see him unplugged & live. Mistakes and all. Good musicianship & arrangements but uninspired , faux playing & the band is wearing masks… does that mean they don’t get performance credits? Bummed this could be his last recorded “live” performance.”

I would agree that it was disappointing that the advertising was misleading, and I can’t see the point of that.  Advertising is there to generate interest so that people buy, but I am surprised that anyone would think that calling the show one thing when it turns out to be another is going to help Dylan.  £20 for the video?  No, I wouldn’t say that is the best £20 I have spent this week.

Of course it may well be that the advertising agency had no idea what the show was going to be like and their brief was wrongly written because Bob told his management that it was going to be something else.  That certainly happens.

And indeed maybe he started working on a live show and then changed his mind (just like on one tour when he rehearsed with a group of female vocalists for two months and then sacked them all two weeks before they went on the road).

Anyway, advertisements change as things develop, and we have what we have.  So although I am not at all sure it was worth £20, I thoroughly enjoyed it as far as I got before my first break to post my thoughts and do the odds and ends a person running a website has to do.

So now to move on – still writing the review as I listen to the show for the first time.

To be alone with you

As I suspected earlier, this sound has been re-mixed, for it really doesn’t correspond with the movement of the musicians on stage.   Not for the first time the bassist is playing away but we can’t hear her, until suddenly there she is.   I’ve got no problem with that, but it just seems odd to let us see the musician play when nothing is there on the track.

And there is that business of Bob holding the guitar and not doing that much with it.   Not my favourite song, but an OK arrangement for me.  Just doesn’t move me much.

What was it you wanted

Now this is interesting for me (even if no one else) since I recently spent several days trying to place this song within the context of Dylan’s writing in the 1980s (“All Directions part 58”).  It is one hell of a song, and musically very different from his normal writing, although the lyrics are very much in the context of the music, and this rendition does it perfect justice.

He only ever played it 22 times on stage (1990 to 1995 – so very spaced out one performance to the next), and yet it is such an amazing song from an exquisite sequence of writing.

Forever Young

Really – that is strange.  The spooky final response to the “Visions of Johanna” that is “What was it you wanted” followed instantly by “Forever Young”.   But then what do I know?

Maybe he is still thinking of the person in “What was it you wanted” and wanted to say “but no hard feelings”.  Could be.

This rendition doesn’t really add anything to the song for me; the accompaniment is too picky and plinky plinky (technical terms, sorry).

Pledging my time

Plinky plinky introduction to this as well, which I don’t really understand either.  Either my focus has gone or Bob and his band had lost the feel for the show.  It can’t be them, so it must be me.  I’m obviously losing it.

But I am redeemed for once into it, this really is enjoyable as a straight 12 bar blues.  It’s a re-arrangement I can totally believe in, and believe in it so much it feels as if this how it was meant to sound from the start.  A little too strong in the mixing of the lead guitar occasionally, for my taste, but that is me just finding something to say.

I should add that by this time in my first viewing of the show, I had stopped bothering with the film, and was just focused on the music.  I am not at all a film critic, so ignore any of my comments on the visuals that gets through.

The Wicked Messenger

One of Bob’s favourites from the JWH album, and the re-working took me by surprise.  Although I quickly got used to it and appreciated the new arrangement even by the end I couldn’t get the hang of the end of every other line with the extended last two syllables.  Struck me that it could have been possible to hold interest in the arrangement by just having it at the end of each verse, but twice a verse seems too much.

Which is a shame for me (and as ever it is just for me) because otherwise I really enjoyed this.

Watching the river flow

An interesting insert here, given that we started with “Masterpiece” – the two great songs from 1971 while he was having a two year break from the heavy lifting in terms of compositional stuff.   It’s a jolly bounce, but it doesn’t really give me new insights.

It’s all over now baby blue

Is it going to be slow all the way through?  Well, yes, it is, which means we have a fair bit of listening to a set of lyrics that we have all known by heart through most if not all of our adult life.

So is there enough here to keep us alert?  Is there a secret message?

Well, there could be a message for an unknown lover or friend, but for us… we know there are some new gigs planned now the lock downs are ending, so no it is not the end in that sense.  No message – and not a lot of listening; just a short version of the song.

But we do get a chance to see that the bass player was Janie Cowan – and that is a worthwhile snippet, because that led me to this, which I really did enjoy.

I always try to take something from a show, and this time I didn’t have to try – she is there for all the hear – and the track above is something special.

As for Bob’s show, I enjoyed watching it this bright sunny morning, but I can’t imagine watching it again, nor will I buy it if it comes out as a video release.  But it was fun, and I can certainly see why Bob invited Janie Cowan into the ensemble.  Thanks for that Bob; I’ve found a new exciting talent to listen to.

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  1. I have been to countless Dylan concerts since I first saw him live in 1969 at the Isle of Wight Festival and I have rarely heard him in better voice. I think the break from touring imposed by Covid has definitely helped his voice recover. His diction too was so much better than at some concerts I have been to, but that may be due to poor acoustics at some venues affecting how we hear him.

