Bob Dylan ****, Edinburgh Playhouse CURRENTLY sitting at the top of the UK album charts and with a following more loyal than the Taliban's, you would think that Bob Dylan had plenty to smile about. However, last night's Playhouse audience were treated to a Dylan stonier than an Easter Island head.
Squatting behind a keyboard halfway up the stage and backed by a sober-suited and perfectly tight five-piece band, he growled his way through a selection of his many classics interspersed with a smattering of newer material.
His voice – famously described by David Bowie as like sand and glue – was erring definitely more towards the sandy and with a decidedly flabby vocal mix many of the lyrics were fairly indistinguishable. However, with a crowd made up mainly of Dylanites, the very presence of the man more than made up for any minor technical difficulties.
With a wealth of material to choose from, picking a set list can't be easy and Dylan has always been a mercurial performer, often deciding to only play new tracks and forgoing the classics. Last night, fortunately, he was in more giving mood and most of the songs on show were old familiar friends – even if in his slippery way he had changed many of their arrangements, tempos or, in one case, the entire tune.
Lay Lady Lay's honeyed lyrics and slow pleading took on an altogether rougher wooing quality through Dylan's gravel-like tones but still retained something of its essential sweetness. Tangled Up In Blue, with the backing of a fat bassline and thunderous drums, became a thumping country rock number which had the whole venue shaking and the faithful totally enraptured.
The crowd were less enthusiastic about some of the newer material, particularly anything introspective. The reaction was never impolite but a definite change in atmosphere could be felt whenever Dylan diverted from the classic path.
After a few dips and diversions and several songs where experimentation left them feeling like old friends with a particularly dodgy facelift, Like a Rolling Stone was the perfect comeback. The crowd was lifted on a wave of sheer pleasure and nostalgia as they sang along with the chorus – not actually in time as again the arrangement had been subtly tweaked – and there was even a vague hint of a smile playing on the craggy face of the star himself.
The evening ended on a high with Dylan and the band coming back for two encores. First raising the roof with an outstanding version of All Along The Watchtower with guitar licks tipping a hat to Jimi Hendrix, followed by another offbeat rendition of Just Like A Woman.
Coming back on for the second and last time, the crowd were hungry with anticipation. What they got confused many, aggravated a few and delighted others as it took several minutes to recognise the lyrics if not the tune of Blowin' in the Wind.
The final number summed up the night perfectly: confusing, infuriating, intriguing, fascinating and wonderful or, to put it another way, Bob Dylan.