When entering the company of Bob Dylan – way back when, the hip young gunslinger, now the reluctant Nobel Laureate – it is entirely fitting that the old gig conventions be observed: Dylan will take the stage at eight o’clock on the dot, at which point the terms of the gentleman’s contract come into effect – there will be no cameras, no phones, no rushing the stage to touch the hem of Mr Dylan’s garment. Instead, the audience shall just sit and listen to the music. A crazy idea but it might just work.
Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow ****
Which is not to imply that there is anything austere about a Dylan concert at this juncture of the Never Ending Tour. His current set-up, with Bob and band looking super sharp in their Mariachi-inspired threads, bathed in the golden glow of super troupers and amber lanterns, conveys a living room intimacy, while the warm and welcoming sound of Western swing guitar, plangent double bass and Tex Mex textures would make this an inviting experience even for the casual listener in the room (I can’t be the only one, surely? Maybe).
There was much to please the ears across the evocative soundtrack spun by his quietly dexterous band, from the deserted dusty road suggested by the scene-setting acoustic guitar on Things Have Changed to the hepcat swing of Duquesne Whistle.
Dylan, now divested of guitar, was as gruff and nasal as ever, yet more articulate and affecting in his delivery, whether plonking away on piano or out front wielding a microphone stand as if on the verge of some Freddie Mercury-style lunge. You might even say he was enjoying himself.
There was due acknowledgement of his recent albums of standards, including a tightly marshalled rockabilly version of That Old Black Magic and This Nearly Was Mine with gorgeous pedal steel accompaniment and Dylan sounding like a less devilish Tom Waits. His grizzly rendition of Stormy Weather contrasted with the soft caress of the backing, but the gravelly gravitas of Autumn Leaves was the one to lean into.
Crooner Bob was all well and good, but nothing to the frisson of excited applause which greeted his own indubitable classics, such as Tangled Up In Blue, Highway 61, revisited as a shuffling rock’n’roller, garnished with the subtlest guitar licks, and Blowin’ In The Wind, smoothed out over piano and embellished with little flourishes of fiddle.