Review / Dylan thrills and disappoints

music Bob Dylan At the Royal Theatre, Friday, August 29. Reviewed by Judith Crispin

CANBERRA’S Bob Dylan fans packed out the Royal Theatre on Friday night to hear the voice that shaped a generation.


An audience aged eight to 80 arrived in denim, hippy clothes, suits and Versace. It is hard to think of another performer whose appeal, at 73 years old, remains so broad.

And, truthfully, we didn’t really know what to expect. Dylan’s recent concerts are infamous – tales of him playing with his back to the audience, utterly uninterested in his loyal following. And on Friday night, there was no “Hello, Canberra”, not even a wave until the interval.

His first song, “Things Have Changed”, set the tone for the rest of the concert with the line: “I used to care, but things have changed.” A strange disconnect existed between Dylan and his audience – it may have been the light, or the unfamiliarity of the newer songs, or perhaps it was just that “things have changed”.

In near-darkness, Dylan cut a small figure on the stage in a linen suit and broad-brimmed hat. Sometimes he seemed awkward and alone, moving between baby grand piano and a circle of microphones on centre stage. Dylan doesn’t play guitar anymore because of arthritis in his hands but the crowd went crazy when he picked up his harmonica. And he sang like he meant it – there were diamonds and there was also the rough. Sometimes a younger Dylan sang through his lips. And sometimes we waited an awfully long time for those flashes of brilliance.

The biggest crowd reactions came for the iconic songs from 1975 “A Simple Twist of Fate” and “Tangled up in Blue”. And while most of the concert was devoted to his recent album “Tempest”, Dylan included enough classics to keep faith with his older audience. Recent Dylan albums evoke more of the deep south, folk and blues, the jaunty old-world Americana styles. This music showcased Dylan’s high-quality band, all accomplished rhythm and blues players – Charlie Sexton (lead guitar), Stu Kimball (rhythm), Tony Garnier (Bass), Donnie Herron (multi) and George Recile (drums).

The gritty “Scarlet Town” from 2012 and his mesmerising “Forgetful Heart” from 2009 were both received enthusiastically, as was “Duquesne Whistle”, the single from “Tempest”, but an enduring lack of intimacy caused the audience to sag between numbers. Toward the middle of the show, I watched an enthusiastic fan smile at a woman in next row and say “Cheer up love, it’s still Bob!”

A parting gift, perhaps – the band returned to the stage for an encore of “Blowing in the Wind” and “All Along the Watchtower”. The new arrangements still allowed the old magic to shine through and the crowd roared to their feet. As the show ended with my favourite Dylan song (and perhaps my favourite song of all time), “All Along the Watchtower”, I reflected that the hour is indeed getting late and Dylan, the great Bob Dylan, is not the immortal he once seemed.

Bob Dylan at 73, at his very best, was the truth-bard I have loved since the age of four. He was the 1963 Dylan who sang “When the Ship Comes In” at the March on Washington – the same day that Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech; the faded denim hero of the anti-war counterculture, whose “The Times they are a-Changing” became an anthem to left-leaning baby-boomers and their slightly less left-leaning Gen X children.

At his worst, he sounded like a country music loving emphysema patient – “Cookie Monster goes to Nashville” remarked my friend, sadly. She, like me, has loved Dylan her whole adult life but sometimes you just have to say it like it is.

Friday’s concert was thrilling and disappointing. You have to ask why Dylan is still doing this when the rest of his generation are playing with their grandkids. And you also have to ask, at around $200 a seat, what we were all doing there – conjuring the past or bearing witness to the end of a legend.

Bob Dylan has written some of the greatest songs in history, more than 450 songs and counting. In the early ’70s my father sang me Dylan songs instead of lullabies and “Blood on the Tracks” was the first vinyl record I ever bought. None of us are immortal, not even our heroes. And I think we continue go to Dylan’s concerts as an act of homage, to show our admiration, to demonstrate that we are still here after all these years – even if he doesn’t acknowledge us, even if he sings like he’s swallowed glass and changes our favourite songs into hillbilly shanty music. We began this journey together and we will finish it together too – Dylan and the generations he has shared bread with.











15 Responses to “Review / Dylan thrills and disappoints”

  1. September 2, 2014 at 9:57 am #

    You must of been at a different concert to me, after seeing Bob 6 times over 30 years this was the best performance I have seen, your not going to hear a 21 year old Bob , he’s 73 and still as creative as ever, he doesn’t try to sound like he’s anything other then himself at 73. Bob talks to his audience through his songs, never with small talk , he never has and never will.

  2. Stephen Smith
    September 2, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

    What a shame Judith Crispin believes Dylan has turned his old anthems into hillybilly shanty music. Crispin goes all nostalgic about her former truth-bard. In modern times, she can’t see what is happening here – what keeps Dylan on the road if his performances can no longer attain the glory of the 1963 March on Washington. Whereas, forever young and fires still burning, Crispin and City News will no doubt give us full coverage of last Sunday’s March on Canberra. Or perhaps not. Sadly, Judith’s idea of protest is now to complain about concert ticket prices. Yes, Judith – “Things Have Changed”.

