Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Bob Dylan @ The Roundhouse

Sunday 26 April 2009

Photo: Oslo 1 Apr 09 © Wikdmessenger

It can be hard to get excited about Bob Dylan gigs. The best advice is to go with low expectations and an open mind. I've watched him perform awful sets where he's barely acknowledged his audience and only the deluded could call what came out of his mouth 'singing'.

Still, the prospect of seeing the old troubadour in such a small space coupled with my brother's report that he was on good form the previous night at the cavernous 02 meant I was in high spirits on Sunday evening in Camden Town.

Reviews of the Roundhouse gig have been mixed. Hardcore fans have been predictably positive. On the Word Magazine website Fraser Lewry has sparked a great debate after damning the gig as "dreadful". In contrast Richard Williams' four-star review in the Guardian reckoned Dylan performed "perhaps the most compelling version of Like a Rolling Stone since Earl's Court 1978". You be the judge on that score.

MP3: Bob Dylan - Like a Rolling Stone (Live @ The Roundhouse)

Personally, I had a great time. There's no question that Bob's voice is shot but he sang with conviction and I could hear all of the lyrics enunciated (which is more than I can say about previous Dylan gigs). I did doubt whether Bob's band knew what he was up to all the time as they constantly focussed on their boss's odd keyboard riffs and never seemed quite sure when to finish a song.

Still, there's something extremely compelling about witnessing this strange old geezer on stage. As my friend Jane observed, Bob seemed to be enjoying a private joke with himself all night. His bizarre grin reminded me of V for Vendetta; his jerky leg dance conjured up images of Grandpa Simpson at an OAP disco.

As a huge fan of Bob's radio show, where each week he is humorous and engaging, it does surprise me that Dylan limited his audience chat to introducing the band and an Amy Winehouse gag. Yet the other thing that makes Theme Time Radio Hour so great, Bob as self-confessed "musical expeditionary", is always evident at his shows.

When I saw Dylan in Brixton four years ago, the same month Link Wray died, he opened with a rendition of Rumble and later played tribute to The Clash with a version of London Calling. My father-in-law saw Bob a few years ago when he treated the audience in Newcastle, hometown of The Animals, to House of the Rising Sun.

On Sunday he doffed his stetson to the Roundhouse's 1970s heyday. I'm not enough of a Faces fan to have noticed but one of our party told me in the pub afterwards that the evening's version of I Don't Believe You explicitly recalled Cindy Incidentally.

MP3: Bob Dylan - I Don't Believe You (Live @ The Roundhouse)

Yes, this is geeky stuff, but as Dylan said in his recent interview with Bill Flanagan he just doesn't see himself in the same mould as other performers.

A lot of the acts from your generation seem to be trading on nostalgia. They play the same songs the same way for the last 30 years. Why haven't you ever done that?

I couldn't if I tried. Those guys you are talking about all had conspicuous hits. They started out anti-establishment and now they are in charge of the world. Celebratory songs. Music for the grand dinner party. Mainstream stuff that played into the culture on a pervasive level. My stuff is different from those guys. It’s more desperate. Daltrey, Townshend, McCartney, the Beach Boys, Elton, Billy Joel. They made perfect records, so they have to play them perfectly... exactly the way people remember them. My records were never perfect. So there is no point in trying to duplicate them. Anyway, I’m no mainstream artist.

Debatable I know. What's not is that Bob Dylan is the weirdest crank in showbusiness and is still playing by his own rules. In my book that's to be applauded (if not always heard).

Related Posts
Tom Waits on Radio Bob - listen to Tom's basement tapes
Bob Dylan 2.0 - relaunch of
It's A Mad Mad Mad Bob World - my first take on I'm Not There
Bob Dylan: The Other Side of the Mirror - Dylan at Newport
Radio Bob Returns - celebrating series two of Theme Time Radio Hour

Related Links
Amazon: Bob Dylan - Together Through Life - buy the new album


Peter said...

nice review. the band sound good on them there mp3s but the vocals did make me laugh quite a lot. bless. and though i know your devotion to his bobness borders on the religious, i think 'enunciation' is the word you were looking for in your description of his vocal delivery...

yours, a revolting pedant.

Nigel Smith said...

Thanks Pete. I've corrected the spelling mistake - you can put your red pen away again now.

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