Sometimes Bob Dylan is extending the lines of his own songs, like he does with the slightly rewrites of tonight´s “Tangled Up In Blue” and “Long And Wasted Years”, other times he has made rewrites of traditional songs, like he did with the old sea shanty folk song “Leaving of Liverpool” in 1963, making “Farewell”. Liverpool was founded more than 800 years ago and was always connected to the world through the Liverpool docks and the sea. What more is, it has been named the world capital of pop music, artists and bands from Liverpool scoring more number one hits than from any other town in the world. The merseybeat also got Bob Dylan tapping his foot, of course. And tonight he makes the Mersey audience do the same. Swinging Bob. He knows the weight of playing in the hometown of Fab Four.
“The Guilty Undertakers” got their twinkling silver jackets on tonight, and seems like “The Glimmering Quintet”. They find their places, and their efforts this night is sparkling, too. Stu, Tony & George gets the locomotive going steady, Don is soaring lightly above them, and Charlie is the star virtuoso, with great licks and exquisite choices of chords all through the show – good ol´Charlie got both the blues and the swing tonight.
This show is, in my opinion, flawless. Each song is delivered in a great version, some of them are extraordinary, and there is not easy to find a low point tonight – of course it depends on your personal taste – but even the usual suspects holds up this evening in Liverpool. The somewhat chaotic “To Ramona” from Glasgow is replaced with the most playful version of “Don´t Think Twice” I´ve heard this tour – that means Bob is really into his phrasing experiments already in song two. That´s promising. The thunder of “Highway 61 Revisited” is followed by the latino lover lament of “Beyond Here Lies Nothing”, before we got the first crooner moment of the evening with a beautiful “Why Try To Change Me Now”, Bob smiling and nodding and holding his heart when he sings the refrain, as he wants the audience to agree. “Pay In Blood” is youthfully rocking in all its violence, then it´s time for “Melancholy Mood” and the singer is dancing over to the drums, speaking a few words to Stu, who listens like a dog that really don´t understand his master, then Dylan grabs the microphone as a strike of lightning before he tells us about his melancholy mood. The gloomy “Stormy Weather” with Bob singing in the dark and the rain before the band falls in, the version grows stronger each day, and he honors the Ethel Waters original with both strength and pride. The new and darker version of “Tangled Up In Blue” makes you listen more closely, and inspires Dylan´s piano playing in a beautiful way. It´s Robert Johnson´s birthday today, and he would have been proud to see Bob´s “Early Roman Kings”, the blues lives on, and Dylan gets in to the vocally “Early Roman Kings”-groove that work so well, night after night – nodding and smiling to Tony, joyful to make great music in the spur of the moment. “Spirit on the water” is strong tonight, and Bob turns to Don immediately after the song, laughing and smiling, he looks very happy, and for one moment he forgets the next song, sipping to his chosen drink behind the piano, and when the guitars ticking of “Love Sick” starts, it´s like he in a split second realizes that he can´t get in time to the microphone, makes a quick left turn and start singing into a turned off microphone by the piano – everybody is surprised, both the band and most of all the sound engineer, but all is fine from “Walking, with you in my head” – and like magic, Dylan makes a wonderful impromptu piano version of his greatest song about heartbreak, his playing and choice of chords reminds me of the piano on the studio version of “Blind Willie McTell”, and it´s like we in this very moment can see the ghosts of slavery ships sailing from Liverpool in a much darker chapter of the towns life, and a stark contrast to the joyful life in the docks today.
Bob knows this is good and getting better, and in his very special chaplinesque and whimsically way he moves over to once again grab the microphone like a whip, and in perfect timing start singing “All or nothing at all”, swaying along, and he´s almost down on his knees when he shouts the words: “The kiss in your eyes, the touch of your hand MAAAAAKES me WEEEAK”, and makes it clear for all of us that this is his song now. As is, of course, “Desolation Row”, once again in a stunningly beautiful version. He serenades some of the lines, like “now the nurse, a local looser” and “they´re spoonfeeding Casanova, to make him feel more assured” in a way that brings tears in our eyes, like he embodies in song all the empathy those poor souls deserves. In the next moment we are in the middle of the night, with Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, the sweetness of the melody of “Soon After Midnight” in chilling contrast to the corpsedragging through the mud of poor two-timing Slim. Brrr! But up in the saddle again – a new contrast, the fun & the spin of it, the George Recile-driven old black magic, before the finales. “Ballad of a thin man” is amazing tonight, Bob almost scats the words like they´re as much rhythm and sound as they are words and meaning:
You’ve been with the professors
And they’ve all liked your looks
With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks
You’ve been through all of
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books
You’re very well read
It’s well known
He smiles. A perfect ending to a flawless show. The last time I Saw Him Standing There, he played ‘Something’ – tonight he played Something Different. That’s Bob.
Bob Dylan is a painter. The night is the canvas. The songs are the blueprint. When he comes to the stage he lifts his painting brush and palette anew each night, a little more blue in this song, a little more red in this, thick strokes of colors, layer by layer, that makes each night a new and unique experience, for the artist himself, and for the audience. He´s given up any attempt of perfection a long time ago, but that´s the beauty of it. That´s where the art begins.
Bob pays tribute to Robert Johnson in 1999: