Bob Dylan at Capital FM Arena – 11/10/11

How could I possibly introduce this review?

As I sat in the Capital FM Arena, I had difficulty trying to grasp the immensity of the importance of the musician I was about to see. The aged audience all around me made me realize how young I was, and how far back this man really goes, yet the anticipation of seeing the man himself gave them all a glint of rekindled youth. The man who effectively inspired The Beatles, who revolutionized the music industry, and the boy who came from the wilds of America with nothing more than an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, and became the greatest singer songwriter to have ever existed. Despite the excitement however, there was also the dwelling thought that ever since ‘going electric’ in the mid-sixties, Bob Dylan has been gently annoying audiences with his unpredictable on-stage antics. So how tonight was going to go down was anybody’s guess.

Dylan’s support came from Mark Knopfler. The guitarist and frontman of legendary 80s band Dire Straits came on stage with a bunch of salty-looking guys who looked like they’d just been found in the pub down the road. He even commented that the last time he’d played Nottingham was in a pub called The Boat Club. I got a feeling this wasn’t going to go well, but all of a sudden Knopfler started playing his six-string, and it suddenly all made sense. If there was any doubt in the band’s ability, it was gone by the second song. Knopfler had about ten different guitars – almost one for each song. The musicians at his side changed instrument almost every song – we had every type of flute, cello, violin, accordian, bagpipe and banjo on stage, almost being passed around. With every song also, perfect musical mastery. The tunes came through with tuneful clarity, and despite the few usual drunks in the audience, they played on. It was so professional it almost hurt. I haven’t seen anyone completely own the stage and the audience like Knopfler did in a very long time. Occasionally, the western-sounding songs broke for some guitar solo times – not shredding strings or blitzing our ears, but soulful, emotional execution.

If there was any doubt to be had that the audience had not enjoyed it, the fact he did an encore confirmed the best. They weren’t songs from his solo career either – two songs from the classic Dire Straits album ‘Brothers In Arms’ (to the young ones reading this, that would be the first music CD to go to press). He looked happy. The audience looked happy. The stage was set and ready for Mr Dylan’s presence. It would not get any better than this.

After a short wait, the lights went down. A rather bland stage set-up gave it a rather 1960s feel, as if trying to immitate the earlier days when it was more about the music than the spectacle. Bob Dylan came on to a vocalised introduction, stating that he is a man who survived substance abuse. When the lights went up and everyone saw him, he looked it. The slightly mad, squinty-eyed musician entered on with frizzy grey hair, slightly contained under a black hat. His co-musicians looked like something from a Gothic metal band from a lost corner of Finland, but the music was far from. The token Bob Dylan sound was there – guitars, harmonicas and vocals. Sadly, his voice didn’t seem to be holding up too well, but at aged seventy, it’s good he’s still able to perform at all.

By the fifth song, it was becoming apparent that – as most would warn you – this was not going to be a recollection of the greatest hits. Anyone who was going down to hear ‘Blowin In The Wind’ or ‘Times They Are A-Changing’ was going to leave sorely disappointed. What with his voice though, even if he had played them, they would not have sounded like the classic tracks anyway. No ‘Hurricane’s at this show. This made the audience two types of people – those who were sated with that fact, and those who weren’t. Evidently, he was just playing whatever felt right to him. Even the die-hard fans wearing three shirts each on the front row didn’t know the words to any of the songs. Judging by the look on Dylan’s face, sometimes I don’t think he did either. However, his almost demonic smile showed that he was having fun. A lot of fun, or he was in a lot of pain. But everything sounded good, the skill of the band could not be faltered, and even though Dylan seemed to prefer keyboards on this particular run, even that sounded tuneful.

I am guessing that Dylan enjoyed the show, as he decided to end with two hits – ‘All Along The Watchtower’ and ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ were his closing tunes, and his voice distinctly murdered them both. However, I felt lucky that I’d seem him play them – I have a feeling he doesn’t do that on all of his shows. He didn’t bow, he just stared out openly and experessionless as the audience applauded him. Then he left, and there was no encore.

To summarise, I had very low expectations of this night. I knew of Dylan’s controversial approach to concerts, so I went in not expecting anything at all. Knopfler definitely stole the show in terms of content, but alongside a man as legendary as Bob Dylan, it’s hard to say that he was the better musician. It was pretty much a co-headlining act, and they both complemented each other well. Unlike the previous concert I saw at Capital FM Arena, I didn’t feel cheated in the fact that classic songs hadn’t been played. Those songs belong in some dark sleazy club with a crowd of two hundred, somewhere in Texas in 1962. I have respect for people as old as he is, who could have taken early retirement years ago, but are still doing what they’ve always done. It gives me a chance to catch a glimpse into an era long before I was even born, and see just a little of the magic that cultivated music as we know it today.

In his own words, times have a-changed. He may be barking mad, but I consider his concerts a tribute to a time long ago. The music was masterful throughout, and Dylan’s ego wasn’t half as irritating as I thought it would be. It was strictly professional, and you can’t ask for more than that. If you were expecting hits, this is probably well below the five out of ten mark. But I wasn’t, and so it’s only fair to judge accordingly.

9/10

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