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Friday, 13 June 2008

Euro 2008: Russia sunk by Villa hat-trick

Russia's first effort in the European championship was a complete flop. In the match against Spain, Gus Hiddink's charges showed some fairly bold play before the break, but four times were caught in a counter-attack and lost (1:4). Our team's "gravedigger" was centre forward David Villa, who scored the first hat-trick of the championship.

It was as if four years had not passed. The same June heat, the same fire-breathing asphalt on the approach roads to the stadium. And once again Russia v Spain in the first Euro match for our team. Only then it was Faro, Portugal on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, while this time it was the Alpine city of Innsbruck. The white, blue, and red sea of Russian fans this time exceeded the 10,000 of 2004. Though this time UEFA had allocated them only 6,000 tickets per match in the group phase of the tournament.

What were they counting on, the one-half of our compatriots who came to Austria without any guarantee of getting into the stadium? Some of them reserved places in the bars of Innsbruck and Salzburg, resigning themselves from the outset to watching the match on the big screen. But many were prepared to pay any money just to support the team from the stands of the Tivoli-Neu arena. It was they who became the hunted targets of enterprising Austrians who were prepared to cede to them their coveted tickets. Not, of course, for free.

Surely the touts aren't already asking a thousand Euros a ticket?!", a fan wearing a Zenit [St. Petersburg football team] shirt asked Izvestiya's correspondent. I could console him only partly - on the day before touts wandered into the tiny resort of Leogang demanding "only" 400-500 Euros a ticket. However, judging by my interlocutor's wild eyes, it would scarcely have been possible to frighten him with any price. One way or another, when the teams came out onto the field, even a fleeting glance at the stands was sufficient to understand that the Russian fans in Tirol were not outnumbered by the Spanish contingent.

But 90 minuties before the match a thunderstorm broke out over Innsbruck, and almost at the same time the rain gushed down in torrents. Passions in the covered stands did not cool. On the other hand, the simulation of the circumstances with the Portugal sourroundings, where the same rivals had to play in fatiguing heat. Our team has changed out of recognition in the intervening four years. Among the players in yesterday's term only Dmitriy Sychev took part in the match in Faro, spending only 22 minutes on the field.

Our team's starting line-up was by and large put together by Gus Hiddink literally within the past three weeks. It was given its dress rehearsal was in the 2-1 victory over Serbia. Compared with that game, there were just two changes to Russia's team. The injured Pogrebnayk's place in the attack was taken by the "resurrected" Pavlyuchenko, while on the right wing Bystrov was replaced by the aforementioned Sychev.

The Russian grandstands had also prepared thoroughly for the game. During the performance of the national anthem, alongside portraits of the current team members appeared photographs of the national heroes who won the first European cup in 1960. For several minutes before the Austrian ref Konrad Plautz blew his whistle, a veritable landing party disembarked at Tivoli-Neu. A khaki-coloured helicopter landed in the grassplot near the main stand, from which emerged Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov and his wife Yelena Barturina into the VIP stand.

The game had scarcely begun when our players had the Spanish sections of the crowd whistling in dissatisfaction. Our technical rivals for a long time could not get to the ball, so well did Huudink's charges control it. But the Spaniards did not need to manoeuvre much to open their account. The super-duo of Spanish forwards Torres and Villa scored a goal on the first counter-attack. Torres outmanoeuvred Kolodin, one of the central pillars of our rehashed defence, while Villa turned home his perfect pass.

No, our team didn't even think of giving up. Under the banner in the stands, "We need a goal!!!', it continued to besiege Casillas's goal-line. Before the break there was also Zyryanov's strike that hit the post, a dangerous free-kick earned by Zhirkov and taken by Pavlyuchenko, but... Yet another counter-attack by the Spanish caught the Russian team's defence by surprise. Iniesta wove a delicate pass between Anykov and Kolodin, and with a single touch Villa completed the double—0:2.

Thus the first half left an ambiguous impression. On the one hand, the Russian team gave not even a hint of being resigned to their fate or playing for a draw at most. On the other hand, in the first 45 minutes of yesterday's game the Spaniards scored twice as many goals against us as in the first 90 minutes in the previous European Championship.

After the break the game continued along roughly the same lines, the one difference being that the Russians' mistakes in defence were even cruder. And the Spanish did not fail to take advantage of them twice more; Pavlyuchenko managed only to score a consolation goal.

