Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bob Dylan in Vietnam - Impressions

This is not a review. I offered to do a review for a local magazine but that was declined because they felt they were given short shrift by the promoter in press and photo passes, so I didn't attend the show to make notes and work, I went to enjoy. Budget matters raised their ugly head towards the end of the week. But I'm about to turn 55, am severely underemployed and have had my writing critiqued recently as "pretentious and flowery" so going to the first real major rock concert in Vietnam seemed like the proper tonic for the times. I wouldn't regret it.

Phone jangles around 4 Sunday with my buddy Ryan texting me about meeting for pre-show drinks. Meeting up with six mates or so we got an early buzz going and headed off to the show around 6. The only thing I would be missing would be a ticket. But that was fairly easily solved in that the university, RMIT, had been offering 2 for one to students and there was no shortage of students looking for partners to buy in. I did and was in in seconds. $25 bucks.

Early rounds for what seemed like a grand garden party on the grass football pitch at the university were spent sitting and chatting and sharing some of the local smoking produce. Billed to accommodate 8000 this seemed about half full with tents for beer and food and a VIP section that, had I spent $120 for that ticket, would have been summarily pissed off at the left sideline location and slow beer queues. But slow beer queues were de rigueur for the evening with one having to purchase coupons first, 20 minutes, and then get in line for the beer - another 20. So absolutely nobody was drunk. A security precaution I'm sure. One blogger termed the service "clown-like". I couldn't agree more.

Partially billed as a tribute to Trinh Cong Son, the Vietnamese Bob Dylan, whatever his brilliance was, was lost in a haze of Don Ho-like theatrics and faux Vegas production, dragging big stars and even a Vietnam Idol winner on stage to just bore the living crap out of the crowd. It was positively dreadful, considering the primarily foreign crowd - so we engaged in a little more crop sharing and let the whole intro pass. Dropping a Prince-like banner behind the stage cued my biggest mis-call of the evening, thinking there was yet another Vietnamese band set to play. "That's not Bob Dylan's logo", I proclaimed to a friend, seeing the white on black swirly king crown symbol above one penetratingly watchful sparkly eye. "Looks more like something for a Swedish death metal band", I said. And wrong, wrong, wrong I was.

In a white skimmer Dylan hits the stage, guitar in hand, and whatever had become of our lawn party quickly disassembled - the rush of the crowd like a human tsunami quickly washing away rock real estate and trading it for SRO. Time to see the star. And with little or no fanfare the poet laureate plugs in. A few songs in and we crowd forward to see and hear better I feel the need for a pee and a smoke. So I writhe out of the crowd and find the sidelines toward the rear. Sound is much better midway back and "It Ain't Me You're Lookin' For" clocks two stars on my hit list for the evening. Following a few songs later with "Tangled Up In Blue" his arrangements would have baffled even but the most ardent of fans but this is where I felt he hit his stride. Harp work on "Tangled" was ethereal.

Getting to the back lawn I spy a girl with a laptop. WiFi on a soccer pitch - only in Vietnam. She's found the show live-streaming on Zing and is passing the laptop around for her friends to hear. "It's Hard" is a soft lawn favourite and I sit with a fresh beer and chill as if I am at Ravinia in Chicago or any number of other summer music festivals in the states or Europe. It's positively civilized. Good thing I got stoned earlier or it wouldn't have been a rock concert at all. "More wine and cheese Madge?" A Vietnamese man around my age taps his foot and rocks back and forth as his 16 year-old son sits motionless. "What do you think?", I ask the kid. "Cool", he says - pretty much summing up that he had never sat on the grass and watched a rock concert before. "This is weird - and this is what my dad likes." I found it positively charming. Change happens in teeny tiny ways and the times in Vietnam was a changin' just a bit that night.

"Highway 61" brought a hard Texas blues twist to Saigon and Dylan brought his best Tom Waits in to accompany. Walking back up front for the finish saw him playing vocalist on "Somethin's Happening Here" after spending too much of the night on keyboards - a weird thing I thought having seen him once before in 79 in his Jesus days.

First encore got everyone shouting to "Like A Rolling Stone" but even the audience had trouble figuring out the timing on that one. "Watchtower" didn't do much to solve audience arrangement confusion but made the crowd happy. Back for the second encore a sublime "Forever Young" was nice and soft and a fitting way for a seventy year old man to finish a show.

For me, I felt old, underpaid and trying to find something in just doing a simple thing that anyone in my age and supposed-pay scale should be able to do. I asked myself why all the good work I do doesn't get paid for and how to make things better. This week I quit two jobs that didn't pay me any money. Maybe that's a start. Seeing Dylan in Vietnam made me realize that the times indeed can change. Time for mine. "Pretentious and flowery" - there must be a market for that.

For Dylan's 'Vietnamese Government Approved Lyrics' click here.

D a v i d E v e r i t t - C a r l s o n
Find me on TwitterFacebook or LinkedIn. Read my previous blog: The Wild Wild East Dailies.

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D a v i d E v e r i t t - C a r l s o n
Find me on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Read my previous blog: The Wild Wild East Dailies.