The first show you see in a year, is always particularly exiting. What will happen tonight, how is his voice, which songs, which arrangements and many other questions will soon be answered. Mixed reviews from the shows in Portugal and Spain, makes you wonder how you yourself will react, this time.
The room for the show, in a beautiful Auditorium Parco Della Musica, seems perfect for the Dylan of today. Still, the sound is really awful on “Things Have Changed”, as my heart sinks I fear this will be the sound we´ll get all through the show. But already from the next song, a traditional version of “Don´t Think Twice, Its Alright”, all is well, and the warmth of the vocal reaches out to an eager and enthusiastic Rome audience, greeting the Nobel Prize Winner for the first time since he got the prize. Dylan has a white and glimmering jacket and white boots, no hat, black trousers with a white stripe.
“Highway 61 Revisited” is really rocking, and a slightly rewritten “Simple Twist of Fate” is beautiful in all its quiet tenderness. Bob still enjoys to be the bandleader in “Duquesne Whistle”, and the first standard of the night, “Melancholy Mood”, is pitch perfect in every note. Earlier comments about that Dylan isn´t able to sing those songs anymore, is not right this night. Great version, Bob dragging the microphone like a corpse over the stage floor.
The new arrangement of “Honest With Me” is a thumping hard blues number, one of many examples of Bob busy being born through fighting to find new secrets from both new and old songs. “Well, my parents they warned me not to waste my years
And I still got their advice oozing out of my ears.” Sure, Bob, you did well.
Then, a beautiful and quiet arrangement of “Trying To Get To Heaven”, he sounds like he means every word: “I’ve been walking that lonesome valley/Trying to get to heaven before they close the door.” It sure has been one helluva ride.
He leaves the piano one more time, and makes “Once Upon A Time” one of the highlights of the evening. A really great and very convincing version of another heartbreaking song about lost love: “Once upon a time/The world was sweeter than we knew/Everything was ours/How happy we were then/But somehow once upon a time/Never comes again.” Perfect. All fears of a dying voice was blown away by this number.
“Pay In Blood” – the sound was a bit weaker on this, Dylan rocks, but this is one of the songs he isn´t able to develop from night to night, unlike so many of the others. Like the next, the strongly piano-based new arrangement of “Tangled Up In Blue”, stripped for the characteristic guitar-intro-riff, instead made into a jazzy talking blues with Bob drawing pictures in black and white with his piano playing. I love it. It might not be the best version, but I love that he never stops working the songs. Most of the audience realizes which song it is when he reach the last line of the first verse: “Tangled Up In Blue.”
A sweet “Soon After Midnight” follows, with all its bewildering contrasts, and then the tough blues of “Early Roman Kings” comes home, Bob leaning to the left and gives it his all. One of the weakest songs on “Tempest” has blossomed into a really great performance the last years. Bob Dylan has become the blues man he always wanted to be.
“Desolation Row” is another highlight of the evening. One of his greatest songs ever, almost always great live. He plays with the phrasing in some of the verses, grinning, also playing with the piano. When it starts the audience tries to get Bob involved in some hand clapping as in Madrid, but not this time. That would be to obvious, he seems to think.
“Love Sick” – his greatest song about heartbreak and lost love, he told us in an interview. It is hard to disagree. A fabulous song, in perfect balance between the poetry and the ticking clock of the music. Tonight Bob, in many of the songs, rests his left arm on the left top of the piano, while commenting with his right hand. Never more perfect than on “Love Sick” tonight.
Then – what I was hoping for – the fabulous new arrangement of “Thunder On The Mountain”, with its perfect funky rocking beat, Bob throwing himself into both the vocal and the piano. You have to think about the fact that its more than sixty years since he did the same on the high school piano in Hibbing. In this moment, he still seems forever young, as he leans in on the most frightening words:
Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitches
I’ll recruit my army from the orphanages
I been to St. Herman’s church and I’ve said my religious vows
I’ve sucked the milk out of a thousand cows
I personally think this version is better than the original version of “Modern Times”, and hope we´ll get it the next nights, too.
For the last time this night, Bob leaves the piano, and gives us a touching rendition of “Autumn Leaves”, before the main set ends with “Long And Wasting Years”, not so dramatic in effect as it used to be with the artist underlining the verses with his hands, but a fine version.
Standing ovations and Dylan is back for the usual two songs. “Blowin´ In The Wind” and “Ballad of a Thin Man”, the last worthy of a Nobel Prize winner. The audience standing through both songs. Dylan does the pose and disappears into the night.
All in all, a really great show. Once again. Dylan is in great voice and good shape. I am once more impressed of the intensity and commitment, and above all his impressive ability to remember the loads of complex lyrics. Still, I have one concern – he is resting his left hand so much this night that it makes me wonder if it really hurts. Let´s hope that it is not the case. Really looking forward to two more shows in Rome. Till then, dodging lions and wasting time.