Translated from Izvestiya, 12th June, 2008

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

More on Bob Dylan in Russia (with mp3s)

Left: Falconet's statue of Peter the Great, who built St. Petersburg as his "window on the West."

For the first time in 30 years I am able to combine my day job (as a translator of the Russian press) with one of my main hobbies (appreciation of the music of Bob Dylan). So to follow up on my blog the other day, in which I translated the review of a highly perceptive Russian beat fan, here is a look at what the Russian press had to say about Bob's recent concert in St. Petersburg.

Right: bootleg art by StewART.

It was Peter's city, or rather the great poem about it by Alexander Pushkin, "The Bronze Horseman", that inspired me to take up the learning of Russian 30 years ago. Peter built his city in spite of nature, at an enormous cost in human life, as his "window on the West" through which he hoped Western culture would pour, enabling him to rouse up Mother Russia from what he perceived as her oriental backwardness, symbolised in Falconet's statue (above left) by the snake beneath the feet of Peter's fiery steed as he rears it up before the abyss on its giant pedestal, the Thunderstone, sometimes said to be the largest stone ever moved by man. To this day "Peter", as the city was known to its habitants even in Soviet times when it was officially named Leninngrad, remains the most Western of Russian cities, and hence, as the Russian website notes, much more suited to Bob Dylan than the "white stone city" (i..e. Moscow), where Bob performed three songs at an invitation-only poetry festival way back in 1985.

The Russian press is, as regards youth culture, like the British and American press of 40 years ago; it claims to speak for the fans, but rarely makes any attempt to canvass their opinion. Whereas the admirable beatgene stated quite clearly that she hadn't expected Bob to perform her favourite songs, Kommersant (one of the few bastions of independent journalism remaining in Putin's Russia) assumes that the fans had been expecting the most familiar Dylan songs, and that Bob was guilty of showing contempt for the St. Petersburg public by not performing them.

The setlist looked as if the the maestro had no idea of where he was playing, or before whom. Or else he sincerely and entirely didn't give a damn. Fans of Paul McCartney, for instance, have seen him perform twice already on the territory of the former USSR, and only now are able to permit themselves to timidly ask the idol to play at his concert in Kiev on 14th June one or two things apart from a gentlemanly selection of "greatest hits." From the point of view of world culture, Bob Dylan is a figure of equal weight, but he was performing here for the first time since 1985, for the first time since an unsuccessful performance before an ideologically irreproachable and absolutely indifferent audience at an evening of world poetry that was timed to coincide with the Festival of Young People and Students in Moscow. To all intents and purposes, the concert in the Ice Palace was his first proper performance in this country. And he comes onto the stage and sings the following collection of songs:

"Cat`s in the Well" from the 1990 album Under the Red Sky. "Don`t Think Twice, It`s All Right" and "Girl of the North Country" from The Freewheelin` Bob Dylan (1963). "Honest with Me" from "Love And Theft" (2001). And seven of the 10 songs on the 2006 album Modern Times.

No one expected Mr. Dylan to perform a programme consisting only of songs from his "best of" collections; clearly he is still promoting his universally very well received album "Modern Times". But take the 2007 three-CD collection "Dylan", a more thorough compilation than many "best of" CDs, based as it is not just on the sixties golden period. Of the songs enumerated above, only one is on this compilation—"Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." In other words, for his d├ębut in Russia, Mr. Dylan chose songs that aren't too well known anywhere in the world.

At least that was the concert blueprint by and large: to play the little-known and completely new. But he nevertheless did offer a few of his calling cards. "Just Like A Woman" and "Highway 61 Revisited" were there, and the final number was the song that comes to mind when you figure out how Bob Dylan should end his concerts—"Like A Rolling Stone. But if "Just Like A Woman" was performed with at least some kind of hint at the possibility of singing along with it, the two other hits were played as if deliberately without even the most minimal hook that an audience wishing to express their respect for a classic could latch on to.

