A voice like sand and glue

Well, that was a waste of money.

K and I went to see Bob Dylan play at Oslo Spektrum tonight. In one word: atrocious.

Let’s start with the venue. I’ve had good and bad experiences with Oslo Spektrum, but mostly bad. I think the only times I really enjoyed being there were the opening show in 1990, and Jean-Michel Jarre (twice) in 1997. On the former occasion, I was small enough that the cramped seating didn’t bother me; on the latter, I was too busy enjoying the music (except during the second concert, when I sat next to a guy who kept trying to talk to me).

Where was I? Oh yes, cramped seating. I came out of there with a limp and a pulled latissimus. Mind you, Oslo Spektrum is not the only venue I’ve walked out from with a limp—the front rows of Colosseum Kino, the world’s largest and most uncomfortable THX cinema, are particularly bad.

Next on my list are the idiots who kept taking flash photos with their camera phones. Listen up, morons, it’s not going to come out right. All you’ll get is a really good shot of the back of the heads of the people in front of you, and the stage as a white blur in the background. You will also piss off everybody else in the audience (except for the other morons taking photos) and risk having your phone confiscated by the venue’s security guards.

That wasn’t the worst part, though. The worst part was the sound rig. Oh, and the music.

It is possible to get good sound in Oslo Spektrum. I had no complaints in that respect at Jarre’s concerts. On the other hand, on both occasions (that I know of) where it was used as a movie theatre (Independence Day and the re-release of the original Star Wars trilogy), the sound was awful. Tonight was hardly better.

As far as I could tell, there were only two stacks, both suspended from the ceiling in front of the stage and sligtly angled away from the center. As bad as it was for me, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for those seated on the sides of the hall.

How bad was it? Well, the bass was fine, but the mid-range was muddy, and the treble was, for lack of a better word, screeching. It was practically impossible to make out what Dylan was singing (or saying, when he introduced the band). Of the entire concert, the only words I heard properly were the last four words of the main set (“like a rolling stone”) and four words from the chorus of the last encore (“blowing in the wind”). Oh, and I think at one point he was saying “keep on raining” over and over again, but I’m not sure.

It reminded me a bit of the AC/DC concert last month (I was going to blog about that, but I got distracted), where I walked in while the warmup band was playing, and my immediate reaction was “oh, shit”. Luckily, AC/DC had a far better sound technician (and / or far better equipment), and the concert turned out great. I had no trouble at all making out the lyrics.

Anyway, back to Dylan. I haven’t heard much of his recent work. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve heard anything he’s done after he “went electric”. Still, Dylan is Dylan, and I was pretty sure I would enjoy the music. Boy, was I wrong. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect what I actually got: a loud honky-tonk band playing bad covers of classic Dylan songs. How bad? Well, I didn’t even recognize Like a Rolling Stone or Blowing in the Wind until I caught those eight words. The latter was excruciating; imagine William Shatner’s infamous cover of Rocket Man, but with a really loud backing band.

The rest of the audience (K included) seemed to enjoy themselves. There’s no accounting for taste.

Oh, and Dylan managed to play through the entire concert, apart from the two or three songs where he came forward to play the guitar instead of the keyboard (which sounded like Casio‘s take on the Hammond organ), with his back to half the audience. I don’t care if he’s a living legend—that’s just not right.

The evening wasn’t a complete write-off, though—the restaurant we ate at before the concert was really good (and cheap, unlike the concert), parking was much cheaper than I expected, and as soon as I’m done typing this, I get to crawl into bed with my wife and four cats. Could be worse.

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