Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Suel Forrester Concert

I suppose I should write about the concert that led to me posting here.

Amos Lee was good -- you should definitely check him out. Elvis Costello was great -- sang a great combination of old (Veronica, Allison, Peace Love and Understanding) and new (he ended with a song about a war widow who questions her government, only to be labeled a traitor). I especially enjoyed his cover of Jackie Wilson Said (the Van Morrison fan in me was thrilled).

Bob Dylan? Errrr......

The man definitely has an extra charisma in person that does necessarily come through in any other medium. The man in the black hat mystery man routine only adds to his mystique. So far, so good.

And then he started to sing.

Calling it singing isn't quite accurate. I clearly recognized Spirit on the Water and I am pretty sure that I heard Subterranean Homesick Blues. Sadly, he sang more than two songs. The rest of his songs were a bluegrass sound. His singing sounded like a low, grumbling moan. I always knew that Dylan's talent did not lie in his vocal ability, but I don't think that enunciation and differentiation is too much to ask. Remember the dismal SNL skit where Chris Kattan would play Suel Forrester, who would try to talk and express an idea, but all that came out was unintelligible gibberish? Bob Dylan was Suel Forrester set to music. His band was amazing -- I spent most of Dylan's set just listening to the music and tuning him out. My companion burst out laughing after one song. I asked why she was laughing and she said, "I just realized that this all sounds the same! Every song sounds like the song he just played." We left early.

The difference between Suel Forrester and Bob Dylan is in the reaction. In the mediocre Forrester skits -- I cannot emphasize enough how unfunny these skits were -- the other characters would respond with, "What did you say? Did you just call me a prostitute?" and were bewildered as they tried to translate his gibberish. Bob Dylan's music is treated with a reverence typically reserved for religion or the Founding Fathers. The man can barely sing, but we are somehow supposed to feel honored simply to be in his presence. We should not expect good music, but be content to enjoy a cultural experience.

In sports, there is always a never-ending debate about when a legend should hang it up. It is said that our memories should not be tainted by watching Willie Mays limp in centerfield in a Mets uniform or Michael Jordan being Earth-bound because of lousy knees in a Wizards uniform or Jerry Rice catching passes for Denver. If I asked you what you thought of when I mentioned Mays, Jordan or Rice, this, this and this are more likely what comes to mind. We remember legends for what made them famous and Dylan will always be remembered for his music during the 60s, as a symbol for the counterculture movement. His accomplishments give him the leeway to sing bluegrass music and generally be unintelligible, but I can't say that I enjoyed the experience.

Don't have any Amos Lee music available. But here is a YouTube of him singing "I've Seen It All Before" on Carson Daly. And his website.

Allison -- Elvis Costello

Subterranean Homesick Blues -- Bob Dylan
(I'll give you the one song I thought I recognized)