This quality of "podpevayemost'" (literally 'being able to sing along with') appears important to Russian audiences: beatgene herself mentioned being surprised and disconcerted by its absence. Is this what one goes to rock concerts for in Russia? To sing along with the songs just as they are on your records (or illegal downloads, more likely) at home? At any rate, this is not a quality that many songs as performed on the Never Ending Tour, or at any other stage in Bob's career, have had. He is not interested in being "the legend", or in the Russian phrase, "a classic" demanding respect, but in recreating his songs according to his current whim. Nevertheless, as this is likely to be his one and only performance before a Russian paying audience, I can't help wishing that for once the old bastard had been willing to acknowledge where he was and meet the audience half way. Russians do have an almost religious reverence for poets and performers, and they do like to indulge this bardolatry wherever possible. Their troubled history of the Russian people has meant that artists and poets in Russia have always carried the burden that Bob shook off early on in his career; that of expressing the true thoughts and feelings of the people. But they revere the poet for his words, not for his fame or whatever goes on in his private life. Should Bob have forgotten the lyric sheets that of late have become a fixture on his keyboard, there is little doubt that the entire audience would have been able to prompt him, in thick Russian accents, of course, just as readily as they did me when, at some dinner party or other in Moscow 20 years ago, I attempted to recite a poem by Aleskandr Blok while fully loaded on bootleg vodka and forgot some of the words. Everyone in the room joined in reciting the long dead poet's words.

Just who was the audience for this particular show, apart from beatgene and her fellow beat fans, as we have seen? According to it was

a curious symbiosis of members of the older generation and young people. There were hippies and kids in trendy gear. What didn't happen was any sense of a "crowd." It was perfectly obviously that each of the spectators had his own Dylan, his own history of relations with his songs, it was impossible to speak of any kind of mass concert ecstasy. The audience was predominantly male, and the women were from the intelligentsia category. There were no "dumb blondes." Many spectators, with serious-looking faces, whispered the words of the songs in English; there were quite a few foreigoners. You would thing that such a tedious concert would quickly become boring; after all, nothing was happening outwardly on state; but there was in both a musical and poetic sense. internal drama. The sound was not loud; it was even like chamber music; but the band played with impeccable style. And for a man of 67, Dylan sung very well: the timbre was clear, the voice strong, even, and far more powerful than on the records.

A rather tepid review; and yet, considered as just another show by the modern Bob Dylan, the St. Petersburg concert was actually pretty good, on the evidence of the already circulating recording by the ubiquitous taper who goes by the name of Bach (hence the inevitable "Bach in the USSR" jokes). As on the US and Canada leg of the tour, Bob is in very good voice, and the performances are anything but indifferent. The band is even coming to life a bit, with noticeably more dynamic solos by Denny Freeman. Although it would be stretching things to suggest that the setlist was in any way tailored toward the audience, it's possible to imagine that Girl of the North Country was chosen as a tip of the hat to the "Venice of the North", as the city of Peter the Great is often called, or even to the name of the venue itself. And Workingman Blues #2 would have struck a chord with many in a nation that has gone from a drab, but equitable socialism, to an unbridled form of capitalism in which the rich are very wealthy indeed, and the poor can barely make ends meet. The buying power of the proletariat has certainly declined since Soviet times (when there was nothing to buy, but all necessities were dirt cheap). Modern times in Russia are very hard for a large percentage of the population.

Nevertheless, Tangled Up in Blue was in the setlist as if to remind everyone that Russia was just "another joint" on Dylan's endless road (or it could be because it was one of the songs written under the influence of Dylan's Russian-born art teacher, the mysterious Norman Raeben; or even just because it is the only Dylan song that mentions revolution!). It's a shuffling, bluegrass-tinged version with some new, somewhat half-baked lines:

He drifted down to New Orleans where he was lucky enough to be employed
Three times on a sailing boat, three times it was destroyed

Ouch. Rather better are:

She was working in "the Tropicana"
I stopped there for a beer
told her I was goin' on later (?)
She said, "I'm gonna stay right here."

Bob whips out the ol' harmonica before and after the last verse. Altogether a more enjoyable version than some of the breakneck versions of the recent past.

Other songs worth mentioning are Just Like A Woman, well sung with a lengthy harmonica intro; a smouldering rendition of It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) (Russians need no reminding that "propanda, all is phony"), with Dylan's keyboards maybe higher in the mix than usual; and a mesmerising Ain't Talkin'.

Here are some mp3s, with thanks to the aforementioned "Bach":

Girl From the North Country

Tangled Up in Blue

Just Like A Woman

It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)

Workingman's Blues #2

Ain't Talkin'

Thursday, 5 June 2008

One fan melts Bob's 'icy' heart in St Petersburg

I've just been reading a fan review of Bob's first ever performance in Russia (barring an appearance at a Moscow poetry festival in July 1985 that was not open to the general public) on Tuesday night and did a little translation to keep my hand in.

