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Bob Dylan: Two Views from Down Under

Two writers offer perspectives on the same Dylan performance on March 9th in Auckland, New Zealand

Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan performs on stage.
Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

Bob Dylan
Western Springs Stadium
Auckland, New Zealand
March 9th, 1978
By John Dix

Like most of the 31,000 people at Western Springs, I'd never seen Bob Dylan before, this being his first visit to these shores. Throughout the summer, Dylan fans had estivated, awaiting confirmation of their avatar's appearance. When the show was finally announced, plans were made in every corner of the country to get to Auckland. On the night of the concert, the streets surrounding the stadium were filled with coaches, chartered planes flew in from as far away as Dunedin on the other end of the island, and for two days the roads leading into Auckland were strewn with hitchhickers.

A glossy program listed him as "Bob Dylan, Entertainer." A nice touch, also an appropriate one, for Dylan entertained us with an eclectic show, presenting a résumé of his career, from "Blowin' in the Wind" to "Oh Sister." There were no new songs, and every number was rearranged, so much so that a few were almost unrecognizable. Some of the new arrangements worked, some didn't. No matter – it was still another great step for Dylan to take.

The twelve-piece band started off with an instrumental version of "Hard Rain" before Dylan walked on Carrying his black Fender Stratocaster and wearing gray flannels, white sneakers and a tan top hat with a queen of spades tucked in the hatband.

From the beginning, it was obvious that Dylan Rolling Down Under had some surprises in store. He opened with "Love Her with a Feeling," done up with a gospel feeling that reappeared frequently throughout the twenty-nine-song concert. The rearragements of his old songs became breathtaking with "Love Minus Zero/No Limit." Alan Pasqua's Keyboards, Steve Douglas' sax an David Mansfield's violin carried the riff, sounding like a full orchestra, while Dylan stalked the stage without his guitar, almost like a Chaplinesque caricature of a rock singer.

Amazingly, he had more surprises ready. "Maggie's Farm" was far superior to the original, "Like a Rolling Stone" was truly stunning, and a heavy-metal treatment of "It's Alright Ma" actually worked.

The material may be old, but the arrangements were startlingly fresh, and it was very apparent that Dylan has assembled the best supporting band he's had since the Hawks. Never count Bob Dylan out; he's back stronger than ever.

Bob Dylan
Western Springs Stadium
Auckland, New Zealand
March 9th, 1978
By Gordon Campbell

Bob Dylan's music tends to move in cycles of expansion and contraction, and his music was tightening up again on his tour of Australasia: the masks, feathers, famous friends and role-playing games of Rolling Thunder were gone and, along with them, the guitar-cluttered sound of that band.

In its place was a tightly arranged and rehearsed unit that combined the best of Rolling Thunder – David Mansfield and the rhythm section of Steven Soles and Rob Stoner – and such good session musicians as Steve Douglas on sax and reeds, Bobbye Hall on congas and percussion and keyboardist Alan Pasqua. Lead guitarist Billy Cross, drummer Ian Wallace and a trio of women harmony singers further defined the clean sound of this band.

Dylan was still doing the old songs, but this backup unit allowed his tonal range to blow wide open. One immediate effect was that Mansfield was freed of the load he had to carry with Rolling Thunder. His violin and mandolin work seemed much more at home in this setting, as one of many options Dylan could call upon.

But the main result of this lineup was that Dylan's melodic gifts were pushed to the fore. He seemed to be exploring the benefits that more complex instrumentation and tight arrangements could lend to his music. For the first time, he was giving full justice to the melodic content of most of his songs.

That was the major reward of this concert: hearing Dylan work changes on music that would seem to be hopelessly familiar. To be surprised by "Blowin' in the Wind," for instance, was a little like rediscovering your own heartbeat. But there it was, floating in over Pasqua's lovely, repetitive piano figures and Cross' sizzling guitar.

"Girl from the North Country," though, was a shock. Through waves of synthesizer sound, Dylan lined out the words in his most velvety voice. The melodic shifts were harder to pull off on word-choked numbers like "Tambourine Man" and "It's Alright Ma," and nothing could save the leaden ker-chunk of his encore, "The Times They Are A-Changin'." But Dylan's ease with the new arrangements was gratifying.

This story is from the May 18, 1978 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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