Third night: 20/11/2013
To fans, Bob Dylan is not a singer, songwriter or music icon, he’s a presence in their lives. His songs aren’t about anything as simple as love, life or death, they are about your love, life and death. They change as you change. Attending one of his shows, as tight or as ramshackle as they may be – and they can be both at the same time – is about catching reflections of yourself in the mix.
It’s the third night and the same songs in the same order. He slurs his lines on Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ a bit more than before, but counters with a rollicking Pay in Blood. His harmonica playing on Love Sick and Scarlet Town is more hauntingly sparse, but aside from superficial differences, even if the set list’s the same, everyone could have heard an entirely different show on each night.
Dylan isn’t the perfect performer, but the cracks create more fragments to find yourself in
Guess what folks – Dylan isn’t the perfect performer, but the cracks create more fragments to find yourself in, more chances to see the shards of light that “take the dark out of the nighttime”, or equally, produce the “walking shadow in my brain” to hide behind (I’ve been lurking in Time Out of Mind for the best part of ten years if anybody’s looking).
Unfortunately hearing What Good Am I? three nights in a row still hasn’t provided an answer. But other lines hit like shrapnel: “The more I die, the more I live”, “You destroyed me with a smile”, “If love is a sin, then beauty is a crime”, plus almost everything in Things Have Changed and Spirit on the Water. And as I’m composing this review in my head, to explain to others why they don’t hear what I hear, he spits these words out: “You think I’m over the hill, You think I’m past my prime, Let me see what you got…” What I got? Just these reflections of Dylan.
Second night: 19/11/2013
Part of the thrill of seeing Bob Dylan live is never quite knowing what you’re in for. Will he be in a good or maudlin mood? What songs will he play? Will they be recognisable?
When he tinkles a few notes on the piano or a member of the band strums a bar before the start of each song, there’s a mystical moment where you wonder what track from his back catalogue is going to materialise, have the dust shaken off, be revisited and revised.
But on this tour, his set lists have stayed almost identical, and so it is on the second of his Glasgow dates.
Predictability has brought consistency. His delivery is sharpened by the shrapnel in his voice, as he twists words to fit as he pleases, making the word “care” rhyme with “yeah” in Things Have Changed.
There’s slightly less shuffling around than last night and his piano playing is less soupy on the solos. He also manages to remember all the words in Tangled Up In Blue, which are altered from the original version in any case. The melody and characters have mellowed. Instead of her bending down to tie the laces of his shoe, the woman decides the man is “someone that I used to know, used to trust”. But the upbeat sentiment is promptly stomped on by the vicious Love Sick that follows and closes the first half of the concert.
After the intermission, Forgetful Heart is more soulful but equally devastating as Love Sick, before Long and Wasted Years wields that same power but uses it for a more reflective and positive effect. It’s a fitting climax before the currently traditional encores of All Along the Watchtower and Blowin’ in the Wind.
Only one night to go. If the set list remains the same, do we resort to hoping he’s in a better or worse mood to bring out different lights and shades in the songs? Or perhaps, as another altered lyric in Tangled Up In Blue says, “Tomorrow might as well be now”.
First night: 18/11/2013
In 2013 pop stars shock their fans by visiting Brazilian prostitutes or sitting around construction sites in the buff, but once upon a time it was the music that mattered and an artist could provoke outrage simply by plugging in their guitar.
It’s satisfying then that five decades on Bob Dylan retains that same power to defy expectations, divide a crowd, and most importantly remain uncompromising.
Only six of the 19 songs played tonight at the first of three concerts in Glasgow pre-date 1997, which may frustrate the ‘once received a Greatest Hits compilation as a birthday present’ fans but the reward is a fully committed and passionate performance.
His voice, which on bad days can sound like a tortured caricature of itself, is in turns tender, snarling and fierce
Centre stage, Dylan clutches the mic stand, with a hip-skewed, shuffling stance not unlike Elvis’ – or somebody who’s been riding a horse all day – dressed like a country singer, black hat and pinstripe suit.
His voice, which on bad days can sound like a tortured caricature of itself, is in turns tender (What Good Am I?), snarling (Pay in Blood) and fierce (Love Sick). Focus is lost slightly when he moves behind his piano. The hurried lines of Simple Twist of Fate have a very loose relationship with the tune being played, and during Tangled Up In Blue, which the fair weather fans must have been relieved to hear, he fluffs the words, as if confirming a much stronger connection with more recent material.
And other hits? Between the station and the auditorium, two out of the four buskers lining the route are strumming Mr Tambourine Man. Dylan might not be playing his most famous tunes at the moment, but he’s playing the ones he wants to play the way he wants to play them, just like he’s always done. That’s the secret of his enduring appeal. “Things Have Changed” he sings in his opening number, but nothing has. Not the stuff that matters.