[I'll skip the first few sentences; the writer of the review (who blogs on Live Journal under the name beatgene) is part of St. Petersburg's beat scene (Beatles and Kinks fans), and the first couple of sentences are about her arriving at Ledovyy (the Ice Palace) well before the start of the show and meeting up with other people she knew from her Beatles forum. She sounds a really sweet girl; a shame Bob couldn't have been be a bit more responsive to his Russian fans.]

They were allowed in at 7pm: "I was in the second row of the orchestra stalls, pretty cool. But this is where the bewilderment started—the crowd didn't particularly increase. That is to say, there were around 150 of us standing in the stalls with the proverbial one-and-a-half cripples. By the start of the concert, we were feeling awkward about the far from full hall. Heck, Bob Dylan himself has come! For the one, and most likely, the only time. The entire Ledovyy department that was involved in promoting the concert should be fired as effing useless. Along with the security, who, seeing me focusing my camera lens on the as yet empty stage, sternly reported that photographs were strictly forbidden, all complaints [should be made] to the organizers. "Carry on taking pictures for now, kids; but when the concert starts, you won't be allowed to continue."

And now about Bob.

I'm a clever cookie, I don't think I expected from him fiery speeches, shouts of "Hiya, kids!", and the songs of his I love. The one thing I didn't count on was that he would change the arrangements of some numbers so much. No, they sounded good. Interesting. Only in places, unrecognisable; it was possible to sing along only with Just Like A Woman and Like A Rolling Stone. Well, for me anyway.

As everyone knows by now, Bob played only keyboards and harmonica.


1. Cat's In The Well (Bob on keyboard)
2. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right (Bob on keyboard)
3. Rollin' And Tumblin' (Bob on keyboard)
4. Tangled Up In Blue (Bob on keyboard)
5. The Levee's Gonna Break (Bob on keyboard)
6. Girl Of The North Country (Bob on keyboard)
7. John Brown (Bob on keyboard)
8. Honest With Me (Bob on keyboard)
9. Just Like A Woman (Bob on keyboard)
10. It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) (Bob on keyboard)
11. Workingman's Blues #2 (Bob on keyboard)
12. Highway 61 Revisited (Bob on keyboard)
13. Spirit On The Water (Bob on keyboard)
14. Summer Days (Bob on keyboard)
15. Ain't Talkin' (Bob on keyboard)
16. Thunder On The Mountain (Bob on keyboard)
17. Like A Rolling Stone (Bob on keyboard)

There was a tense atmosphere; either Bob was tired or didn't especially like the St. Petersburg public. I didn't fully understand it, but he smiled little, spoke even less, came out for one encore, bowed, and left. And for the first time I clearly understood right away that they wouldn't return [for a second encore]. Even with Chuck Berry I had some hopes.

But this time... I don't even know what the reason was, whether it was general tiredness from concert performances, the far from full hall, or some other reason.

But all the same he's a big shot. All the same, he's a legend. And people love him. Standing nearby us were a little group of sweet Italians who devotedly follow Dylan round all the towns where he plays—real fanatics. Probably Russia appearing on his itinerary surprised them a bit!

And they still wouldn't let me take pictures. I thought that I 'd got into position successfully—the security man in front of me didn't see, I started snapping without a flash. It should have worked out fine. But it turns out, they [security] rushed down from the stage area. As a result, a security guy managed to get to me from behind and politely invited me to stop.

A few shots remained. I feel ashamed about showing them, of course, but what can you do—there won't be another time, as I understand. No, I didn't take them on a cell phone.

Well, that is that. My impressions are truly mixed. They don't fit into the usual rubric of liking or not liking something. I went to see Bob Dylan. I saw him. And I'm very happy indeed with this. Thanks to him for coming. And thanks to infobeat [name of another Live Journal blogger] for getting Bob to make a peace sign in his direction. It melted his icy heart. [There is a pun here on the name of the venue, of course].

Well, beatgene, that's a nice review, and your photos are nothing to be ashamed about. I hope you don't mind me showing them here. I hope this translation is okay, I'm a bit out of practice with colloquial Russian; I haven't translated anything but financial and legal documents and technical specifications for a long time!