“The only moments I have when I play that are worth anything to me are when I can blissfully ignore the people I am supposed to be entertaining. No me; no silly public to amuse; only the heart and the soul, the world, the birds, storms, dreams, sadness, heavenly serenity. Then I am an artist worthy of the name… Until it happens, or if it doesn´t happen, I am miserable.”
This is not the words of Bob Dylan, but is from a letter from the American pianist William Kapell to a friend. Kapell died in a plane crash in 1953, only 31 years old. When I see Dylan in Rome tonight, I´m reminded of these words, once more trying to understand the rules of the psychodrama that we are exposed to in a Bob Dylan concert these days, or, might I say, the last years. I got a strong feeling that Mr Dylan, if he would, could have told us something not far from Kapells statement. My guess, that is. He is Bob Dylan only when he has to be. He definitely has to be Bob Dylan on stage. He got his Bob Dylan mask on. Integrity. Removed from the audience. Only the heart and the soul of the songs.
Tonight Bob Dylan enters the scene dressed in black with a shiny jacket. Still no hat. Still white boots. “The Guilty Undertakers” is dressed in blue suits and black shirts, as usual, George got a new hat these days, finding their places, watching the general´s every step and movement, both with his arms, his head and his eyes. They´re on their tiptoes, all of them. The whole show. They´re professionals. They´re great.
Bob doesn´t address the audience, but kicks right into the prologue, “Things Have Changed”. Tonight the sound is just perfect from the start and all through the show. “If the Bible is right, the world will explode.” I think about how it feels for an artist that sang his songs of hope at the “March on Washington” in 1963, just before Martin Luther King Jr.´s “I Have A Dream”-speech, when he observes the ways of the fake blonde that´s occupying the White House in 2018? How does it feel to see “The Times They Are A-Changin´” used to support the young surviving students after the Parkland shootings, more than fifty years after the song was written. Can he tell us where we´re heading? Or has he lost all ray of hope?
The songs are the same as last night, but with some changes in which order they come. Dylan seems a little more relaxed, and a little more satisfied, tonight, there are lots of smiles, as during a fantastic powerful “Early Roman Kings”, and during a great version of “Tangled Up In Blue”, a song he doesn´t really sing this year, but delivers like a spirited recitation of a poem over the jazzy waterfalls from his piano, not exactly like he did in 1978, but something like that.
Many of the songs are delivered with even more energy tonight, “Highway 61 Revisited” is a vehicle Bob is driving, leaning heavily to the right, just like he was driving the piano full speed into a sharp right turn crossing the stage. But he´s standing still. “Trying To Get To Heaven” is delivered as good as it gets. The tenderness of “Simple Twist of Fate” makes it even more sad than yesterday. There is nothing like lost love when it comes to make great songs – and great singing. Dylan shows us this more than anyone. “Love Sick” is beautiful, but more intense than yesterday, and when he last night just made small comments on the piano with his right hand, he gives us some of the most thunderous piano solos of the night on this song, after another great version of “Desolation row”. Mr Jinx, Miss Lucy and Miss Mary-Jane dances before our eyes tonight, followed by Ophelia, Casanova and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Dylan is the medium that makes it all happen. Once again. He is there, but removed at the same time. He is Bob Dylan. In “Autumn Leaves” with all the hindsight a seventy-six year old man can experience, while he in “Thunder of the Mountain” cuts loose all three of the twenty-five year olds inside him, it´s rock´n roll with the energy from the late fifties and with the words of a great poet. George shines bright through his locomotive of an drum solo on this version. It´s so very cool.
Tonight Dylan presents “Long And Wasted Years” center stage for the first time this year, with the microphone and the hand movements we´ve learnt to love the last years. Something isn´t quite right, though, it´s like the moving from behind the piano and to the stage makes Bob and the band a little bit out of sync. Still a nice version. The audience rushes to the stage and fills the aisles before the two extras, and Bob seems to like it, letting off some extra steam in a very powerful version of “Ballad of a Thin Man”, before a short pose before exit. He must be exhausted. He is aged – with great dignity, but he is aged. It makes the quality and intensity of the night, and the great singing, even more impressive. We are so lucky that he still wants to share his visions, storms, dreams and sadness with us. Thanks again, Bob.
When Dylan played Newport in 2002, he used a strange wig and a fake beard. When asked why he did this, he just replied: “Is that me you saw up there?” Reminding us that everybody´s wearing a disguise. As him when he is masquerading with his Bob Dylan mask on. When he has to. Like on stage. And when he doesn´t have to, he is just himself. Maybe even writing new songs? Let´s hope so. We still need them, even if we really can´t ask for more.
In “Early Roman Kings” he sings: “One day you will ask for me/There’ll be no one else that you’ll want to see.” I think he´s right.