Bob Dylan; Blackpool Opera House, 22/11/13
As I so harshly learnt, turning up five minutes late but only forty minutes after the doors opened at the Blackpool Opera House, never try and predict Bob Dylan. Having been on his “Never Ending Tour” since 1988 this man knows what he’s doing and he doesn’t need to play by anyone else’s rules. Except that for this most recent European leg of the tour, he seems to be in some basic regards. Gone are the days of Dylan randomly choosing whatever song he feels like in the moment with his band having about ten seconds to try and guess what they’re meant to play. This has been replaced by a stationary setlist that places a firm focus on his more recent output and is especially focused on his latest album Tempest.
This well rehearsed show, that based itself around Dylan’s later career rockabilly and blues style, was at the core of the concert’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. It made a lot of the newer material stand out, and gave some of those songs more life than they ever displayed on record. Dylan seemed to be loving every minute of the show and whether behind the piano or alone on centre stage, he had enormous amounts of energy for a seventy-two year old man. There is however no getting past the fact that this was a show based around Dylan’s new material, which despite me personally enjoying, cannot hold a candle to the work in the sixties and seventies that made him famous.
In terms of the setlist the show was divided up in to two sets, and despite them both following roughly the same format, the first was far superior to the second. As I earlier mentioned I missed most of Oscar winning “Things Have Changed” which was unfortunate, but from there on in I saw it all and it was great. Even the songs I couldn’t recognise (Dylan’s voice was never the clearest, even in his youth) were fantastic and really blew away my expectations. In fact the weakest part of that set was one of my favourite Dylan songs ever “Tangled Up In Blue”. This displayed one of the key problems in the show well, that whilst the rockabilly style that was used complemented the songs that were written for it excellently, the older songs that were awkwardly shoehorned into it didn’t necessarily fare so well. This was especially true of “Tangled Up in Blue” and closer “Blowin’ in the Wind”. Even when they did work for the older songs, such as “What Good Am I” and “Simple Twist of Fate”, they never managed to surpass their album counterparts.
The second set got off to a fantastic start with “High Water (For Charley Patton)” being the only song that I didn’t know well before the show that I’ve been unable to stop replaying since. Dylan then moved onto a great “Simple Twist of Fate” but after that (bar Tempest highlight ‘Scarlet Town) my attention drifted for most of the second set. It was a complete contrast to the first set with new song “Early Roman Kings” being particularly boring. It was around this stage that I attempted to get a photo for this review but no sooner had I whipped out my phone that I was spotted by security, charged at and strictly informed ‘no phones allowed sir’. There are two major theories as to why Dylan doesn’t allow photography at his concerts. One is to preserve this lone western cowboy Luddite image he has been building for himself over this late renaissance of his career. This however seems unlikely for the man who very recently released what is possibly the best interactive music video ever, for 1965 classic “Like a Rolling Stone” (and I now personally want to see Danny Brown miming the entirety of Highway 61 Revisited). The theory I buy into, especially after it’s been so long since he’s put his face on an album cover, is that he is trying to deny any proof that he could possibly be getting old.
Dylan has built this show with a very proficient band and this well rehearsed set up means you’re always going to get a good performance. However, this rigid approach from Dylan may also deny the possibility of a show that comes off as inspired genius, as Dylan has managed so many times before. It must also be said that the crowd in Blackpool may have disagreed with me somewhat, as although I have mixed feelings about the show and in the end thought it was good, they were loving every minute of it. A few of them even seemed as though they might try and make a charge for the stage during the encore’s brilliant “All Along the Watchtower” (possibly the only song to avoid an update in style) which I for one, would have been fascinated to have seen the old maverick’s reaction to.