There‘s an admirable perversity to one of the world‘s great lyricists – perhaps the world‘s greatest – delivering those great lyrics – perhaps the world‘s greatest – in a voice that regularly borders on damn near incomprehensible.
Dylan‘s words slur and soar and crash into each other, more rhythmic onomatopoeia than anything else, in a croaking voice that sounds like he‘s spent the day gargling gravel. It has to be said that against the backing of his crash hot blues band this sounds absolutely fantastic. Grizzled, swampy and, often, quite moving and beautiful.
It also borders on trolling that the man who started a musical revolution, smirking off accusations of being a folk Judas for having the audacity to pick up an electric guitar, spent the evening hammering away at a grand piano.
Dylan did leave it once – doing a snazzy little dance shuffle to center stage to sing Love Sick, heck, he even busted out some unexpected Elvis Presley style, mic stand poses an indication that yes, he was having fun up there – before retreating back to his piano.
His blaring harmonica, as recognisable as his voice, was never far away and when he was really feeling the music, he‘d shrug off his famous silhouette to jump up off his seat and play his piano standing up.
With his band on fire Dylan rocked the arena, even if the crowd stayed resolutely seated, whipping up blazing and raucous rock n‘ roll (Highway 61 Revisited, Summer Days, a reworked Tangled Up in Blue), sneering thunder (Ballad of a Thin Man) and apocalyptic, raw blues (Honest with Me).
But it was on the slower numbers, like Simple Twist of Fate, It Ain‘t Me Babe and Pay in Blood, which comprised roughly half the set that saw the night becoming truly transplendent. The gruff old bluesman singing songs that while never straightforward encompass love and loss and leaving and life and, well, everything really. There was a tangible melancholy in Dylan‘s hoarse, husky delivery that you couldn‘t help but feel and be moved by.
As expected most songs were drastically reworked. Blowin‘ in the Wind, It Ain‘t Me Babe and Don‘t Think Twice, It‘s All Right all received cheers when the crowd eventually recognised them.
“I ain‘t dead yet,” he sung on the blues stomp of Early Roman Kings and last night‘s show more than proved that. Yes, he played hits, some stretching all the way back to 1963‘s The Freewheelin‘ Bob Dylan, but they were reworked, rewritten and repurposed. Revitalised.
Dylan‘s not playing a nostalgia show here, that ain‘t him, babe. Instead he‘s playing something much, much better.
*** Bob Dylan plays Christchurch, Tuesday 28th August, at Horncastle Arena. Tickets from ticketek.co.nz.