LIVE: Bob Dylan – London Palladium, 24/10/2022  2

LIVE: Bob Dylan – London Palladium, 24/10/2022 

With production costs soaring and ticket sales often travelling in the opposite direction, many musicians are now being forced to pull the plug on their planned tour dates. Animal CollectiveBonobo, and recent Mercury Prize winner Little Simz are just some of the latest names to be added to what has become a growing list of cancellations. 

No such concerns for Bob Dylan, though. The decades-long Never Ending Tour may well have been temporarily stalled by the no little matter of the coronavirus pandemic, but he is now back on the road again and in this country for the first time in just over three years. Tickets may well have started at an eye-watering £90, but quickly sold out such is the man’s continuing appeal. He is now 81 years of age and his net worth is estimated at $500m. 

‘Things Aren’t What They Were’, thus speaks the official poster advertising the current tour. And that much is most certainly true. I first saw Bob Dylan in 1978 at the Blackbushe Festival in the northeast corner of Hampshire. Security was fairly lax. Some of us even scaled the perimeter fence to avoid having to pay the six quid to get in. It was said that more than 200,000 folks had crammed into the airfield on that balmy July day. Dylan played 34 songs and was on stage for more than three hours.

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Tonight Bob Dylan is at the London Palladium, a beautifully decorous Grade II listed theatre in the capital’s West End. It holds 2,286 seats. Security is tight. We already know that Dylan has banned smartphones at his concerts so we duly have to place our devices into specially provided lockable pouches for the duration of the show. Staff then ‘release’ the phone as we exit the building. In between times Dylan plays 17 songs and is on stage for just shy of one hundred and five minutes.

For the record, Dylan plays his most recent album, Rough and Rowdy Ways in its entirety save for the notable omission of ‘Murder Most Foul’, the dark ballad about the assassination of John F. Kennedy which takes up 17 minutes and one whole side of that magnificent record. The rest of his set features songs that were originally released between 1966 (‘Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine’) and 1981 (‘Every Grain of Sand’, the concluding song during which he picks up his harmonica for the one and only time tonight), except for a riotous reading of the old popular standard ‘That Old Black Magic’ which dates from the early 1940s but did make it onto Dylan’s 2016 album of songs from the Great American Songbook, Fallen Angels.

Two major criticisms that are consistently levelled at Bob Dylan, and ones which gather a growing momentum year upon year, are that his voice is completely shot and in concert he routinely takes a diffident, some would say ruinous approach to the arrangements of many, if not all of his older songs.

In regards to the former, well let’s be honest Bob Dylan would never be spoken about in the same breath as such naturally gifted singers as Frank SinatraBing CrosbyNat ‘King’ Cole, and Sammy Davis Jr., all of whom have previously graced this particular stage. But tonight, his enunciation is as clear as I have heard it in years; his phrasing is sublime, often laying up well behind the beat; and whilst his delivery has now haemorrhaged into a kind of sprechgesang – a vocal technique that lies between singing and speaking – it is especially effective, most notably on his newer material which, if anything, is more allusive, apocalyptic, and affords his voice far greater space in which to breathe.

Turning to the radical reworking of his earlier songs, ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’, for example, assumes a vague calypso air that relocates the original into a different time and place, whilst ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ is mercifully resurrected from Dylan’s controversial born-again phase in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, reappearing now as a thundering rocker. Yet rather than being viewed as some sort of wilful, disrespectful destruction on his part of his own back catalogue, these reshaped songs should be seen as further evidence of Bob Dylan refusing to stand still and stagnate on some safe greatest hits carousel and a desire by him to continue to move forward and evolve and go on his own, splendidly unique way.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.