Margaret Court Arena
A few years ago Dylan put on such a lacklustre, desultory mumbling performance I resolved that as far Dylan live, me and him were done.
But he has kept coming back and I’ve kept going. Those shows appear to have been a low point along with the cocaine fuelled, hoodie over the head and face and unrecognisable cacophonies of a period of the Never Ending Tour.
The last tour was off the back of Shadows In The Night, it was a very precise show, not a thing out of place, the staging, the outfits, the diction. This was Bob having adjusted to the constraints that age has brought to his singing and performance. Last time he was at an old theatre with plenty of character. This time he played a stadium in Melbourne though considerably smaller than tours of yore.
In the interests of science, I adopted 2 different approaches to the 2 concerts I attended.The first show was with Mrs. Wells, dinner beforehand a few grogs under the belt and seats on the ground floor but well to the back – don’t get me started on how you can be back that far 20 secs into the opening of a presale. The second show, the following night I went solo, a mild space cookie in the belly and a seat 5 rows from the front on the side.
My assessment of the songs and the performance were the same for both shows but my engagement varied significantly. Dylan, especially these days, really needs to be seen in a smaller venue and/or seats not that far back. He doesn’t engage with the audience, no patter, no hello, no goodbye, no exaggerated gestures from the performers and no big screen so for those out on the bleachers to see the show. So whenever someone comments on a concert I always ask where were you sitting.
On to the concert. Same curtains and those big retro spotlights set up high plus some lights on stands for more of a club feel. Donnie Heron who plays keys and lap steel seated right behind Bob on piano and Charlie Sexton close by with the good looks of Robbie Robertson and a cat-like body language of Mike Bloomfield.
Over the other side were George, Tony and Stu on drums, bass and rhythm gtr respectively.
The set list hasn’t changed from Europe tho he did play Visions of Johanna in Sydney for the first time since 2015. Opens with Things Have Changed – I used to care but things have changed. Reckon he is telling us something? His takes a while for the voice to warm up but I’m struck by the gusto of his piano playing and the singing is stronger, he is stretching for more notes, more modulation (though the exact same stretching and modulation both nights!).
The band is, of course, excellent and really tight. Only once did Stu and Charlie open up on duelling guitars – more, please. Bob started his career on piano working for Bobby Vee and that percussive rock’n’roll style is what he is doing this tour. From the close-up seat on the side, I noticed how much Donnie Heron was watching what Bob played, embellishing Bob’s playing with fills on keys or lap steel.
Last time I was entranced by the stuff from Tempest which of course suits his deep ragged gravelly voice better than songs written for a different voice but this time I preferred the older stuff. I didn’t like the arrangement of Tangled Up In Blue but Simple Twist of Fate was excellent. His singing on Don’t Think Twice was excellent and When I Paint My Masterpiece. Love Sick was great, Make You Feel My Love is only marginally better done by Bob than the other saccharine versions going around. How about Not Dark Yet Bob? Couldn’t get more poignant. Gotta Serve Somebody is now on the set list with a Peter Gunn style intro. Great to hear it but not enamoured of the version. I’m staggered to write that the highlight for me was Blowin’ In The Wind played before Ballad Of A Thin Man as the encore. I’m sick to death of that song and quite a few others to be frank, but the violin and the swelling arrangement reminded me of Van Morrison in his pomp during the Celtic period. Simply lovely.
So he came on stage at 8 and we walked out at 10. Pretty much to the second both nights.
I am told Bob never used venue dressing rooms. Instead, he has a Winnebago outside each venue. Make sense I guess as he goes back to the same home away from home each night. I reckon he keeps coming down here coz he likes the promoter Michael Chugg, no fuss, reliable. Reckon he will keep touring til he drops. Guess I’ll keep fronting up til either he or I drops. It’s getting late, but it’s not dark yet.
Old in the main. A lot of people backing up for second show. A younger woman behind me – Bob walks across to the guys on the other side of the stage with his bouffant hair and Chaplinesque gait – “awww isn’t he cute” she says. Never thought of Bob as cute but there you have it.
It made me think..
77. Seventy fucking seven and still no sign of an autocue. No wonder he is sticking to a setlist.