I have a feeling I was about as excited to go and see Bob Dylan as he was to be up on stage playing for me. That is to say, not a whole lot. I pretty much knew the songs he was going to play as he doesn’t change his set list much night to night. I knew some of the older songs wouldn’t really sound like they used to. And I knew he wasn’t one for crowd interaction or participation.
Add to this one of my least favourite Amsterdam venues and you can see where I was coming from.
But as my mate said on the night - “It’s still Bob Fucking Dylan”
The man is arguably one of the greatest song writers of the past 50 years and certainly in the top 5 lyricists of all time. He is also a cultural icon; his image alone can provoke feelings and emotions of a whole era or passage in time. And I think I had underestimated this aspect going into the show and was caught by surprise at how overwhelmed I was when he first came out on stage.
We see plenty of bands, some more famous than others and I never really think twice about that fact that these people are so close to me. But for some reason I was really taken aback by the sight of Bob, with his mop of curly greying hair, his always stylish clothes and coat and of course the sound of his one of a kind voice.
Sure enough the script went to plan – he (somewhat ironically) opened with Things Have Changed, the same song he has opened all 65 shows with this year. And then went onto to play another 8 songs in the opening stanza, pretty much the exact same songs he had played for at least the 5 previous shows. This was a bit of slow start, but having studied the form guide I knew Tangled Up in Blue would come towards the end of this stanza and I was really excited to hear this.
Sadly this was perhaps the most disappointing song of the night. It bared almost no resemblance to the original version and was played with all the enthusiasm of a piece of wet lettuce.
Things did pick up in the second half, with High Water (For Charlie Patton) probably being the highlight of the night. After a quick second break Bob and the band returned for a 2 song encore – All Along the Watchtower and Blowin’ in the Wind. The first of which was a solid and enjoyable version, the second being almost as bad the Tangled up in Blue had been.
Bob Dylan and Bruce Spingsteen 1975 (photo by Ken Regan)
Under almost any other circumstances, you would find it hard to describe this show as anything but disappointing. But that was the funny thing – after the show had ended, almost everyone we spoke to was pretty happy with and had enjoyed the night. There was just an acceptance that ‘Bob was Bob’ and that’s what you get. One guy at the bar went as far as to say how impressed he was at Bob’s engagement with the crowd tonight. When we asked him if he was at the same show as us, he explained that Bob had said he was coming back before the first break, and normally he doesn’t say anything at all.
I am not sure if anyone can explain Bob Dylan and I am certainly not going to try. What I can say is that I am pretty sure nothing happened tonight that was not part of a plan. He intentionally only spoke 10 words to the audience, there were no cameras, no videos and very dark lighting, making it almost impossible to really see him (hence our lack of photos). At not one stage during the night did he smile, nor did any of his band and there was no interaction between any of them.
I don't claim to understand the plan and my only observation was that he and the band didn’t really look like they were enjoying themselves, and if you can’t have a good time when your 72, what’s the point? Or maybe that is the point and I just missed it?
There is no doubt that the Bob Dylan myth is almost as big, if not bigger than Bob Dylan himself. At the end of the day I expect most of us who went out to the show already knew what to expected but wanted to experience it for ourselves and have our own little story than in itself becomes part of the legend and adds to the myth.
And that is exactly what we got.