Things have changed for Bob Dylan. This current branch of the Never Ending Tour – endlessly moving since 1988 – is the first since his award of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. He and his five man band are definitely enjoying it in Dublin tonight.
Having attended Dylan gigs twice during the past fifteen years, this is an entirely different story: his singing seems to have improved immeasurably. The night begins with Irish-styled folk chords segueing into the now timeless ‘Things Have Changed.’ It’s clear from the get-go that the band intends to rock this out. Legs spread, torso hunched over the keys, and wearing that white gaucho hat, Dylan is on the case.’Desolation Row’ and ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright’ follow, full band versions with lots of energy.
‘Highway 61 Revisited’ is belted out with “God said to Abraham, kill me a son,” amazingly sounding just like the album take, and voice to match. Unlike in recent years, Dylan now seems to be playing these old classics closer to their original shape. Later a fan tells me that he has just met an old girlfriend he used to date in 1988. Something is happening here.
There are a number of tunes off Tempest – his last album of original work five years ago – as well as a display of those American classics covered on the last three albums, including this year’s Triplicate. These tracks give the sounds of jazz, folk, blues, rock, and roll, from almost every decade of the 20th century. How often can you hear that in one evening? And sometimes, standing with mic stand held angled out at the crowd, the nobel laureate resembles Leonard Cohen, or even Freddie Mercury.
With true brilliance Dylan later sings ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ to upbeat electric chords like John Mellencamp’s 80s belter ‘Jack and Diane’. There’s a big 80s stadium sound off a number of these songs, helped by the tightly tuned drum skins and big-ringing guitar chords.
Later the band jam out some seconds of ‘Fairy Tale of New York’ for those in the Dublin crowd who can quickly make it out, and all in all the famous song and dance man’s concert is lighthearted.
As encore the band play ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ accompanied by double bass and violin, before ending with the majestic ‘Ballad of a Thin Man,’ with its eternal spook “something is happening here, but we don’t know what it is”.
This is Dylan at his live best since Time Out Of Mind or maybe even Oh Mercy. The world’s first Nobel Prize winning songwriter, the one and only, Robert Zimmerman.