- 13 Dec 18
We could have warned them, of course, but many people in this good-humoured capacity crowd had doubtlessly come to the Cat capital of the world to hear His Royal Bobness sleepwalk his way through faithful cover versions of his current chart-friendly Essential collection.
You could almost feel their incomprehension during the opening few songs, as they tried to reconcile their memory of recordings heard a thousand times with a dodgy sound and Bob’s croak spectacularly failing the Benylin commercial voice-over audition.
Those more familiar with Dylan’s modus operandi know that he has latterly treated the recorded versions of his songs as mere rough demos and starting points from which he walks a tightrope of adventurous reinvention from which he sometimes topples off. The Kilkenny version of ‘Desolation Row’, for instance, with its rushed, compressed lines, sometimes took the concept of artistic reinterpretation to wilfully pointless extremes.
But with ‘Ballad Of A Thin Man’ matters moved up a gear and eventually were to go from the sublime to the ridiculously sublime. For if there was a hero here tonight it was Dylan’s harmonica playing, which plumbed depths of emotion rarely coaxed from such a fragile instrument. His soloing on a playfully re-upholstered ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ blew sheets of notes out into the night air a la Coltrane or Miles Davis as it drove exultantly towards its magnificent syncopated climax.
After the early sound bugs had disappeared he had excellent support from a heavily guitar-dominated and faultlessly tight band with Ron Wood and Charlie Sexton and Dylan’s own guitar regularly sending electric guitar fiends into delirium overdrive. Classic chestnuts like ‘Tombstone Blues’ have rarely sounded so much to the point.
The breath-taking reworking of ‘Visions Of Johanna’ miraculously brought the intimacy of a basement to a big ugly field with Dylan’s voice at its most rapturous and the ensemble fired by some fine acoustic-guitar fills. ‘Don’t Think Twice’ became an extraordinarily sprightly country-tinged workout inspiring some members of the audience to phone home on their mobiles so that the folks back east could sample some of the magic as it too drove towards another syncopated ending and a fiery harp solo.
‘Stuck Inside Of Mobile’ came dressed in full Byrds jangling guitar regalia, and the audience’s taking over the chorus of ‘Just Like A Woman’ freed Dylan to explore the melody in counterpoint. The biting lyrical put-down of mindless materialism in ‘Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat’ was particularly apt for these Celtic Tiger times. 30,000 people screaming “How does it feel?’’ for the choruses of ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ was truly spine-tingling, and some uncertain vocal harmonies at the start didn’t stop ‘Knocking On Heaven’s Door’ inspiring some celebratory, if naff, lighters-aloft stuff. Driven along by blistering guitar work ‘Highway 61’ rattled on its merry way too, as did ‘All Along The Watchtower’.
A guy in the audience sported a t-shirt proclaiming “Raise no more spirits than you can conjure down”. The t-shirt, at least, was at the wrong gig, for this was a night to let the spirits loose about the land. The set-list leaned heavily on the first half of Dylan’s career, with nothing from such major works as Blood On The Tracks, Desire, Street Legal or his Christian phase. There was no ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, no ‘Blowing In The Wind’, no ‘Hard Rain’. But there were seventeen songs and about two hours of no-nonsense non-stop unapologetic rock, and all played and sung with a passion and power that eschewed all need for light shows, effects or even the video screen which had been in service for all the other acts.
Throughout the two hours on stage Dylan hardly said a word other than to introduce his band. But in saying nothing he said it all, something that more sycophantic performers might learn from. Then he picked up his money, packed up his tent and helicoptered his way back home. Truly something very special had been delivered.