Bob Dylan / Graham Parker
Air Canada Centre Horseshoe Tavern
July 5 2017
July 5 2017 was such a unique array of experiences, I'm filing this report as honestly and unedited as I can.
It began in March when tickets for Bob Dylan's return to Toronto went on sale. Since seeing Bob onstage is one of the things in this world that brings me the most happiness (a Jays game with the roof open and V's smile are also on that list, not in that order), buying a ticket was a no-brainer.
A couple of short weeks later I found out that one of my absolutely favourite artists Graham Parker would be coming to town for an intimate club show with his guitarist Brinsely Schwarz. Since I had never had the opportunity to see GP before, this was also an easy "yes".
Then I realized that the Parker show was set to be on the same day as the Dylan concert, I did the only thing that made any sense at all. I bought a ticket for Graham Parker. I didn't know how I was going top pull off seeing two concerts in one night but I did know that if I didn't at least have a billet for both, I would not be in a position to even try to make it work.
On July 4th I tweeted a pic of both tickets joking that I thought the two artists were playing the same gig. I was pleasantly surprised when Parker himself responded to my tweet with this advice:
Finally Wednesday July 5th came and I was ready. Mates of mine who had seen Dylan on this tour already (Vince in Ottawa, Marty in Barrie and Glen in Oshawa) had all tipped me off that Bob was going on right at 8 pm and not running late. This was crucial intel for my mission. They also each individually let me know that Bob and his band were putting on excellent performances and all had really enjoyed the shows. Also good to know.
Arriving at the Air Canada Centre half an hour before showtime, there was the electricity of anticipation in the air. Dylan's last performance in Toronto in 2014 had been incredible and I felt that we were in for a show of similar excellence. I strolled the arena comforted in the fact that many friends were scattered throughout the venue (Jeff, Bobby, John and my new pal David) also looking forward to Bob's arrival.
The show kicked off with "Things Have Changed" (2006) with a new galloping beat that pushed the song forward. As has been the case for many years now, Dylan's band were exceptional in their execution of the material. Speaking of which, of the twenty songs performed a full fourteen of them were from the last sixteen years. This refusal to be branded an oldies act is one of the most refreshing aspects of seeing Dylan in concert. He is out there performing as a contemporary recording artist. For further proof, six songs performed were from his three most recent albums Shadow In The Night (2015), "Fallen Angels" (2016) and Triplicate (2017). Special mention must go out to "Pay In Blood" and "Early Roman Kings" which both were delivered with raw intensity. If a live album is ever again in the cards for Dylan, he could do worse than issue a document from this tour.
I'd be lying if I said that during Bob's fine set, I wasn't wondering about what was happening over at the Horseshoe where Parker was scheduled to play. Luckily I had a couple of agents on the inside. Recent mate Claude and the aforementioned Marty were both already separately at the club.
At the 90 minute mark in Dylan's performance, Claude texted me that the opening act at the Horseshoe had finished. Knowing that after a few minutes of applause, Bob would eventually return for what was scheduled as a two-song encore, I made the difficult decision that had to be made and started moving towards the exit. Just before I got to the door, Marty let me know that GP and Brinsley had suddenly taken the stage. I sprinted out of the ACC and jumped into a waiting cab. Within minutes I was running through the Horseshoe to get to where the action was, stopping only to order a refreshing pint before taking my place near my friend Marty.
Seeing Graham Parker live and in the flesh was a major experience for me. I've been listening to his music for over thirty-five years and the culmination of all that history had brought me to this moment. Parker performed a solid selection of tunes from his long and varied career. Respectfully, he did not just rely on his proven 70's classic material. Tunes from later albums were generously sprinkled throughout the twenty-one song set.
As at the Dylan show, the crowd had some familiar faces to catch up with. Along with Marty and Claude, I was happy to see Martin, Maria and Don all enjoying themselves.
After the show, speaking to GP I informed him that it was I who had tweeted the problem of having tickets for both Dylan and himself for the evening. He smiled broadly and exclaimed, "well you made the right choice!" I then explained that I did go to the Dylan show but had two friends who let me know via text when I had to make my move. Parker put a hand on my shoulder and said "you're a trooper!"
As special as it was to finally witness a fantastic GP show in person, to actually meet the man and get to express to him how much his music has meant to me over the years was a moment I'll always treasure. And in response to my question of when I'll get to see him again, the legendary song-writer smiled and said, "I think we'll be back soon, they seem to want us to come back".
I'll be there GP, and thanks.