08 October 2011

Bob Dylan live

Last Thursday night I crossed an item off my bucket list by seeing Bob Dylan play live (though presumably the real time pressure is him kicking the bucket rather than me). Dylan is easily my all time favorite artist, and I've been thinking for a while that I want to see him live before he retires or dies. Carl and I left work around lunchtime and bringing only the tickets, my passport, wallet and toothbrush, flew to Dublin (on Ryanair, which turns out to be essentially the only way to get from England to Dublin. Horrible.). We checked into a hotel room and then headed to a pub where we had a couple of pints of Guinness and took a conference call. We grabbed some dinner and then headed for the main event.

The O2 in Dublin is a big but not massive venue in the quays area of the city. Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits fame) was actually the opener, which was pretty cool. Somewhat self indulgently he didn't play any Dire Straits tunes, but he did display some pretty amazing guitar skills.

Dylan himself appeared on stage wearing a dark suit with brass buttons and a wide-brimmed white hat. Apparently this is his default performance get-up nowadays, but I didn't recognize him at first when he took up his position behind the keyboard. The setlist was a great mix of stuff from his whole career (see below), and included my favorite of his latest album, Spirit on the Water. While I knew every song he played, which isn't something I've experienced at a live show before, many of the songs had been rearranged, occasionally to the point where it was hard to recognize right away. Another blogger who saw him recently characterized it as "bluesy mid-tempo", and I think that's about right.

As the set went on, it became apparent that his voice is completely shot to bits: he almost barked, rather than sang, many of the songs. Dylan is famous, of course, for having an unorthodox, gravelly singing style, but this was far beyond that (confirmed by listening to some of the original recordings of the same tracks). It wasn't terrible by any means (it even added an interesting feel to some tunes), and his voice is still immediately and unmissably recognizable, but there was less melody in the vocals than I'm used to. He also missed a couple of verses during Tangled Up In Blue (segued from "we'll meet again one day" through the chorus, and then straight to "handed me a pipe"). Carl thought he was just shortening the song for a live performance (it is, like, six minutes long) but given that it's a ballad and the storyline is so important to the song I thought he might just be losing his marbles a bit (he is 70 years old, after all).

But despite all that, it was an absolutely amazing gig -- by far the most enjoyable live performance I've ever been to. For one thing, it was Bob Fucking Dylan, and there won't be too many more opportunities to see him play. But even beyond the hero-worship, he did occasionally still tear it up (for instance, kicking off the chorus of Like A Rolling Stone, which the audience then started singing along with). The man can also still wail like you wouldn't believe on a harmonica. Leaving the gig (and heading out for a night out in Dublin) I was thinking that if I had a TARDIS I'd definitely pay at least one visit to Greenwich Village in '61 to see him play Blowin in the Wind on an acoustic guitar in a smoky bar.

Set List:

  1. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
  2. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right
  3. Things Have Changed
  4. Tangled Up In Blue
  5. Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
  6. Spirit On The Water
  7. The Levee's Gonna Break
  8. Desolation Row
  9. Highway 61 Revisited
  10. Forgetful Heart
  11. Thunder On The Mountain
  12. Ballad Of A Thin Man
  13. Like A Rolling Stone
  14. All Along The Watchtower

1 comment:

Scott said...

Ah, Bob Dylan. Not to rain on your parade or anything, but have you seen this story yet?