Thursday: the Pogues at the Wiltern Theater. Los Angeles concert crowds are notoriously dull. Everyone just sort of stands there with their arms crossed staring blankly towards the stage. This was different. The moment the opening act left the stage, the crowd started chanting, "Shaaaaaaane-oooooo... Shaaaaaaane-oooooo...." Groups of people all over the place were partaking in group toasts with whiskey or beer. A soccer chant started in the back of the hall. Then the lights dimmed and the Clash's "Straight to Hell" played. The crowd went nuts. Then the band walked out on stage and the place erupted. The guy standing in front of me was from County Cork; he was waving his hat in the air and pumping his fists. The band members found their places, waved to the crowd... and then himself came out. Wearing head-to-toe black with messy hair, Shane MacGowan staggered to the center of the stage. Fists were pumped in the air, people were screaming, a mosh pit started before anyone even said anything. A few beers were thrown across the hall. And then they roared into the first song ("If I Should Fall From Grace With God" if I remember correctly). Everyone sang along -- to this and every other song -- for 2 hours. Shane took a few breaks to let Phil ("Thousands Are Sailing" and "Young Ned of the Hill") and Spider ("Tuesday Morning") take turns at the mic. There were more mosh pits and thrown beers, singing and chanting throughout it all, as Shane staggered around flinging his microphone, knocking things over, screaming, singing, and mumbling incoherently. It was amazing.
Friday: Bob Dylan at the Los Angeles Forum. Unlike the whiskey-drinking, beer-guzzling crowd of Irish punks the night before, this was a pot-smoking, dirty old hippie crowd. In a much-less intimate setting. But it was Dylan, right? I missed openers Kings of Leon (except for "Trani" which is one of my favorites by them). Then Bob came out. People stood and cheered, then everyone sat down as the band played. Dylan spent the entire concert playing a keyboard -- and some harmonica -- but never picked up a guitar. The songs were rearranged to fit his voice. It was all good, but not great. The band was technically brilliant, but too good almost. Compared to the spontaneity and insanity of the Pogues, the tameness of Bob and his band was kind of dull. And the rearranged songs lost a lot of their impact. They played "Maggie's Farm", "Like a Rolling Stone", "Positively 4th Street", "Tangled Up in Blue", "All Along the Watchtower" among some other hits and new songs, but they sounded NOTHING like the originals. They lost some of the exclamation and momentum. I think "Like a Rolling Stone" is one of the most snideful, sneering, searing attack/insult songs... yet Friday night the question of "how does it feel?" was less an accusation and more... I don't know, like a resigned, weary query.
So, two mumbling singers... each hailed as a poet of their respective movements; each associated with a writer from the British Isles (Brendan Behan and Dylan Thomas); each an enigmatic figure; each rebellious and literary... on consecutive nights. One healthy, God-fearing, and seemingly in a reflective place in life; the other a swollen, bloated drunk with rotted teeth barely making it to the next moment. The former seems to be going through the motions, no longer brilliant but just good; the latter isn't barely able to make it through the motions, but that's what makes him brilliant.