Bob Dylan held residence at Brixton Academy, in London, November 2005. Five really wonderful shows. Each of them started with the instrumental, “Rumble”, and was, with no word spoken, a rumbling tribute to Link Wray, who left time earlier the same month. Wray was a legendary guitarist, and an artist mentioned by Dylan as an inspiration as a very powerful guitar player, a guitarist he looked up to. What more is, Link Wray was born a Shawnee native American, and his instrumental, “Rumble”, was banned in 1958, in New York and Boston, the authorities fearing it would lead to gang violence, as the slang use of the word in the title implied.
So why am I thinking of this tonight? Tonight Bob Dylan stands wide-legged at the stage, rocking through his 2001 song “Cry Awhile” to the tune and arrangement of Link Wray´s “Rumble”. A discomforting sound of something´s that´s about to happen, but you really don´t know what or when. It feels like the warning of something: “The air is getting hotter, there is a rumbling in the skies”, as Dylan sings tonight in “Trying to get to heaven”. The smell of apocalypse was never that far away in Dylan´s works, and tonight he will tell us this from the start to the end of the show, as he did last night. “If the bible is right, the whole world will explode”, as he sings in the prologue, “Things Have Changed”. In the rocking and rumbling version of “Highway 61 Revisited” there is a discussion over a third world war, that very easily can be done, we can feel the breath of Edgar Allan Poe when Dylan tenderly sings “I can hear their hearts a-beatin’/Like pendulums swinging on chains”, we can fell the chilly wind blow when he sings of the gloomy Scarlet Town, where Uncle Tom still works for Uncle Bill, and that the town is under the hill, not over. Dylan is painting the drama out with his hands and the waving of the microphone, totally rhythmically integrated with the band, when he gives his us his sad Scarlet Town-dance. One highlight of the evening. There is thunder on the mountain, and the violence in Pay In Blood can alone make our eyeballs swim, but when we in springtime was pushed back in our seats by this best of Rolling Stones-tunes that Rolling Stones never made, this version is softer than before, a more quiet version, Dylan sings it in a lighter, more ascertainable way this time. Nevertheless, the world is in a sad phase and state, we still learn:
“Another politician pumping out his piss,
Another ragged beggar blowin’ ya a kiss
Life is short and it don’t last long
They`ll hang you in the morning and sing ya a song”
It sure is a rumbling in the skies. Or in disguise, as it may sound sometimes. It´s like Dylan quietly is asking his audience: Can´t you hear it?
Dylan is completely in charge, it´s like he is driving the baby grand piano as a chariot with wheels on fire through the night, eagerly moving the microphone out of his face when the last words are sung, rising up, making dramatic hammering in the ending of the songs, before he satisfied disappears in the dark, preparing for the next. His hands are busy and his feet are swift, sometimes walking over to the band members, giving directions, making sure this evening is a little bit different from last night, even with the same songs. The harmonica solos this night is really fabulous, especially on “Don´t Think Twice, It´s All Right”, the spotlight just on the singer, the band are in the shadows, all focus is on the one we came to watch, and he likes it, and he owns it in another phenomenal version, containing all what is great about Bob Dylan, the performing artist – the timing, the phrasing, the great singer. And he knows it. Nobody else can sing this tune like this. The audience greets him with love after lines, after solos, after songs and in the end of the show. He is a link, too, to all the great performers of the past.
When it comes to the apocalyptic theme, I always thought of “All Along The Watchtower” as one of the best in the claustrophobic feeling of despair and escape. In this fall 2018 version, the cool reggae version is, besides showing us the great flexibility in the band, strangely of a more joyful kind than ever, is it really a glimpse of hope in there somewhere? Is it really possible, is it really a way out of here? Well, the answer is blowing in the wind and in a beautiful harmonica solo that ends another great evening on Beacon Theatre.