Concert Review: Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan 2009 - #2.jpg

By Jake Ebale

Artist: Bob Dylan

Date / Venue: Sunday August 26th, 2018 - Spark Arena, Auckland

Visiting New Zealand only four years ago, Bob Dylan again grants us access to a world of genius where time moves at a different pace. The songs, they are a changin’.

People have a hard time understanding Bob Dylan. He’s on this Never Ending Tour – close to 30 years now – rearranging his songs on every leg, moving one syllable here, one over there, morphing the cadence until it’s strangled and blue. He’s released three albums of standards in the last four years – and one of them was a triple album. But he’s not here to challenge you. If anything, he would be challenging himself, keeping himself entertained. In my 2014 review of Bob’s Hamilton show, I noted the bewilderment on the faces of many:

“We have a weird nostalgic possessiveness. When an artist doesn't meet our standards, Kiwis feel hard done by, annoyed, ripped off. He's not the suave, acid tongued kid from the 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' promo; rather, a 73 year old man that doesn't have to tour, but does.

Dylan is now 77, and still doesn’t have to play for us. He tours with many of the same band members, who add a layer of country-fied, swampy rock 'n roll swagger to the songs, playing a game of 'find that lyric' with the audience. Sometimes they overpower him, just like last time, but that’s OK. Bob was very generous last night, playing little of the vocal standards he’s enamoured himself in as of late, turning in a classic show full of amazing songs.

We got ‘It Ain’t Me, Babe’ and ‘Don’t Think Twice’. The first standing ovation came for ‘Simple Twist of Fate’, and it would’ve gone for longer had the lights not dimmed immediately (like they did for the whole set.)  We got the now-standard ‘Make You Feel My Love’.  Every time Dylan stood up hastily at the piano, or did some strange bar-fly strut to centre stage, like during ‘Love Sick’, it was magical. And that harp – that harp, man – still cuts through you like a warm knife into butter.

Sure, there were slight lulls, like the two Tempest tracks back to back. If you didn’t know the 10-minute ‘Desolation Row’ (or didn’t recognise it), you probably would’ve bought a beer.  Some arrangements , like with ‘Tangled Up in Blue’, were disjointed. But then came an absolutely faithful rendition of ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’ or a boogied up ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’. Dylan’s always redeeming himself.

I think if you went expecting ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ or ‘Hurricane’, it would’ve been a bummer. But there are other songs too. So many great songs. So you take what you’re given – and if you accept that, the night is good, transcendent even.

At this show, you live in the now. And who knows when we’ll ever see him in the flesh again? There will only ever be one Bob Dylan.