Lifestyle & Culture

Please think twice, it’s not alright: Why Bob Dylan just wasn’t that great

After seeing Bob Dylan perform this week, Shea Evans shares his mixed feelings.

On Wednesday night I got to experience an immortal of music history at Newcastle Entertainment Centre, Bob Dylan in concert on his Never Ending Tour. Dylan has been part of my life’s soundtrack since birth, I am familiar with his discography and consider myself a huge fan of his work and style, but the experience proved that sometimes it’s best not to get too close to your heroes.

Bob Dylan is old, frail, and shy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, the man is in his late seventies after all, but sitting behind a piano for two hours and not acknowledging the audience at all seems a tad unfair. We were there to see him, and apart from a little half bow at the end he ignored us completely. It’s classic Dylan, and to be expected these days, but still.

Renowned for its nasality and gravel tones, Dylan’s voice has always walked a fine line between quirkily inspiring and just plain bad. The Bob Dylan of 2018 has set himself firmly in the latter category. His croakiness has exaggerated itself to the point of being indecipherable, frequently during the performance I couldn’t tell if he was singing or groaning. This, combined with the fact that he changes the way songs are sung, means you don’t realise what he’s singing anyway until the chorus. All of a sudden you hear the words ‘tangled up in blue’ slurred out and you go ‘ohhhh, he’s been singing that?’.

It’s also understandable that an artist would want to showcase their new material and distance themselves from the old. I get that, it’s important to grow, and he’s probably physically incapable of singing Hurricane anyway, but c’mon. Throw us a bone, you know why we’re here, give us something from Desire or The Times They Are a-Changin’. What we got was two hours of mostly obscurity. There were a few classics thrown in, but with each song seeming to bleed into the next they were difficult to identify. It almost seemed like he was singing the same song over and over again, despite the best efforts of the band.

Another point of contention on my part is that Dylan was scheduled to play from 8pm to about 10pm. It was with great surprise, then, that the lights went out at 9:40 and the audience watched Dylan and the band walk off stage. We cried and stomped for an encore, which eventually did come, but Dylan still managed to knock it off at 9:55 and I was left wondering if an encore really counts when you come back on just to see out the scheduled time. The answer is no, by the way.

There were positives to Dylan’s performance, and they were for the most part found in the reed plates of his harmonica. As much as Bob Dylan sounds like a parody of himself today, when he hits that harp you know exactly who’s behind it. The sounds that emanated from his mouth organ came barreling straight from the 60s, and there were moments when the old Bob Dylan would emerge as if through time to stand up behind the piano and double down on both keys and harmonica. Thunderous applause followed the first note he blew, proving that Bob Dylan is as good as ever when it comes to the harmonica.

His backing band as well were consummate professionals who jumped from jazz to blues with ease, providing a beautiful counterargument to Dylan’s voice and rigidity. Clearly they were masters of his catalogue, and did a fantastic job in supporting the legend.

The sound and lighting team, as always, were the unsung heroes of the night. Some of the backdrops and washes used to illuminate the band were breathtaking, a subtle part of the performance that added a great deal of much needed flavour. The volume as well was just right, mixed to perfection so that Dylan’s failing voice wasn’t drowned out by the music. As a production, it was amazing. As a Bob Dylan fan, it was less than stellar.

I went in with the knowledge that it wasn’t going to be the greatest thing of all time, and in the end it was $200 for what felt like a recording. We could have watched it on TV at home, and I left convinced that Bob Dylan is a robot controlled by the rest of the band. It was worth it to be able to say that I’ve seen Bob Dylan live, though. The man will be a legend on the level of Mozart forever, but his performance on Wednesday night lacked the passion and energy that made his music worth listening to in the first place. I did buy a shirt, but if you really want to catch the freefallin’ Bob Dylan, think twice. It’s…alright.

Feature image: Rowland Schermam via Wikimedia Commons, no changes made.

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