What can you say about Dylan that hasn’t been said? He’s a law unto himself. He does what he likes. He does not seem to care about what anyone thinks. He ploughs his own groove.
In terms of the many Dylan concerts I have attended over the years I rate this one as middling – an interesting night. I enjoyed it. It was a strange eclectic mix of styles. It was different to anything I’d seen before – but that is not unusual – nearly every Dylan concert is different to anything I’ve seen before. But this one was not up there with the best but neither was it down there with the worst.
You never know what to expect from a Dylan concert these days. We mainly go along to pay homage to someone who has been a master songwriter, major influence on Rock and songwriting, a great performer and someone responsible for putting poetry and social conscience into Rock Music. He is a genius. We pay our respects.
Was Bob a bit shaky? No not in the least. I thought that he looked good – at least from the distance we were away – and his voice sounded fine.
So we paid our money and took our seats. This gives you some idea of where we were. We were so far away that it took us three numbers to work out which one was Bob Dylan. He fooled us by mainly sitting behind the keyboards and occasionally straying out into the middle to grab a mic stand which he proceeded to hold at an angle and croon.
At no time did he pick up a guitar or go near a harmonica.
The band were excellent, Bob was in good voice and the sound system was brilliant. There were no screens or stage effects or paraphernalia – just Bob and his band.
We were instructed not to take photos. What is that about? Is that Dylan? Can he have become that greedy that he doesn’t want people having a free memento?
At no time did Bob talk to the audience. They went from number to number without any intro.
Bob looked almost the cowboy with his white hat and white and black suit. You couldn’t help thinking that this was Bob doing Showbiz.
That was reinforced by the eclectic mix of material. I never, ever thought that I’d hear Bob crooning ballads like Autumn Leaves, That Old Black Magic and the like, but that is what he did. You had to relax into it. It was Showbiz. It actually sounded OK – in fact a lot better than I could ever have imagined. Bob’s voice sounded alright. Besides I had got used to it from hearing the last two albums of standards. This wasn’t Dylan, the snarling scourge of society; this was Dylan the Showbiz performer – the song and dance man.
In between the standards he sprinkled some of his own stuff. There were brilliant versions of Love Sick, Desolation Row, Ballad of a Thin Man and a rather strange Blowing in the Wind. This was music. It wasn’t geared to making you think or driving you to the barricades; it was simply good music. He wasn’t commentating, taking a stance or making any points. He was singing. There was a range of styles from Swing, Country to Rock and the band was up for it all.
I enjoyed the evening, despite it not being value for money, and came out thinking that it was another strange event in the Dylan lexicon of oddities. I had previously endured the Gospel period and other gigs where he did not seem to care at all but I had also seen him when he soared. All things will pass. Dylan will move on and do his own thing – be his own man, not beholden to anybody. But I still yearned for that socially aware Dylan of yore who spat out his poetry with barbed fury, the Dylan who used his guitar, harmonica and voice as weapons, who set us alight. That was the man who had woken me up to thinking about war, social injustice, freedom and hypocrisy.
In front of me was a young couple who talked through the whole gig. At the end she turned to her partner and said ‘well at least I can say that I’ve seen Bob Dylan now’. That is what it has become.
I saw him but he was missing.
This was brought home to us all on the way out (past the sold out merchandise stalls). There was a guy outside busking with a guitar and harmonica, singing those early songs with gusto, venom and feeling. He sounded like the Dylan of old. He meant it. He wasn’t doing music. He was doing something more. A huge crowd had gathered around him cheering him on and getting into those old songs. They were still new, vital and meaningful – just as relevant today as they ever were. Those songs were the rallying call of a generation. They were the ones we all craved for.
Maybe one day Dylan will want to be a leader again, to make a stand against the madness consuming us? Or maybe he’s content to keep his head down and cream off all he can take?