CLASS: There were no theatrics or showmanship, but Bob Dylan delivered a night to remember.
WHEN expectations are exceedingly low, it could be argued that anything beyond the bare minimum is a positive.
But thereturn of Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour to the Newcastle Entertainment Centre after 15 years on Wednesday night was much more. It was an actual success.
Sure, the 77-year-old singer-songwriter lacks the panache and showmanship of’60s contemporaries like Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones, who are still actively touring the globe, but frankly he never possessed that.
Read more: Why Bob Dylan is the voice of a generation
Instead,Mr Zimmerman has always relied on the power of the song. This is a manafter all who has rewriten various chapters of the GreatAmerican Songbook, as he straddled across folk, rock, country, gospel, blues and jazz in a career spanning almost 60 years.
Reviews of Dylan’s other Australian shows were fairly positive, so Novocastrianfans had cause to approach the show with cautious optimism.
Many fans have been alienatedover the years by Dylan’s constant reworkingof his material and the increasing vocal limitations of the septuagenarian.
It wasn’t a promising start. Things Have Changed, the Academy Award-winning song from the 2000 film Wonder Boys, was a jumbled mess and Dylancroaked like an old Datsun’s ignition.
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Yet by the final chorus Dylan and band had found their groove. And bythe second songIt Ain’t Me, Babe, Dylan even afforded the crowd a slight wave as he stoodat his piano.
As expected that was the only real crowd interaction. Not a word was spoken. Some might regard that as rudeness, but Dylan has never pandered to conventions of showmanship and stage manners.
Dylan has also always refused to celebrate nostalgia.
The 20-song, 100-minute set traversed his entire catalogue from ’60s classics like Blowin’ In The Wind andDon’t Think Twice, It’s All Right toDuquesne Whistle and Early Roman Kings off his 2012 album Tempest.
Some songs received greater reinventions than others. While many fans find it annoying, it does force the audience to actually listen intently, rather than use the show as a mere karaoke soundtrack.
Tangled Up In Blue was almost unrecognisable as a lounge jazz piece, that ended in a joyous stomp.
Highway 61 Revisited became roadhouse blues that allowed Dylan’s talented guitaristsStu Kimball (rhythm) and Charlie Sexton (lead) to break off the leash.
It seemed to only embolden Dylan as he stood at his piano. For a moment as he sneered, “Oh, Howard just pointed with his gun/And said, “That way, down Highway 61,” you could almost see him again as thatgroundbreaking ’60s icon.
Desolation Row was bloated and boring, but Blowin’ In The Wind soared when given a country transformation complete with violin.
Overall, Dylan’s voice was stronger than the 2014 Australian tour and it lacked the gruffness that has plagued his vocal over the past decade.
Comment: Some things never change for Bob Dylan
Yet the slowerMake You Feel My Love and Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright did expose its limitations. That didn’t stop the latter receiving the largest applause of the night.
Understandably Dylan sounds most comfortable in handling his more recent blues and jazz- inspired material.
Duquesne Whistle carried genuine swing and Thunder On The Mountain off the underrated2006 album,Modern Times, was the highlight of the evening from a band perspective.
Almost as if offering an olive branch to complete the show, Dylan’srendition of Ballad Of A Thin Manstuck close to the original. He then even offered an awkward and frail-lookingbow with his band to end the performance.
Was Dylan flawless? Certainly not. But given his age and career-long refusal to conform to expectations, it was the best Dylan show anyone is going to experience these days.
SetlistThings Have ChangedIt Ain’t Me, BabeHighway 61 RevisitedSimple Twist of FateDuquesne WhistleWhen I Paint My MasterpieceHonest With MeTryin’ to Get to HeavenMake You Feel My LovePay in BloodTangled Up in BlueEarly Roman KingsDesolation RowLove SickDon’t Think Twice, It’s All RightThunder on the MountainSoon After MidnightGotta Serve SomebodyEncore:Blowin’ in the WindBallad of a Thin Man