Some things never change. There are still people streaming towards the exits long before the end of a Bob Dylan show and tonight is no different. Despite the availability of decades of set lists and live reviews online, the expectation of an acoustic-driven evening of hits prevails among many of the audience sprawled around the cavernous 3 Arena.
Here is a Nobel Laureate who can perform at the White House without saying a word to the President of the United States, yet people are disappointed that he fails to acknowledge the audience or the occasion with as much as a “Hello Dublin” tonight. While so many fans remain committed to this quest for nostalgia (maybe theirs is the original never-ending tour) for something that isn’t there, Dylan just keeps on playing shows. This is the final date of another European tour that has crossed Scandinavia, Holland, France, Germany, and the UK.
But things have changed. Bob struts and skulks around the stage tonight with a knowing swagger. He brings six songs from his journey into other great American standards to this evening’s setlist. ‘Why Try To Change Me Now’ from Shadows In The Night is the first of these, dragging Dylan away from his grand piano to sashay alone with a microphone stand in the centre of the stage. He appears revitalized and this flows into his delivery of all of his most well known songs. ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ and a mighty ‘Desolation Row’ are performed with clarity and playfulness.
This leads onto another difference – nowadays the setlists aren’t-a-changing. Seasoned Dylan fans now know that surprises are limited to the odd song per gig. The uniformity seems to suit Bob’s well-drilled band of players. He’s still undoubtedly the bandleader – you can see how they watch for cues as he guides ‘Spirit on the Water’ from 2006’s Modern Times in to land, but there is little pause for breath between songs as they kick into the next tune after the applause has barely had time to subside.
Tempest is the best-represented album this evening. Dylan’s renderings of five cuts from this record deserve a better reception from the restless audience. ‘Long and Wasted Years’ is a stunning highlight. Across a tumbling guitar motif, Bob enunciates lines so evocative that they could each be the starting-point of a whole other story. This song is peak late-era Dylan and should go down as one of his finest moments.
The bulk of the evening is swept-up by ‘Autumn Leaves’, made famous by Nat King Cole, before the band returns for a stirring encore of ‘Blowing In The Wind’ and ‘Ballad Of A Thin Man’. The sound mix and acoustics within the Arena are outstanding throughout. This is especially impressive given that the atmosphere generally resembles a phone shop in an aircraft hangar. Over-zealous staff patrolling the aisles looking for evidence of the slightest mobile phone use also seems over the top, not to mention slightly ironic.
Dylan’s shows always attract a wide demographic. Tonight this includes clans of bootcut-jeaned forty and fifty-something men tangled up in sheux, young couples clutching boxes of popcorn, and whole families bedecked in tour merchandise. How can the one-time “spokesman for a generation” send all those constituencies home happy? At 75 years of age it’s extremely doubtful whether he really cares, but with performances as spirited as this evening’s, why try to change now? Jonny Currie