Monday 27 May 2019

Look beyond the legend, Bob is blowin' in the wind

Bob Dylan
The O2, Dublin

Bob Dylan Photo: Getty Images
Bob Dylan Photo: Getty Images

JOHN MEAGHER

These are good times for Bob Dylan. His 33rd studio album, 'Together Through Life', is a current chart-topper on both sides of the Atlantic.

That means the 67-year-old has the distinction of being the oldest musician to have a UK number one album. It's unlikely, though, that he will be chuffed by such a statistic.

Bob Dylan's iconic status was secured more than 40 years ago and since then the legend has grown. The man could bang a tin bucket for two hours at the O2 and you would still find people saying it was life-changing. Being in the same room as one of the greatest artists of the past half century will do that.

Jarring

Look beyond the legend, however, and this concert -- yet another stop on his so-called Never Ending Tour -- leaves quite a lot to be desired.

While Dylan has never been keen on crowd interaction, his refusal to engage with the expectant audience in Dublin is jarring. Not least when one compares the way two of his peers, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen, charmed their Irish audiences last year and turned in performances that will live long in the memory.

For the bulk of the night, Dylan stands at his keyboard at the side of the stage facing away from the crowd, with a wide-brimmed hat obscuring his face. With five highly accomplished musicians around him, the message is clear: Bob wants to be just one of the boys.

Dylan's gnarled voice -- "of sand and glue" -- as David Bowie once memorably sung, remains a potent instrument even if he can't enunciate his words as clearly as he once did. And his harmonica -- crystal clear tonight -- is a joy, as well it might considering it's one of the most evocative sounds of 20th century music.

Extended, and in some cases, dramatically altered versions of such '60s landmarks as 'Just Like A Woman' and 'Highway 61 Revisited' are aired but lack the potency that one would have hoped for.

'Like A Rolling Stone' is considerably more successful and it's hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck time hearing Dylan sneer "How does it feel?/ To be on your own/ With no direction home/ Like a complete unknown."

It's one of the few moments to rouse those seated.

A suitably bluesy 'All Along the Watchtower' and an almost unrecognisable 'Blowin' in the Wind' sandwich new song 'If You Ever Go to Houston' in a short encore. It's his most consistently strong period of the night. And then, without fanfare, Robert Zimmerman is gone -- mercurial and enigmatic as ever.

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