Published on theMusic.com.au, Aug 2018
Bob Dylan plays by his own rules. It’s likely why, after 38 studio albums, countless awards and a recent Nobel Prize, the US music icon only filled Perth Arena to half its capacity.
“Is that Family Guy?” one fan asked, pointing to another’s phone in which a cartoon rendition of the headline act was picking a fight with Popeye. Indeed, “Not much is really sacred.”
Said phone was soon secured into the owner’s pocket with a stern voice over the PA warning that any photography would result in eviction.
As promised on the ticket, the show began at 8:00pm sharp, with the crisp plucking of an acoustic guitar echoing throughout the room before the man of the hour strolled out and assumed his position behind the piano for Things Have Changed.
The band navigated its ebbs and flows like they were jamming, as their fearless leader spat its lyrics through his trademark hoarse voice.
With minimal, dimmed lighting around the stage, the band settled into It Ain’t Me Babe, which was almost unrecognisable; its original folk qualities traded in for a blues-rock edge.
During his 2014 theatre tour, Dylan hid behind two big microphones and the brim of his hat the entire show, but his return saw him under the spotlight, rocking out behind the keys, showcasing an infectious energy in Highway 61 Revisited, before slurring it up in Simple Twist Of Fate.
The song’s relaxed pace, slide guitar and soaring harmonica parts were poetic, eventually bouncing into an upright bass-driven shuffle for Duquesne Whistle. It was almost like someone had removed the stage from a small underground jazz bar and placed it within an arena, as the band continued to jam in a casual manner around an increasingly more energised Dylan.
When I Paint My Masterpiece elicited a solo slow clap from the nosebleed section, piercing the dead silence Dylan refused to fill between songs before the band added a surf rock twang to the night with Honest With Me. It’s a shame that Dylan doesn’t dish up anecdotes from his prolific career, as he’d no doubt have some mindblowing stories.
It takes some getting used to the unconventional way in which Dylan pieces together his setlist and structures his songs live, but once you let go of any expectations, the artist’s intentions become more clear, with each song adding different strokes to a bigger picture.
Carefully emphasised guitar parts and piano lines throughout Make You Feel My Love, Early Roman Kings and Desolation Row added a wealth of emotional depth, while the occasional clear vocal line cut through with more impact; lyrics such as “Life is short and it don’t last long,” during Pay In Blood.
Love Sick was a stompy blues onslaught that opened up into a jam session before another classic reared its head in Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right; a seminal hit that had the crowd cheering loudly for the first time since Dylan came out onstage. It was a welcome addition to the set, but a sad reminder for many the night was coming to an end with only a few classics in the bag.
A wave of chaotic noise washed over the crowd for Thunder On The Mountain, with a flurry of drums smashing head first into a medley of guitars before things pulled back for delicate ballad Soon After Midnight and upbeat tune Gotta Serve Somebody.
Two hours on the stage and Dylan didn’t address the audience once — not even a “hello” or “goodbye” — and the few big singles that did make the cut were reinterpreted in a manner that rendered them nearly unrecognisable; half the audience didn’t identify encore tune Blowin’ In The Wind until its chorus.
Diehard Dylan fans left in awe, while casual listeners were either scratching their heads or disgruntled about the lack of hits and showmanship. Bob Dylan plays for Bob Dylan.