Irish Timeswriters review Bob Dylanin Dublin, the Sight Unseenexhibition in Waterford and Mathias Eick Quartet/Moiraat the Bray Jazz Festival
Here’s a potentially interesting question: what other bona-fide pop-culture icon would treat his audience the way Bob Dylan does? Not a word is said to the capacity crowd between songs; apart from a few dainty steps and hand movements, his stage presence is non-existent; his voice now approximates a series of growls; and some of his best-known songs are altered almost beyond recognition. Perhaps more to the point, why does a Bob Dylan audience accept this kind of treatment?
The answer to the latter is that they’re Bob Dylan fans and they know the score (although aren’t they getting ever so slightly weary of it by now?). The answer to the former? Well, as the man himself sings it, the answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. In other words, go figure.
That Dylan continues to evolve as an artist isn’t in question. Over the past 12 years he has released a series of albums that has even further cemented his position as the pre-eminent figurehead of rock music. Yes, there is filler between the good stuff, but Dylan’s reputation as an artist is copperfastened, his back catalogue comprises an unequalled number of truly great songs and classics – it’s just a shame, to these ears and eyes at least, that he regards his live performances with such a dismaying lack of engagement.
There are – as per usual for us Dylan fans who traipse along to his gigs pretty much every time he visits – moments of unadulterated pleasure. His version of Just Like A Woman(one of three songs he played from Blonde on Blonde– the others were the gig opener, Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat, and Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again) was amazing, while the rendition of All Along the Watchtowersnatched it from the hands of Jimi Hendrix and refused point-blank to give it back.
And, as per usual, there were moments of bewilderment and banality: the totally askew version of Blowin’ in the Wind, the croaking, complacent version of Masters of War, too much time given over to bar-band blues chugging.
But, you know, with a Dylan show, what you come for doesn’t exactly correlate with what you get. A few notes from Block D, Row 21, Seat 104: slivers of brilliance, but not really entertaining, not genuinely exciting. More an exercise, perhaps, in how to keep moving – creatively, frustratingly – from one place to the next. Where he’s bound? Who can tell? TONY CLAYTON-LEA
Sight Unseen: Aidan Dunne
Garter Lane Gallery, Waterford
Faced with abstraction, non-painters are inclined to seek clues as to what is being abstracted, looking for the “reality” behind the art, while painters often get involved with what is going on in the paint itself. At Aidan Dunne’s Sight Unseen, both audiences can find something rewarding.
Although he trained as an artist (at the National College of Art and Design), Dunne is probably better known these days as a writer on art; yet he proves that, in this instance, criticism comes from an understanding of process as much as from a response to surface impressions.
Sight Unseenis an exhibition in two connected parts. A series of small lambda-print photographs draw attention to tentative moments: there is melting snow, a pavement in rain, the shape made by sun on a river, gauzy morning light on a window, the flaking paint on a hoarding. Some of these are clearly visible for what they are, but others hover on the edge of abstraction.
Slightly larger, the paintings take this a stage further, pushing towards the point where what you are looking at breaks down into its constituent patterns and shapes. Windowframes a shimmering world of greens and reds in grey, with vertical lines implying that the view (through half-closed eyes) is of woodlands or a forest. Limestonebreaks hard rock into the softer tones of stone seen when weathered, or up close.
These literal looks of mine, at what the pictures are “of”, are, however, those of a non-artist looking at paintings that do not rest solely on their ability to represent something real. These abstract images are satisfying, but they are paintings that work best when alluding to what is beyond the image, the space where thinking, imagining and possibly greater understanding may take place. GEMMA TIPTON Until June 27
Bray Jazz Festival: Mathias Eick Quartet/Morla
Mermaid Arts Centre
Celebrating its tenth year, the Bray Jazz Festival opened with a headline concert that was like a curate’s egg – good in spots. This was a description that applied particularly to the quartet led by Mathias Eick. An exceptional trumpeter, with a full round tone throughout the range, lovely phrasing and spot-on intonation, the Norwegian also has that soulfully vulnerable lyricism that we like to think of as peculiarly Scandinavian.
There is more to him than that, of course, particularly as he has largely shrugged off the influence of his remarkably individual compatriot, Arve Henriksen. But there are other, perhaps less welcome, inclinations within the band he leads.
One of these is a sort of diluted brand of fusion, with even more attenuated Manu Katché dance grooves. Eick is such a strong player that he could adorn almost anything, but even he could not fully disguise the banality of much of the original material, the likes of FLX, October, Biermann and Edinburgh, which was repetitive, heavy-handedly dramatic or close to simple dance music.
This was compounded by the sense that Eick is easily the quartet’s strongest soloist. Although they make an efficient rhythm section, Andreas Ulvo (keyboards), Audun Erlien (electric bass) and Rune Arnerson (drums) are not in Eick’s class and their contributions as soloists neither dispelled that impression nor enhanced material that needed enhancing.
Because of this, the promise of the opening pieces – a beautiful rubato ballad, December, with poised, spacious trumpet, and a rocking Williamsburg, on which the band struck a strong groove with decent solos – was somehow gradually dissipated as the concert went on. Although he has an engaging personality and gave every sign of enjoying himself, Eick is too good for material and a band that does not challenge him enough.
Morla, Seán Óg and Simon Jermyn’s mix of saxophone, strings and electronics opened the concert with a set of free improvisation wittily introduced by Seán Óg with the words: “Three sweets, she said, and then a treat.” Unfortunately, it was not nearly as fresh and imaginative as that or, more importantly, as their performance at the 12 Points! festival in February, and never really got going. RAY COMISKEY