  3. September 5, 2014 at 12:16 am #

    Canberra always hedges its bets.

  4. September 5, 2014 at 10:51 am #

    Reading Judith’s review reminded me of some of Dylan’s earliest interviews where he seemed frustrated by the senseless nature of some of the questions posed to him. Judith as Dale queried you may well have been at the concert but “you aint where its at”
    I like Dale have been a fan for almost 40 years and it has never been matter of knowing Dylan, but rather that he knows me even though he doesn’t know that he does. What I’m trying to say is that I know of no other musician that so completely understands the human condition. I am not sure that there is a feeling I have had or a circumstance I have contemplated that cannot be found resonating in one of his songs. Whether its his earliest songs or his latest they all share that common trait. They are insightful and meaningful and perhaps above all honest.
    Dylan belongs to no generation or any particular music fad be it folk or rock or “hillbilly shanty music” or whatever as much as they may all like to make claim to him. And above all he belongs to no man or woman and that’s the point.

    Whilst you may go to his concerts to pay homage and, I concur that is part of my continued patronage, I know its more than that. I go because he remains relevant and I am thankful that my children have the opportunity to see him in real life.

    But clearly you have outgrown him so perhaps best next time you have the opportunity, you pass on the ticket to someone less fortunate and more appreciative.

    • John Griffiths
      September 5, 2014 at 10:58 am #

      Have you tried listening to any Mountain Goats or Andrew Jackson Jihad Grayson?

      • September 5, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

        Yep John You’re too clever for me. I haven’t got a clue what you are talking about?

        • John Griffiths
          September 5, 2014 at 7:23 pm #

          I was just wondering old school Dylan fans make of the new crop of lyrical folk/anti-folk.

          You can listen for free on iTunes

          • September 16, 2014 at 2:12 am #

            John, I’ve read three of your comments and find them barely intelligible, other than you want him to say hello. By the way, playing music for almost two hours is in itself an acknowledgment that someone is indeed out there.

  5. September 9, 2014 at 5:41 pm #

    Judith waffles on a lot but the take-out for me is that she knows very little about Dylan if she is upset that he didn’t say ‘Hello Canberra’ and thinks there is ‘a disconnect between’ him and his fans. I first saw Dylan in 1965. In the 50 years since, Bob has stayed absolutely true to his art and has been admirably free of the corny sort of stuff that Judith seems to think important. And he’s still producing high-quality NEW stuff…he’s a working artist still working.

  6. September 9, 2014 at 7:11 pm #

    Dale, totally agree, Dylan in 1978 in Brisbane (first concert for the Dylanologists) was for years my best concert ever, until Springsteen this year, but now Dylan may have regained the throne, at 73 the music and sound was superb – saw him again last night at the opera house, even better, at 73 he is still creative, a totally new arrangement of Watch Tower and Blowin in the Wind, yes its not 1963 and never will be again, but hey he’s not about nostalgia!

  7. September 10, 2014 at 1:41 am #

    Well, that is surely one of the silliest Dylan reviews I’ve ever read. Do folks actually get paid for writing this stuff? I first saw Mr. D in Seattle in 1974 with The Band. Get this: he was not even introduced! After a couple of songs by The Band, Bob just kind of strolled onto the stage and started wailing away. At the end, the music stopped, Bob and the boys did a quick bow and off they went! 40 frigging years ago and folks are still dismayed when Bob doesn’t chat it up at concerts. Just as a case of logic and reason, it really is a baffling phenomena on the part of so called “critics”.

    • John Griffiths
      September 10, 2014 at 8:12 am #

      It’s all very well for the tragics to willy wave about how many decades the man has been rude to them.

      But when people are paying a week’s rent to see the show it remains at least noteworthy that they won’t even get the basic courtesy of having their existence acknowledged.

  8. September 10, 2014 at 11:20 am #

    I just bought my (single) ticket for the three consecutive days in Chicago in November. I go alone, so I don’t have to spend energy explaining to the likes of Judith why he doesn’t talk to the audience, changes the songs arrangements, or doesn’t play all of his old hits. I go for the art of it, without expectations. I get a kick out of critics who feel Bob must be something, do something, or act some way. Are you crazy????? He’s Bob Dylan and he’s still ALIVE! Just sit back and take it in, Judith!

  9. September 10, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

    Having just been privileged to attend several Dylan shows in Australia, I might feel sorry for those who go ‘not really knowing what to expect’, finding ‘unfamiliar songs’ and- please!- no ‘Hello Canberra’; but a quick Google search reveals a plethora of info on the current tour. It’s simple, do your homework before you go and you are amply rewarded. We found the performances simply stunning.

  10. September 14, 2014 at 9:01 pm #

    I enjoyed this concert more than any previously – with the possible exception of Brisbane in 78. That was my first and my first experience of already great songs being twisted into a new even better sound. Who could imagine one more cup of coffee as a reggae number? There were two standout aspects of the show in canberra this year: he was serious about his playing and singing and most of the songs from the magnificent tempest were true to the album – very unusual, but speaks to the brilliance of these songs. They don’t need rejigging. The lone exception was Duquesne whistle where the swinging jazzy version we heard at the convention centre was better than the original.

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