Tangled Up In The Big Blue Hotel – Bob Dylan In Blackpool, 22th of November, 2013

Car . Boat. Taxi . Airport Express . Fly. Delayed flight. Luggage . Delayed luggage . Airport Express , but one airport train late. Fight myself into the tube to Euston. Fight myself out of the tube to Euston. Running for life, coughing and with the taste of blood in mouth, hear it resound through the hall that my train ” are going to leave “, accelerating beyond the recommended capasity and then, dehydrated, throw myself into the train to Preston at the last minute and with an ugly scream, push my suitcase into crowded shelves, collapse into the seat, rolling my eyes without either water or coffee in sight. Standing on the train from Preston to Blackpool. Cab. Check-in at the hotel. Two hours until the concert starts . Rock’n roll. Is it worth it ? Of course it is.

While I have had nearly a three week break, Dylan has continued through Europe unabated . During these weeks , he has also , apparently reluctantly, been invited into the French Legion of Honour, France’s highest civilian honor. Then he has also released his 47-cd-box ” The Complete Albums Collection , Volume One “, even without promoting it through the concerts. He has even managed to release a revolutionary new interactive video of “Like A Rolling Stone”, which has attracted international attention – but, nevertheless, he hasn’t played the song in concert after the release.

His focus is the concerts , and only that, currently. First, he got us all to believe that it would be small and no repertoire variations on this tour. Then he gave us an extra slice of the cake three nights in a row in Milan – Desolation Row, Visions of Johanna and A Hard Rain’s A- gonna fall. Then he travels to Rome and switches rather shockingly 16 of 17 songs from the night before, of which 15 are tour debuts. The next day he smashes 10 additional tour debuts in the stage floor and reiterate only one of the songs from Milan. It almost seems like he wants to show the world that it is not that he can’t remember several songs that make him run regular sets, but that he absolutely wants us to hear just these. At this time, the hardcore fans recognized or begun to believe that absolutely anything can happen. Then, of course, Dylan returned to the regular set, without change, again – but he delivers very solid concerts every night and is celebrated almost entirely in the press both in Italy , Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Scotland, where a critic from Glasgow talking about “Second coming of a master “. So what should one then think, or expect, when Dylan comes to Blackpool – with its endless beaches and with funfairs of the Stromboli kind, with joyless smiles and £-signs in their eyes, the greedy casinos and a long string of establishments and accommodations, just as they were taken out of a Dylan Song – Empress Grill , Spanish Suite, Harlequin Café, Camelot and so on. I get myself installed at The Big Blue Hotel, just across the road from the Pleasure Beach. In the midst of sin lit white crosses on the walls with reminders that Jesus loves us, for a moment, before we are tempted by the next pub. It’s ” Desolation Row ” and the cityscapes in ” Masked & Anonymous ” at one time, it is ” Something is burning , baby” , there are beggars in the streets and from the walls there is “another politician pumping out the piss ” , with music playing in the background. Of course Bob Dylan is in Blackpool. And tonight at the Opera House in the Winter Gardens, a nice little theater with a smaller stage than the other concerts I ‘ve seen this fall – a lot of audio equipment is placed further out on the sides or dangling from the ceiling. Since the last one I saw, they also cleared the scene – the keyboard that has been onstage all concerts since the early 2000s , is now gone, and the little baby grand piano stands and shines alone before the concert begins.

Then it starts – again with Stu ‘s guitar, and we can see the shadows of the band members arrive on stage in the dark. Dylan has had resumed the hat-habit, and the broad-brimmed bright hat with black band removed the silhouette of the sixties-hipster sekstitallshipsteren and from the first concerts , and replaced him with the stylish riverboat-gambler, or the dressed-up squire . Tonight he has a white shirt and white scarf around the neck, and he appears to be more relaxed and free than ever before. In the darkness we see that Dylan makes marabou-like stretching exercises before the band gather around “Things Have Changed “. His voice is husky , as it has tended to be on the start day after his day-off, but it will eventually be better. The major highlights before the break is “Pay In Blood ” and ” Love Sick “. On the first of those, Dylan progresses to the stage , as a marshall in “Tombstone City “, with the band as young and terrified deputies in the background . There is no mercy . He has things in his pockets that can get our eyes to swim, and he has dogs that can tear us apart. And maybe he’ll do. Beware! Heavy and dark and tough. On “Love Sick ” he’s so energetic that he barely manages to not start dancing, as he walks through the streets that are dead and showing with his hands what a burden it all is. Nevertheless – a first set which is good, but far from brilliant. The break comes in the usual way, and we all take a break, discussing what has happened so far.
In the second set the highlights are flowing – it ‘s hard to imagine finer versions of “Simple Twist of Fate” and “Forgetful Heart “, which the audience also knows how to appreciate – the applause comes both between verses, during and after the harmonica breaks and deafening the songs end. It is a glorious manifestation of that it’s where Dylan lets the remaining voice come into its own that feedback also is strongest from the audience – it applies whether it is new or old songs – like it does with whistling, roaring and clapping during and after the holy trinity of “Scarlet Town”, “Soon after Midnight” and “Long And Wasted Years” – the latter now so potent and powerful that Dylan does provocatively hip movements a la Michael Jackson to emphasize both seriousness and humor. The audience giggles and chuckles, but Bob don’t smile.

Voicewise, it was not top notch tonight, but as mentioned – many honorable exceptions – it was still fascinating to see how lit and powerful Dylan still stands, towards the end of the tour , and how strong his inner “song-and-dance-man” still wants to win the public over. However, what was very good tonight , and seemingly constantly being improved, is how Dylan treats the piano – it is obvious that the residual set enables him to develop songs also musically from night to night , and this helps to lift many of the songs, even those that have not been the most exciting, this applies to both Early Roman Kings , Spirit on the water and above all, All along the watchtower, all lifted by long jazz solos on the piano, often with sparkling interaction with an increasingly reborn Charlie Sexton .
But will Bob really continue unabated without changes in recent concerts, or will he make one more “Rome” twist? What will happen at the Royal Albert Hall, where he plays for the first time since the historic concert in 1966 ? Who knows?

Johnny Borgan

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