    His selection from his “early” back catalogue (though I wouldn’t consider “What Was It You Wanted” an “early” song) was also imaginative. Most of the performances were songs from the period 1965 to 1973, but – with the exception of “Forever Young” – he ignored the more obvious choices from that period – no “Tambourine Man” or “Rolling Stone” or “Visions of Johanna” or “Watchtower”, for example. Before I sat down yesterday afternoon to listen, I was hoping he would choose some of his more obscure songs. And he didn’t disappoint!

    I also loved the primarily acoustic backing band, which allowed Dylan’s voice to shine. In general in my favourite genres of folk, blues and country I tend to prefer the more acoustic settings, and the same applies to Dylan performances. Sometimes when fronting a loud hard rock band and sound, not only can diction become a problem but some of the subtlety of the music and lyrics s can be lost. This was sometimes an issue in some of his 1980s and early 1990s performances (though I loved the loud rock sound of his 1966 tour).

    I also loved what he did with the songs, particularly “Queen Jane”, “Tom Thumb”, “Tombstone Blues” and “Pledging My Time”. His arrangement of “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” took a bit of getting used to, but ultimately I loved it. The version on “John Wesley Harding” was slow, romantic and sensual. This version began as an up-tempo Tom Petty type approach with perhaps a hint of desperation then towards the end slowed down to a sultry blues-tinged sound.

    My only complaint is the length: at just shy of an hour, it wasn’t long enough. But then, the great performers always leave us wanting more.

  2. It gets better with re-listening. I don’t even watch the video anymore; its funky but distracting. Only real complaint is the length. What was it you wanted worth more than £20, although I paid in $.

  3. Watching the River flow included new verses. People disappearing instead of disagreeing everywhere you look. So cool. A new Dylan song.

  4. Watched it at 11 PM with no lights on. A little buzzed. Old timey nightclub feel crept over me and I couldn’t stop watching the actors and the band. Well worth the $25 for the hour that I spent with Bob and his vision and sound.

  5. Somebody already noticed that there ís a cafe Bon-Bon, not in Marseille but in Rouen? It’s in the Edgar Allan Poe story ‘Bon-Bon’.
    Wikipedia: “Bon-Bon” is a comedic short story by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in December 1832 in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier. Originally called “The Bargain Lost”, it follows Pierre Bon-Bon, who believes himself a profound philosopher, and his encounter with the Devil.

  6. I have to confess that I watched the Shadow Kingdom 6 times already and I will rewatch it untill it disappears. I have not a doubt in my mind that the out of synch think is deliberate. It creates the dreamy atmosphere of the show. I imagine Bob in the cafe sitting at the table and drinking coffee. He is thinking about going back on the road and maybe going through his repertoire and trying to decide which songs he should play once he starts touring again. The air is stuffy in the cafeteria and he falls asleep. In his dream he finds himself back in the cabin he sang in 1964 about the times a-changing and in Greenwich Village in New York when he started his career. The time has stopped. It is 10:12 in the evening
    as the clock (looks like a clock from IKEA) is indicating. The present is mixed with the past as dreams have their own reality. People are chain smoking, black and white together, a little Zombie like- alive but not quite. They look like their own shadows. Nowadays you can’t smoke in public places. You can get cancer and so on. People didn’t think about it in the sixties but nowadays you have to wear mask to protect yourself from getting another deadly disease which probably is more dangerous than smoking. The times has changed – no doubt about that. The air we breath in 21st century is also probably much worse than back then and the food we are eating is certainly less tasty and poorer quality than before. This is the effect of industrialization. Before falling asleep Bob was thinking ( I imagine) what the future holds for young people. More degradation of the Nature will bring more diseases as the animals are living closer to humans and the viruses which are harmless to animals are transmitted to humans who’s immune system is not familiar with those viruses. And this trend will only reinforce itself and soon if we don’t change our behavior it could bring the final tide to sink the Titanic we are living in. We should ask ourselves as humanity what is it that we want. To destroy this planet in pursuit of wealth and by uncontrolled consumerism which is supposed to make people happy? Or maybe we should focus on family life more and learn how to share what we have and live simpler but more meaningful lifes. Because all this is caused by our search of happiness. Ironically people in developed countries are less happy than in the undeveloped ones. The tempo of life is too fast, people lose contact with their own family spending more time producing unnecessary products and earning money which they spend buying things they don’t need in the first place. They lose contact with the nature too and its healing power simply because they are too busy even to think about it. Anyway those are my reflections on the video which probably have a lot of details and references which I have missed. I absolutely love the new instrumentation and the way Bob is singing (if anyone doubted that Bob can sing here is a proof that yes, he can) I love all the songs but some of tem even more than others. Of course What Is It You Wanted is a highlight followed very closely by When I Paint My Masterpiece, Queen Jane Approximately, beautiful Forever Young and all the rest. Dylan’s ability to recreat his songs is amazing. I do hope that it comes on CD and I hope that maybe we will get a follow up with The Later Songs of Bob Dylan. I keep my fingers crossed.

  7. The crooning of the magnificant surrealistic Jungian “Shadow Kingdom” transports Dylan’s recent works into a the matrix of Post Modernist metonymy and self-parody at its finest.

    I was unable to uncover the one-eyed archetype cyclopes as the master thief before being ‘locked out’ after the webmaster appears to have trapped even himself in the dark corners of the cave of people-eating Polyphemus (American culture personified).

    Nevertheless, the album is Dylan at the top of his game.

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