Bob Dylan in Concert

Dylan Ticket_3
For probably the last time, Bob Dylan is touring Australia, and for the first time, Robin and I went to see the legend perform in his second Melbourne concert at the Rod Laver Arena on April 21. And we were not disappointed!

Not being as organised as I should have been I was unaware of who the support act was. It turned out to be Paul Kelly, one of Australia's greatest singer / songwriters and a perfect choice to warm up the crowd. He was most ably accompanied on backing vocals and guitar by his nephew, Dan Kelly. Moving through some of his recent material with a couple of old hits thrown in, the vocals and musicianship were excellent. An energetic version of 'Dumb Things' had the crowd really jumping.

But the PA sound quality was shrill and high-pitched to the point of nearly being painful. I was getting nervous for the main event. I needn't have worried. From the moment the roadies and guitar techs swooped on to the stage to set up Bob Dylan and His Band's instruments, even the tuning sounds were much more normal and balanced. Phew.

The stage set was very simple. No giant insects, cranes, walkways/runways, massive screens, just a curtain for projecting colour and simple images. Dylan led off with 'Gonna Change My Way of Thinking' and two things immediately struck me. Firstly the backing band (drums, bass, rhythm guitar, lead guitar and lap steel/banjo/mandolin) was stunning. Tightly focused on Bob and the music, they really grooved. The second thing was, and this is no surprise, the venerable Mr Dylan has little or no voice to speak of. Pardon the pun. A bit of spoken word mixed with a slight bark. And guess what? I knew that, most of the audience knew that and nobody cared! And while I am being honest, Bob didn't engage in small talk with the audience. Not once. Again, who cares. Not an insincere 'Hello Melbo-o-o-r-ne' was heard from the stage.

Nice shadow from the Dylan Show stage lighting - 2011

After a couple more songs, I was starting to become restless as the song selection and arrangements sounded more like the house band at a high-end' Chicago rock & blues club than what I was innocently expecting of the light & shade of a Dylan concert. After an interesting version of 'Tangled Up in Blue' things really started to move into high gear. The set list was: 

1 Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking
2 Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power)
3 I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)
4 Things Have Changed
5 Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
6 Tangled Up In Blue
7 The Levee's Gonna Break
8 Not Dark Yet
9 High Water (for Charlie Patton)
10 A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
11 Highway 61 Revisited
12 Simple Twist Of Fate
13 Thunder On The Mountain
14 Ballad Of A Thin Man

Then came the stunning encore of 'Like a Rolling Stone', 'All Along the "Watchtower' and 'Forever Young' which were all simply breathtaking. Sadly, after one hour, fifty minutes it was all over. A collection of reviews of his first night in Melbourne town can be found here.

So if Bob Dylan didn't sing well or speak to the audience, what did he do exactly? Well, for an artist almost 70 years of age, he did a hell of a lot. He was clearly the 'bandleader' with his supporting cast hanging of his every verse, chorus and musical interlude. Apart from singing (!), he played electric guitar, organ and harmonica particularly effectively, riffing, vamping and wailing, demonstrably adding to the overall feel and quality of the performance. Of course they are his songs, probably his old (and new) arrangements but the guy can still PLAY MUSIC and perform on stage.

I said at the start that Paul Kelly is one of Australia's finest singer / songwriters, but by the end of the evening it was clear that we had witnessed one of history's finest artists. It takes a very special talent to write, record and perform for more than fifty years without selling out or becoming a parody of themselves. Seemingly always re-inventing himself and his music, take a bow, Mr Zimmerman.

Bye for now, BomberBoy