Bob Dylan – London Palladium – 19th October, 2022
Things aren’t as they were.
As myself and others loiter around near the very public stage door of The London Palladium, hoping to get a quick glimpse of the enigmatic troubadour entering the iconic venue, there is a great sense of expectation building for what should be a memorable show; which is part of Bob Dylan’s first European tour since 2018 and his first night in the UK. As other band members, including ‘Musical Director’ Tony Garnier come and go freely, there is a distinct absence of Bob Dylan, who we are later told is already in the venue; whether this is true or not remains a mystery to me.
At the front of the venue there are multiple large queues taking up the entirety of Argyll Street, culminating at the entry of the London Palladium in which the words ‘Things aren’t as they were’ are adorned on large neon signs, and ticket-holders are met with venue staff locking phones away in Yondr cases which will ensure a ‘phone free experience’.
I arrive – like many others subjected to the long queues – with only moments to spare before the show starts. Before summarising the show, it’s perhaps worth providing some context that this is my third time seeing Dylan: firstly I saw him at Manchester Arena in 2005, which was a show that contained a broad variety of songs from his immense back catalogue. My second time of seeing Dylan was in Blackpool in 2013 and was a learning experience for me, in that the set-list was a lot more focused on his as-was latest album, Tempest, which at the time – much to my ignorance – I wasn’t overly familiar with, and I left the concert a little disappointed that there weren’t a few more fan favourites played. It was only years later when I came to fully appreciate Tempest, and realise how good of a show I had witnessed in Blackpool, and that Bob Dylan plays what he wants to play, and we should trust his judgement.
Although still a number of empty seats, the lights went down and the audience was able to see the silhouetted band members take to the stage before the lights came on – revealing a minimalist orange curtain as a backdrop and a white-lit floor – and the band went straight into 1971’s Watching The River Flow, followed by Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine), from legendary 1966 album Blonde On Blonde.
At this point, as the remaining crowd members took to their seats in in-between songs, you may – like me in 2013 – be forgiven for expecting, or indeed hoping for, a varied setlist befitting of one of the greatest, and long-standing, songwriters of all time, but instead Bob knows his strengths and refuses to go down the nostalgia act route (in contrast to the few peers he has), focusing most of his set on his outstanding 2020 album, Rough And Rowdy Ways, in which every song – with the exception of seventeen-minute epic Murder Most Foul – gets an outing, strictly following the setlist he has played throughout Europe.
Unlike in his heyday – depending on when you may consider that to be – it seems like Dylan no longer has the urge to tear up his setlist as he walks out to perform. As he says, things aren’t what they were.
Highlights from RoughAand Rowdy Ways are many: early album releases I Contain Multitudes and False Prophet get an early outing at the show, the macabre My Own Version Of You and Black Rider are nestled nicely between classics When I Paint my Masterpiece and a reworked I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, and Goodbye Jimmy Reed is the penultimate song of the night. In picking from his back catalogue, Dylan is careful to choose well but avoids his all-time classics like Blowin’ In The Wind, All Along The Watchtower, Like A Rolling Stone, etc: I could drag this out, much like Dylan himself does with some of his songs, but you probably get the picture.
The show ends with a beautiful Every Grain Of Sand, from 1981’s Shot Of Love and gets the loudest cheer of the night when Dylan finally plays his harmonica, which has been otherwise absent. After the song concludes, Dylan shuffles out from behind his piano, for only the third time, to briefly accept his applause before leaving the stage and immediately jumping into a waiting taxi outside of the venue before the fans get chance to greet him.
If you were expecting all of the classics or Dylan of old – like those who protested his switch to electric back in the mid-60s or perhaps myself in Blackpool – then you may have left disappointed. If, like me, you now appreciate Bob Dylan for the artist that he currently is then you were treated to a celebration of one of the world’s greatest and most successful artists, a night of brilliant music and soulful singing, and emotion; who couldn’t be moved to see such an icon still performing so well – and being so relevant – at this stage of his life and career, despite some increasing frailty. The last of the best, you can bury the rest.
As Dylan continues to tour, and maybe not please all audience members, perhaps some things are still as they were.
Categories: Live Reviews