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Why a Bob Dylan show is a must-see


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It was April 1966 when Bob Dylan first played The Palais Theatre in Melbourne. Tickets under the newly introduced decimal system were $4.20 and the newspaper ads promised that Dylan would play “the great songs” such as “Blowin’ In the Wind”, “Mr Tambourine Man” and the relatively new “Like A Rolling Stone”.

Nearly five decades later – and 22 years since he last played there – a now 73-year-old Dylan is back at the same venue. While that is remarkable in itself, the promise of Dylan playing “intimate” venues across Australia perhaps hides the fact that the last time he was here a couple of years ago he played large arena shows. (His performance in Adelaide on August 31 at the Entertainment Centre will be one of the few arena shows this tour.)

These days the ads cannot even promise what songs Dylan and his band will play. His recent shows in New Zealand featured only one of those “hits” – “Blowin’ In The Wind”, as well “All Along The Watchtower” (which was a much bigger hit for Jimi Hendrix), along with “Simple Twist Of Fate” and “Tangled Up In Blue” from his 1975 classic album Blood On The Tracks.

Rather, Dylan’s focus was on his last studio album, 2012’s Tempest, with nothing from a projected forthcoming album of cover versions (he has already released online a version of the 1945 Frank Sinatra hit “Full Moon & Empty Arms”).

To Dylan fanatics this hardly matters. They remain the world’s most committed and forgiving music fans. Despite the fact that Dylan rearranges his songs to the point where some of them are almost unrecognisable, that his voice has taken on the patina of an old blues singer (to be generous) as he barks out the lyrics in staccato fashion, his subjects remain fiercely and obsessively loyal.

Why? Because Dylan has not only written some of the greatest songs of all time, he continues to be amazingly creative both musically and lyrically. While many people want to hear the hits from the 1960s or mid-1970s from albums such as Highway 61 Revisited or Blood On The Tracks, the fact is that some of Dylan’s very best songs can be heard on 1989’s Oh Mercy or 1997’s absolutely brilliant Time Out Of Mind (both co-produced by Daniel Lanois).

Even on his recent albums, Dylan as a lyricist is head and shoulders above almost anyone else, apart from perhaps Leonard Cohen. And even if he is accused of “borrowing” or appropriating lyrics or music from elsewhere (a folk and blues tradition anyway), wouldn’t you have liked the Rolling Stones to have done exactly the same, instead of making lame albums for the past 30 years?

Despite the criticisms, Dylan remains not only a musical icon of the modern era but one who has played the game on his own terms and left many of his contemporaries in his wake. As music critic Bill Wyman pointed out in his recent article for New York magazine, “How Did Bob Dylan Get So Weird?”, in the past 25 years Dylan has done more concerts on his so-called Never Ending Tour than Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones and U2 combined!

In that time he has also released seven studio albums of original recordings, two albums of cover versions, a Christmas album and eight box sets in his Bootleg series of outtakes. (Believe it or not, some of his best songs of the past 25 years were never actually released on his studio albums). Add to that several other live albums and compilations, occasional television ads for cars during the Super Bowl broadcasts and even a film about him (I’m Not There) and you have a musician who has maintained a presence unlike any of his peers – even Sir Paul McCartney.

Dylan has managed to maintain that presence even though he is intensely private (yet prone to wander or cycle around cities he visits), has rarely given any interviews (except one or two to promote a new album occasionally) and is almost the antithesis of the modern-day celebrity. His music is what he wants celebrated.

Dylan circumnavigates the world like an old-time troubadour, armed with one of the best live bands around. Bassist and musical director Tony Garnier, has been with him since 1989 and is joined by Texan guitarist Charlie Sexton, rhythm guitarist Stu Kimball, drummer George Recile and multi-instrumentalist (banjo, violin, mandolin, pedal steel) Donnie Herron. It is an awesome outfit.

If all that does not convince you that you need to see Dylan this time around then consider this: you might not get another chance. (Though, I should add that his friend John Lee Hooker was still playing until his death at 83!). As I have said to friends, if somehow you were given a time machine and invited to travel back to the year 1615 to see William Shakespeare read from Hamlet but were warned that his voice might be a bit croaky, would you still go? I think so.

Finally, consider one of the reviews of Dylan’s concert in Hamilton, New Zealand: “If you want to see a nostalgia show featuring a musical jukebox, well, The Eagles are on their way, but if you are interested in seeing an artist still creating, still challenging his audience and himself, then Bob Dylan’s your man.”

Brian Wise is the editor of Addicted To Noise and presents Off The Record for Triple R-FM in Melbourne. He claims not to be a Bob Dylan tragic, but was the executive producer of the only Australian Dylan tribute album, The Woodstock Sessions. This article was first published on The New Daily and is republished with permission.

Bob Dylan will play at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre Arena on August 31.

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