Bob Dylan enters one of UNESCO´s Cities of Literature tonight, and the shadows from Nottingham Castle is mixed not only with the shadows of Robin Hood and Prince John, but closer to our time, among others, the wonderful D.H. Lawrence. The stories of Robin Hood was told as early as in the fourteenth century, while D H Lawrence walked the streets a hundred years ago, writing hundreds of poems and, for the time, shocking novels of unmatched beauty in describing the human mind from both feminine and masculine perspectives:
If I could have put you in my heart,
If but I could have wrapped you in myself,
How glad I should have been!
And now the chart
Of memory unrolls again to me
The course of our journey here, before we had to part.
Bob Dylan himself made one of his most known songs, «Masters of War», sadly a song as relevant today as it was fifty years ago, to the tune of «Nottamun Town», a british folk ballad maybe as old as from the medieval period – «Nottamun» probably another name for Nottingham. There is even suggested that William Shakespeare himself might have appeared as a player on a stage in Nottingham – he especially liked to play The Ghost in Hamlet. Maybe. Lord Byron, too, has a connection to this part of England, even though it wasn´t here he spent most of his life. This are some of the many lines that Bob Dylan is extending, when he tonight stops in Nottingham, playing for almost ten thousand, from eighteen to eighty it seems, happy people in all sizes, families in two or three generations, lonely people, lonesome people, all kinds of people that come to see Dylan for the first time or for the zillionth time. People that don´t know anything about this years show and people that know it by heart. Everybody with different expectations. Bob Dylan was never just a spokesman for a generation. As all the greatest artists he is a noble spokesman for mankind itself.
When I got to the stage before the show, the first thing I see is that it is now five microphones that stands with folded arms, not four. What is this? In 2013 it started with the one microphone that Dylan actually used, then it was two more, classic 1950-looking microphones, never used for singing. Last fall Dylan introduced the fourth microphone, the one he uses for his crooning – but tonight there is five microphones, the last nearby Dylans guitar, which haven´t been used so far. Could it be tonight? Or is it just that he´s building a cage where he can act the lion behind the bars? We´ll just have to wait and see.
This is my ninth show of this tour, and this is by far the strongest version of «Things Have Changed» – every line is perfectly formed and phrased, and it shows once again what a perfect opener this really is: «Standing on the gallows with my head in the noose («news)/Any minute now I´m expecting all hell to break loose.» In a world where a narcissist president of the United States now stands naked all the time, and makes even Prince John from the story of Robin Hood look like quite a humanitarian, the dystopian prophecies of the song seems apparently fit for the occation where the opposite of Robin Hood´s thesis seems to win more and more – to take from the poor and give to the rich. «If the Bible is right, the world will explode.» Bob is looking sharp in his black and grey suit, white hat with a feather. When we come to the second song, «To Ramona», the sound are perfectly adjusted, and «Highway 61 Revisited» really rocks the house and get enormous response from the audience. If you twist my arm and asks for the low point of the show, it has to be «Spirit On The Water», Bob really has to use all six carburators to lift this one, and that don´t happen tonight. But that´s the exeption, in a show were Bob openly smiles several times, and it is clearly that he knows that this is good. And it is.
What´s most impressing today is that this show is on exact the same high level of performance and energy as the London Palladium shows, in a impersonal and cold venue like this, with an audience almost five times bigger than the beautiful theatre – this does not seem to inhibit Bob´s performance at all, and we got the same long string of highlights that we are used to, – on Blind Willie McTells birthday he plays the blues like a blind man with Early Roman Kings, we get another heartbreaking Love Sick, extremely fittingly followed by a fine «All or nothing at all», another fantastic take of Desolation Row, we got the funny spin of That Old Black Magic, the majestic Long And Wasted Years, a touching «Autumn Leaves» and the ending with the rocking claustrophobia of Ballad of a Thin Man. Another great show in a run of great shows. Extending the lines, both musically and literary and as an eternally performing artist.
After the show I was speaking to several people that never had seen Dylan live before, and other people that haven´t seen him in years – all of them were simply overwhelmed over his strong voice and the really high energy and intensity in the performance, which is impressive in so many ways – after all these years, after all this conserts, in the September of his years and so on. We just have to be grateful to have the opportunity to experience this once again. Thank you, Bob!
By the way – the fifth microphone was just another teaser, or another bar in the cage, and wasn´t used. Neither was the guitar. Maybe next time.
So – did Dylan really include the line about Robin Hood tonight? Not in Nottingham.