There is this story about a meeting between the two great spirits, Beethoven and Goethe, illustrated in the painting of Carl Rohling, “The Incident in Teplitz”. It´s about when they met royalty as they strolled to the streets, and Beethoven told Goethe to keep on walking: “They must make way for us, not the other way around.” For Beethoven the only real aristocrats were the artists. Goethe was older and of another opinion, took of his hat and stepped aside, while Beethoven just went right through the royals and their court, annoyed that he had to wait for Goethe. There´s been doubt about the historical correctness of the story, but it´s no doubt about the completely different views and characters of those two giants. No one can say that one of them is right, and the other wrong, but I would think Bob Dylan is more of a Beethoven-kind-of-guy. He have dined with kings, and he´s been offered wings, but he´s never been too impressed.
I´m thinking of this story tonight, when Bob Dylan enters the stage of Wembley Arena for the last show in England this time, and with which dignity he is presenting himself in his 76th year. It´s also my last show this spring, and it´s been one helluva ride, an incredible string of strong performances, moving on from night to night, developing and getting better along the way, not that eager to make a mistake, but doing it occasionally, just to get it right the next time. I´ve been thinking of this mystic figure which might be at his happiest when he is at the stage with a million faces at his feet, and the paradox that he in the same time is a recluse just wanting to be left alone, and I´m thinking of the beautiful way he have managed to do both.
First time he played Wembley Arena was in 1987, and I starry-eyed watched four great, bewildering and completely different shows from night to night, backed by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. He was just a crazy kid at 46 in a sort of crisis, as he later told us in “Chronicles”, wondering what he should do with the rest of his life, if the touring and performing was worth it anymore. Just two of the songs from this four shows are repeated today. Bob Dylan was never going to be his own cover-band. 1987 was the year before the so-called “Never-ending Tour” started, the year he got a new kind of revelation, getting to know that this actually was his destiny and purpose, to get out and play for the ones who would listen. Since then there has been much more than amazingly 2500 shows all over the world, and he is still counting.
The sound is superb at Wembley Arena, as it with few exceptions has been at all shows this time around. The vocal is crispy clear, and the London audience welcomes Dylan with warm applause from the start. He rocks hard with “Pay In Blood”: “Another politician pumping out his piss / another angry beggar is blowing you a kiss.” If he´s commenting on the state of the union, or the state of the UK is not known. Or both.
We really don´t know if he want to work on Theresa May´s farm, but we do know he love Imelda May. Imelda has already decided her epitaph: “Bob Dylan liked her.” “Stormy Weather” is stunningly beautiful, and “Love Sick” gets the perfect piano version tonight, this time the microphone is turned on from the start, and Dylan´s playing emphazises the dramatic reading of the song in a fresh and new way. A coincidence last night and now a new version of the song is born. Before this he stayed at the piano all through “Tangled Up In Blue”, after playing the piano on just the last verses in earlier shows. It has worked so well that tonight he gives us the complete piano version. The hat goes on and off throughout the show, and tonight he wears his most beautiful blue dress with white embroideries, flowers and swords, like a general of poetry. A joyful version of “That Old Black Magic” makes the audience cheer and shout, and I´ve never seen Stu Campbell smile like this before – you could actually see his teeth, I wasn´t sure he had any. The band loves this song. So does Bob – Poet in motion. He does a lot of smiling tonight.Charlie and Bob are duetting and duelling with guitar and piano all through the show, they obviously challenges and inspires each other. In “Desolation Row” Dylan is making the duet all by himself and his piano, he sings a line, and then the piano comments his singing throughout the song. The highlight also tonight. Similarly strong versions of “Long And Wasted Years” and the originally french chanson “Autumn Leaves” completes the main set.
It´s the most lively crowd so far, and before the extras the audience makes a rush towards the stage, and the guards are not able to stop it. Even if the guards are doing their best, certainly on behalf of Dylan´s people, it is obvious that Bob likes to see all the standing people in front of him, and the whole situation gives us the greatest and most powerful version of “Ballad Of A Thin Man” so far. A short moment with the band, patient, but restlessly, receiving the homage from the audience, and then he´s gone, leaving us grateful and uplifted.
Bob Dylan a few years ago used mirrors on the stage, to make photographing harder. Those mirrors are gone now, but in his songs he’s still holding one up for his audience, mirroring both the changing times and the eternal themes, schemes and dreams of human nature. In the same time he still is the sophisticated nature boy, never resting on his long journey home.
His material from different phases and genres are intelligently woven together with the new old songs from the american songbook, and he finally seem to have won over most of the crooner-sceptical fans with this year´s show, which are just a little bit more of a rock concert than the last tours in Europe, but still in a fine combination with the great ballads. Wembley Arena are cooking and wanting more, and you can´t help thinking that it is most impressive that Dylan is able to keep this pace and energy fifty-five years after his first visit to London.
So, what´s next? You never know, do you? That´s the fun of it, and I´m lovin´the spin of it.
The cool aristocat Bob Dylan in London: