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2010 Concert Reviews in Korea Part 1: Bob Dylan, Deep Purple

2010 Concert Reviews in Korea Part 1: Bob Dylan, Deep Purple

By Jesse Coy Nelson

Bob Dylan –Olympic Stadium–Seoul, South Korea 3/31/10

Arrived at the station in Seoul a bit late, 6:38 instead of 6:30. I’m rather lucky that MJ reserved that return ticket for me. I didn’t have too much waiting time for the show to start when I finally arrived. It was one transfer to the green line, and then another to Jamsil, and then the last one to the Olympic Stadium line. I read on the subway rides. The first few were quite crowded. It was about 7:30 when I arrived. I got my ticket for the show. Ate the kimbap that I brought with me, and then I went inside. Wisely, I’d gotten an aisle seat for the show, which began not too longer after I took my seat. I’d had one beer first, and then… time for Bob. I’d always talked about how close I felt at other shows there, but for this one I felt rather distant. First, there was no big screen, and secondly, my seat was a little further back compared to other shows I saw there.

My history with Bob Dylan was scant. I only had the Highway 61 Revisited album. I think after the Beatles, he’s the musician most covered by other bands in my CD collection. I had the set list with me for the songs he did in Japan (the Tokyo show). I must’ve since chucked that, though. I could look it up on the internet now to compare, but why? For Seoul, I know he began and ended slightly differently. I recognized the first song, not “Everybody Must Get Stoned,” as I’d incorrectly labeled it (that’s only the refrain), but rather “Rainy Day Women.” The second song, which I only knew through Ministry’s cover, was “Lay Lady Lay.” I didn’t recognize this version.

For the first two songs, the impression that I got was a drunken karaoke session. Bob had some disjointed crust on his voice that he had to break loose. By the third song, he was sounding better, like a grizzled Tom Waits (and yes, I know he predates Tom). I didn’t recognize the third or fourth songs, but I have them now… “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” and “Stuck Inside of Mobile.” By the fifth song, “Levee’s Gonna Break,” Bob was definitely in full form. Being somewhat removed as I was, and with the simple, no-nonsense setup of the stage, Bob was transformed. He became for me a floating tan hat, sometimes hovering over the organ keyboard, or sometimes emitting the sound of a harmonica… Bob the Hat.

The sixth song was “Just Like a Woman,” which I’d never heard before, but which was quite memorable. And the next three? It was “Honest with Me,” “Sugar Baby,” and “High Water.” I watched the band, which was a six-piece. They were introduced during the second, one-song encore, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Of course I would recognize that. I went out for a beer. South Korea has not yet gotten to the point, and maybe never will, of hyper-inflating their beer prices at a concert. It was 1,800 won (about $1.40) for a can of Hite beer. And by the tenth song (I’d returned by then), it was time for Bob to sing a song familiar to me, which was that crazy poem of a song, “Desolation Row.” It sounded very different here than from its original form.

It was then when I had the analogy, or thought in my head… Bob Dylan’s songs are organic. They’re like a tree, naturally growing with him. If they change, within the context of them being Bob Dylan songs, the changes make sense growth-wise. As he went into “Highway 61,” all of this organic thinking reminded me of the banana in my backpack, which I ate at that point. In between the next two songs, “Shelter from the Storm” and “Thunder on the Mountain,” neither of which I recognized, I heard some of the audience sporadically call out, “Bob!” or “we love you, Bob!”

He then played “Ballad of a Thin Man,” once more very different. It sounded less bitter or without the sneering tone of the original. Surprisingly, I saw some folks leaving after that one, or maybe it was after “Like a Rolling Stone,” which came next. Those who were leaving tended to be foreigners, most of whom are in South Korea teaching English, and who probably had early morning classes. I had an eight o’clock class, too, but I work with the navy… no babysitting munchkins or fickle private school owners for this hombre. I was here for the long haul at this show. Ah, “Like a Rolling Stone” began the encore, which is why some left before it started. This encore matched the one he played in Tokyo, which also had “Jolene,” followed by “All Along the Watchtower,” which I of course knew through Jimi Hendrix, but until I snagged this song from the net just before going to this show, I’d never heard the original that was done by Bob.

So Seoul got one more encore compared to Tokyo (“Blowin’ in the Wind,” as I’ve already mentioned), plus he didn’t play “Rainy Day Women” in Tokyo, so I’m glad I caught the South Korea show. The only song I would’ve liked to hear that I didn’t was “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” As for the one thing that was profoundly missing from this show, there wasn’t any interaction with the audience. There was no “hello, Korea,” or any talk at all between songs.  Apparently, my girlfriend read of others picking up on this. She also read that he flew on a separate plane from the rest of the band and stayed at a different hotel, and was by himself backstage before the show, asking for only two things… an ashtray and a bottle of white wine. I can’t confirm any of that.

Leaving the event, they were selling Bob Dylan CD’s at a nice price, 10,000 won (about $8.50). So I picked up Blonde on Blonde and The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Then I headed to the subway station, to reach the bus station, for my four-hour night bus to Busan. Julie here at the Tavern told me that Bob cancelled the rest of his Asian tour. It actually wasn’t quite finalized. He was going to do two shows in China proper (Beijing and Shanghai), as well as a Hong Kong and Taiwan show, but Chinese officials weren’t permitting him into the country, claiming he’s too political. He still could’ve done the Taiwan show, though (that was the first of the four).

The only other point of note is that after this concert, I watched the Bob Dylan movie, I’m Not There, which sounded interesting, with all different actors playing the musician. But it was actually quite a mess. I sat through the whole thing, which wasn’t too illuminating on Bob’s life (yes, he wasn’t there). It’s by the same director who did Velvet Goldmine, which explains a lot.

Deep Purple–Olympic Stadium–Seoul, South Korea 5/18/10

If I was told that I’d be seeing Bob Dylan, and next, Deep Purple in South Korea in 2010, well I wouldn’t be surprised in that whatever shows come here, concert starved as I am, if I haven’t seen the band, I make an effort to catch the show. Living as I now do at the tip of the country, it’s an investment in time, or a commitment. I commit to staying up all night, going into work the next day, and teaching without sleep. So anyway, here was the second time doing the same routine. I wrote my journal on the bus ride, reading The Cider House Rules toward the end, and on the subway ride. It’s right before the sun sets, so you go underground in the light and emerge in the dark. I came out at the Olympic Stadium grounds, heading toward the Olympic Stadium, and guess what? There was nothing there. It was raining a bit. Could everyone already be inside? I don’t think so.

There were no lights on in there. Could I have mixed up the date? Impossible, though I entertained the idea that maybe I’d finally gone crazy. Finally, I asked what looked to be a grounds worker. He pointed to another area when I said, “Deep Purple.” Damn, I was in a hurry. I’d seen a set list of what they’d be playing, and it looked as though “Highway Star” would be first. I’d be pissed if I missed that. Two Germans were looking for the same thing as I was. We reached the other concert hall, a little smaller than the Olympic Stadium, and I stepped over to the press area to snag my ticket. The weather was very muggy… balmy… soupy, even. I didn’t like this new place as much, because the mini-mart counter inside sold no beer. As for time, I had twenty minutes or less. I claimed my seat. The Korean girl who sat next to me worked for a Korean news agency.

It was strange, because it felt like there was a mirror beside me, both of us taking notes simultaneously, because this was the press section. Usually, I don’t have other press around me. So people might look at me a bit funny, because from time to time I’m scribbling down notes during the show. Mi Na had a copy of the set list, the same as I’d seen on the internet. So at one point during maybe the third song, I asked if I could borrow it to copy it (forgot to bring the one I’d copied back home). One of the event folks saw me copying it down, stepping over to give me my copy of the set list. On one hand, it makes the reporting easier. On the other hand, it takes away the surprise element. For Deep Purple, that’s less of an issue with me, because just like Bob Dylan, before this show, here was yet another concert where it was a band of which I only had one album.

Can you guess which one? Of the eighteen songs that Deep Purple played, five were from (you guessed the album) Machine Head. In the end, I’d leave with a good lesson in Deep Purple, buying the three-disc Platinum Collection, which has material from nearly all of their albums. I didn’t quite know it was that sort of a best of, with no bonus stuff. Normally, I’m against best of collections. Oh well, this was an extensive overview, and for the past several days, I’ve been jamming out to quite a span (thirty years) of Deep Purple tunes. The one thing I was rather curious about was whether or not they would acknowledge the death of Ronnie James Dio, who had died only a day earlier. And at first, not knowing the whole Deep Purple, Rainbow, Dio angle, I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate. Ritchie Blackmore actually left Deep Purple to form a band with Ronnie Dio (Rainbow).

It’s this whole, crazy Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Rainbow, Dio, Whitesnake tangle… so no matter the dynamic of the relationship, Ronnie had been a comrade in arms, a high elf priest of metal. I thought that the way that Deep Purple handled it was quite classy. First, what was the last song they had on the speakers before they took to the stage with “Highway Star”… it was “Heaven and Hell.” Later, directly before the encore, I heard the guitarist go into a subtle riff portion, a bit sad and low key, of “Rainbow in the Dark.” And I will say that on several occasions during the show, as silly as it sounds, I had the feeling of Dio being in attendance, not as a spirit, but as pure energy. Okay, enough of foo-foo silliness. Time to focus on Deep Purple. Being uneducated on the band before going into the show, I wondered about the members.

Ian Gillian, I knew from their classic release, as well as his Black Sabbath one-off, Born Again (following Ronnie James Dio as vocalist for the band). Why was the keyboard player, when he did his solo bit, doing a refrain from an Ozzy song? Ah, Don Airey… he’s been a keyboard player for so many bands, including Ozzy and Judas Priest. Deep Purple’s original keyboard player retired in 2002, leaving the drummer as the sole original member. A trip to Wiki will also tell you all of this. Isn’t it great to have these lessons in music history right at our fingertips nowadays? So I did the count, and this will actually factor into my update on vox switches, as Deep Purple has had four different vocalists, but Ian blows all the others away, both in delivery and in output. He’s on eleven of the eighteen studio albums. Getting further into numbers, how many of the songs were from Machine Head?

The album was, understandably so, solidly represented by five tracks, which included “Highway Star,” the show’s opener, as I’ve mentioned, “Space Truckin’“ and “Smoke on the Water,” which came right before the encore, and “Maybe I’m a Leo” and “Lazy,” the former toward the beginning and the latter toward the end. Their chorus had an instrumental chunk of “Speed King,” leading into “Hush,” a Deep Purple song that I recognized, but didn’t know that I knew, hailing from before Ian and bassist Roger Glover joined the band (MKI instead of MKII), but which the current band consistently performs, and finally “Black Night.” Some other notes? Ian played the harmonica during “Lazy.” I did notice, too, that he sort of fudged it on the banshee high notes, appearing as though he was bellowing them out, but you couldn’t really hear them.

Cutting him some slack, his voice sounded excellent on mid to high range. At 64, he’s still impressive. The guitarist who took over for the often moody Ritchie Blackmore way back in 1994 was introduced during the instrumental, “Lost Contact.” Hello, Steve Morse. Some of the songs I’ve quite soon gone on to familiarize myself with, having listened to this Platinum Collection many times now. They did “Mary Long,” which stood out for me when I first heard it there live, as “virginity” and “stupidity” figure in the song’s rhyme scheme. “Perfect Strangers” comes from the album of the same name, which had marked the return of the MKII lineup (the band coming together from their stints with Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Whitesnake, and Gary Moore). Hearing it live for the first time, I chalked it down as a great, dark tune. It made me think of the Deep Purple sound.

At least when it comes to the MKII form of the band, it’s almost like they’re a combination of two things. Roll with me on this… it’s a spaceship and the Church