Bob Dylan doesn’t like cameras, tablets, phones, video or screens at his concerts, to the point he had dedicated staff out the front on Wednesday directing punters either not to use such devices or check them in. Fair enough.
He mustn’t like fans singing along either, because he reimagines his songs in such a way that the melodies are completely unrecognisable, leaving his lyrics often as the only way anyone would pick half the songs.
And while said words are at the heart of the 2016 Nobel Prize winner’s greatest compositions, it didn’t help that he mumbled and spoke-sang them to the point that they, too, were often unrecognisable.
Anyone who’s seen the 77-year old in concert in the past 25 years – and he’s been a frequent visitor in recent times – was no doubt already aware of his makeovers live in concert and had some idea of what to expect.
Nonetheless it was painful hearing him butcher greats like Tangled Up In Blue and Blowin’ In The Wind.
Highway 61 Revisited and It Ain’t Me, Babe‘s radical piano reinterpretations early turned out to be par for the course as Dylan stationed himself either standing or sitting at a grand piano for the night’s entirety.
The latter was lifted from his transitional 1964 record Another Side Of Bob Dylan. Wednesday felt more like The Many Sides Of Bob Dylan All Made To Sound The Same as he traversed 60s favourites, mid-70s classics, questionable born again Christian territory (Gotta Serve Somebody closed the main set), his late 90s (and onwards) renaissance period, and several tracks from last originals record, 2012’s Temptest.
The good news in all this was the world’s greatest living songwriter stopped short of eliminating all his best numbers from his sets. But it really did help if you were up to date with his catalogue post-1997. Lovesick, Make You Feel My Love and Duquesne Whistle were among the standouts, likely because they were written to be played by his hybrid blues-jazz-country inspired five piece band featuring the wonderful sounds of pedal steel and double bass throughout.
Of his classic material, Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright‘s sparse arrangement was undoubtedly the favourite – despite the revised melody we could understand nearly every word.
Simple Twist Of Fate (one of two tracks from mid-70s triumph Blood On The Tracks) was notable early for its memorable harmonica solo from Dylan seated at the keys, but if you didn’t already know the lyrics you’d have been in trouble as they were near impossible to make out.
Desolation Row and Ballad Of A Thin Man made it three tracks from his landmark Highway 61 Revisited album, and all were welcome. “Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is,” seemed to sum up the night as he finished a two-song encore with the latter. It was one of the night’s better tracks, and yet there was the undeniable sense that counterculture Dylan was still toying with us: while there’s no doubting we were in the presence of greatness on Wednesday night, why he’s messing with his mighty reputation by continuing to perform such middling shows is a mystery.