Bob DylanEcho Arena 8/5/17
Despite this being a thoroughly modern music venue it’s quite easy to forget what age we are in when the sepia wash falls over the stage after an opening folk rock riff from guitarist Charlie Sexton. And then comes the voice. Coming on like a bag of diamonds and door nails, it doesn’t sound like vintage BOB DYLAN but it certainly sounds vintage. Splintered, as it is, from a constant touring schedule which regularly takes in over 100 dates a year and has done for over two decades.
There’s a palpable shock in the air when the first lines of Things Have Changed are rasped into the auditorium. This could be because of the presence of the man, resplendent in black cowboy suit with pink trim and white boots; or the frayed voice which is at once familiar and confrontational; or maybe it’s the realisation that this is a moment which must be treasured by all present.
The blanket ban on photography and (quite unrealistically) any use of mobile phone means that this is a moment which will be just that. A moment, free from social media feed critiques, ham-fisted recordings and distracting boasts to the outside world (you live in hope anyway). We are alone with Bob Dylan and band. It is now.
While it could be difficult to identify when he is from, cloaked in darkness, flitting from musical styles from various decades, where Dylan is from is unmistakable. He’s a man clearly in love with America and the romantic idea of the land of troubadours, bounders and raconteurs, the country’s rich musical heritage. He should be aware of his place in its generic lineage.
As well as tracks from his latest big band LP, we get traditional classics such as That Old Black Magic, Sinatra’s Melancholy Mood and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s This Nearly Was Mine. These serve a purpose, join some dots, but do not inspire the awe we know he is capable of. After being a protest folk singer, an electric bluesman, a country cowboy and a soul star,
Dylan is now a crooner. And none of these incarnations are neglected tonight. When he is not sat or stood behind the piano (he’s long since dispensed with guitar playing), he is leaning on his mic and sauntering around the stage not unlike Ol’ Blue Eyes himself. It’s maybe not the Dylan many came to see but it does suit him. In his 76th year, he wears it well. While there’s nothing in the way of between-song chatter, he is relatively animated when moving across the stage and seems to be enjoying this latest chapter of his career while still on his famous Never Ending Tour.
There’s a sense of relief as well as appreciation when the songs from his more notable albums are given an airing (even if they take a few lines to be recognised). Highway 61 Revisited and Tangled Up In Blue are given a new twist and are every inch as beautiful as the originals. Tonight’s version of Desolation Row may even surpass the original recording. The two-song encore is a bonus and brings the set to a healthy two-hour clock. Blowin’ In The Wind is almost a parody of one of his best known recordings, but Ballad Of A Thin Man – with the wonderfully apt chorus “Something is happening here but you don’t know what it is/Do you, Mr Jones?” – is a perfect way to round off a special show. Some have already left bemused but a good percentage of those who have stuck around take the opposite tack and give a hearty standing ovation. We exit back into 2017 and Twitter is littered with punters’ bemused remarks. Dylan will always do whatever he wants to do and the outcome will always be met with equal parts gratitude and befuddlement.