Spending Halloween in the company of Bob Dylan was a suitably bewitching experience. Performing against a backdrop of elegant drapes and subtly bathed in warm orange lighting, Dylan and his five-piece band conjured an effortlessly intimate mood punctuated by flashes of intensity and electric blues boogie fun. No one cried “Judas!"
Dylan played an upright piano throughout, which, because it was facing the audience, ensured that all we could see was his tousled head and hunched shoulders. That felt like a typically perverse and funny move on his part. In any case, no one attends a Dylan show to see him bust some moves. Even while partially hidden, he exuded presence: a benign Davros.
He was in surprisingly strong voice too. At the age of 81, he’s fully settled into that parched half-spoken croon, and his phrasing remains exquisite. He’s also a crowd-pleaser of sorts. He’ll perform some "hits” for you, but only on his terms. Hence why, as always, tonight’s handful of nods to his distant past were delivered in heavily rearranged form.
The undoubted highlights were a garage-blues revival of Gotta Serve Somebody, which improved upon the original, and a gloriously eccentric version of I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight pitched somewhat improbably between In the Wee Small Hours Sinatra and Johnny Kidd & The Pirates. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did. And how.
Otherwise, the set was devoted to his most recent album Rough and Rowdy Ways. Fortunately for all concerned, it’s his strongest collection of original material in years. People always say that about every new Dylan album, but this time it happens to be true. The ballads in particular are stunningly beautiful.
A magical evening hosted by an alchemist who has lost none of his passion for performance and creation.