It's been 25 years since I first started attending Bob Dylan concerts, and in some circles that makes me just a beginner. Over many years and three continents, this was a night worth waiting for! Encouraged by great reviews of Dylan's recent European tour, the audience flocked to witness the touted return to form. First we were treated to Paul Kelly, who performed an excellent set aided and abetted by Vika and Linda Bull. Then it was on to His Bobness who did not disappoint the faithful, although still baffled the innocent newbies. It must be accepted now, as the Never Ending Tour lurches on in its 13th year, that Dylan will not sing the original melody of any but the most recent of his songs. Not content with merely reworking the arrangements, like a jazzman improvising a new tune to a familiar set of chords, he stretches the boundaries. If that's what it takes for him to continue to deliver those magical lyrics, then so be it. After all, it was never about the music, man!
His voice is in pretty good shape, with plenty of gravel at the bottom these days. Then there are the guitar solos. Even the most generous would have to admit that Tangled Up In Blue is probably long enough without having a guitar solo after every verse. If you were compiling a live recording, the digital scissors would definitely get a work out. But tonight, even the guitar playing began to make sense. It is as if the band, now complemented by eighties guitar hero Charlie Sexton, have realised that Dylan is the lead guitarist in the band. Instead of some of the sonic convolutions of past tours, the other guitars now defer to Dylan's axe. Utility man of the band, Larry Campbell supports with strong strumming or smooth steel guitar when Dylan twangs, and plays supple lines when Dylan plays choppy rhythmic phrases that hark back to his pre-folk era rock roots. Sexton follows suit, offering a few tentative licks and waiting for the nod of approval from The Bobfather before launching into a full-blooded wail. And wail they did, turning a formerly country The Wicked Messenger into a Chicago Blues styled romp, ending with a fine, and now sadly infrequent, harp solo by Dylan.
At the age of 59, he looks back on a huge catalogue of songs. Every night the set list changes; some classics, some obscure. Tonight we got a blistering Highway 61 Revisited and All Along The Watchtower, a rollicking Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat, and many full-band acoustic numbers including Mama, You Been On My Mind. Twenty songs in two hours - I saw him smile and it made me happy. May the tour truly Never End.
By Bob Howe
Special thanks to Michael Chugg Entertainment