Review of the Week: Bob Dylan * * * *
Bob Dylan played approximately 100 dates per year during the 1990s and 2000s, which is a far heavier schedule than his 1960s heyday. His latest European jaunt concludes with this two-night stand in the O2.
Frustratingly for Dylan fans, quantity hasn't always equalled quality. At one show in the old Point in 2004, Dylan's voice was barely audible. The standard of musicianship was terrible and an appearance in Killarney the following evening was cancelled.
Most long-term Dylan observers agree that he hasn't really played a blinder in Ireland since two memorable outdoor shows in Kilkenny and Galway.
For some, Dylan is a demi-god, for others he's an over-mythologised charlatan.
The introduction from a stage-hand that has become a bit of a Dylan tradition since 2002 supports the accusations of self-mythology. "Ladies and gentlemen please welcome the poet laureate of rock 'n' roll," he booms. "The voice of the promise of the '60s counterculture. The guy who forced folk into bed with rock. Who donned makeup in the '70s and disappeared into a haze of substance abuse. Who emerged to find Jesus. Who was written off as a has-been by the end of the '80s, and who suddenly shifted gears releasing some of the strongest music of his career beginning in the late '90s. Ladies and gentlemen -- Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan!"
The omens are great from the outset, as Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat from Blonde on Blonde kicks off the proceedings nicely with his Bobness lunging at his keyboard. Delightfully, he revisits this 1966 classic album a few times over the course of the set.
For Don't Think Twice, It's All Right, he is centrestage with his guitar. At other times, he alternates between guitar, keys, harp and harmonica.
Strikingly, there is an almost complete absence of tunes from the acclaimed new album Together Through Life. Instead, Bob dips freely into his songbook, with Masters of War, Highway 61 Revisited, and Like a Rollin' Stone. For Just Like a Woman, the audience's backing vocals for the chorus are touching, and surprisingly in tune.
After 14 songs, Bob takes a break and returns with All Along the Watchtower. If You Ever Go to Houston follows, the sole new song of the night. Dylan's disciples go wild, excitedly pointing out that this is its premiere live performance.
Blowin' in the Wind ends the night beautifully, with Bob serenading us on his harp. Perhaps the venue's facelift has brought out the best in him, as his fans suggest that this is his finest Irish performance since Galway. If you missed it, fret not, as the Neverending Tour grinds on and on.