I was just a crazy kid at 22 when I first saw Bob Dylan live, 9th of June 1984 in Gothenburg. I knew for certain that it might be my only chance to see him. I’m reminded of this first epic experience every time I see him in Gothenburg since then – listening to “Mr.Tambourine Man” and Bob speaking Swedish in 1984: “Hur mår ni?” (How are you?), to the fabulous “Tomorrow is a long time” in 1987, “Idiot Wind” in 1992, “Man In The Long Black Coat in” 1998, a transcendent “Boots of Spanish Leather” in 2000, a jaunty “I Want You” in 2001, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” in 2003, “Tell Me That It Isn’t True” in 2005, “Nettie Moore” in 2007 and the beautiful version of “Shelter From The Storm” in 2014. Yes, and the oh, so sad & melancholic version of “Girl From The North Country” in 2019. It’s like a series of dreams and it all went by so fast. It’s life, and life only. My life. The crazy kid is gone, I’m a grandfather now, but I’m still on the road to see Dylan, still hoping for that special golden moments that makes the trip worthwhile, and infuses my life with an energy only true art can offer. Like the last verse of “Tomorrow is a long time” in 1987. “It’s a part of me now, it’s been cherished and saved/It’ll be with me unto the grave/And then unto eternity.”
Dylan played Scandinavium for the first time in 1978, twelve years after his first trip to Sweden, the one with the widely known Klas Burling Interview. “I can’t help it if you’re a year behind,” as Dylan answered one of the questions about earlier years. Burling knew something was happening, but he really didn’t know what it was. Little he knew about interviewing a future Nobel Prize Winner. Of course. Who should have known.
Thirty-eight years has passed since Bob Dylan gave his great performance in Gothenburg in 1984, a perfect overview of his career so far – what’s really special tonight, and the Rough And Rowdy Ways Tour is that he doesn’t play any of the songs from that concert. This is something completely different, or something “doggone different”, as Dylan sings in “When I Paint My Masterpiece” tonight. This is now, and the times they are a-changin’.
Eight o’clock – the sound of Beethoven, the blue lights, the shadows of the band, Dylan in black suit and burgundy shirt, with no guitar at the piano, and the show goes on. The band tonight is tight from the very start & Dylan is satisfied, watching the river flow, the river you enter that’s never the same twice. Like the river of the Rough And Rowdy Ways World Tour. It might be the same songs, but for sure, each show is unique. Even if I almost never have seen so unison adulation of a concert as I observed in Oslo a few nights ago, both from the press, the audience, my friends and family, still, I have to say, Gothenburg was a step up. The commanding voice of Dylan is razor-sharp from the get-go, the sound is perfect after some minor adjustments through the first song. Dylan is standing tall behind the piano the whole show, just once leaves the piano to greet the audience, never when in song, and then at the end, receiving the well-earned applause, before he is gone into the night. In between there has been a show with such intensity and energy that I’m overwhelmed. This was what the tour-leg-opening concert in Oslo hinted at.
The band is now the well-oiled machine that it is at its best, working as a team in an almost touching way, not to shine on their own behalf, but for the greater good of the show. The way Doug Lancio and Bob Britt is sharing the guitar duties is wonderful, quietly communicating in the background – sometimes moving towards together behind the piano man. The Anchor, Tony Garnier & the fabulous multi-instrumentalist Charley Drayton (now only drums and percussion) is a pure delight combo – just listening to those two is a treat. Charley is in a very humble way putting all his experience from working with such different musicians as Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Neil Young & Johnny Cash into the magically moving world of Bob Dylan. Charley, like all the rest, follows Dylan’s every move behind the piano, trying to figure out what his fingers will do next, is it thunder or is it breeze, is it a solo now or will he sing – or maybe some harmonica??? Tonight all this is part of a positive energy, the band proud of their captain, you can see it in their smiles, and in a hip-shaking Tony. Fiddlin’ Donnie Herron, master of everything with strings, is making his beautiful ornaments on each song, always with the fitting instrument. Not longer a newcomer – he played with Bob since 2005, after playing for long with the extremely talented BR5-49. High praise for the band tonight!
Each song is delivered in powerful versions, the first surprise of the night is that “False
Prophet” comes along in a new coat of paint, now more like a walking blues, with a touch of J J Cale, a lighter shade of blue than in Oslo, in this way lifting the song, and the words of the song, to a higher level. Wonderful. After the full version of “When I Paint My Masterpiece”, Dylan shouts: “Thank you, Art Lovers!!” —- and then “Some day……”
“My Own Version of You”, the one where Bob goes all Mary Shelley & Frankenstein, is delivered in a very energetic version, and the pianist midway finds another great hammering solo in his endless search of not doing a song the same way as the night before.
The pretty little song from “John Wesley Harding”, “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”, is turned into a four-chapter-story that no one in the audience doubts are directed at themselves – four chapters musically, that is – the a capella start, the rockabilly treatment, the slowing down, the solo and ending – audience cheering after each turn in the song, after each “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”. One of the highlights of the night – one of the greatest versions of the song I’ve heard so far, in a set where the “old” songs, though in new disguises, mostly plays second fiddle in the set dominated of the artist’s new songs.
“Crossing The Rubicon” is always a highlight for me, with its rolling johnleehookeresque groove, Dylan taking us to about another of the many rivers of this set. The beautiful metaphor “My Heart’s Like A River, A River That Sings” in “I Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You”, the humble prayer “Take Me To The River and Release Your Charms” in “Mother of Muses”, and the threat “I’ll Sell You Down The River” in “I Contain Multitudes”. It’s a strong and powerful image, the river, always with a touch of Heraclitus, the river also the melting pot and the “moving thing”, as Dylan once described his art, always searching for the sea or the delta, then reaching the ocean, the perfect metaphor for time, which is an ocean, but ends at the shore. The river flows through this show, and we’re onboard the fleet for the journey, each song part of the puzzle that makes this set something more than just another Bob Dylan concert, this is the painter and the welder in action, making a new picture each night before our very eyes. Just close your eyes, and you’ll see.
“Key West” must be mentioned again – easily one of the highlights, for me The Highlight of the show, a trancelike serie of dreams, like switching the knob on that old radio, in and out of new waves of mystic music or wisdom, in and out of American history, in and out of the music of Radio Lux or the old stations of Budapest – with “Key West” at center, both as geography and metaphor, the place we’re longing for or heading for, just like the “Highlands” – the place to be, if you’re looking for immortality. Another loooong version with Dylan tasting each word before phrasing it so all souls can hear.
Dylan – in a good mood this night, even plays a little bit of Oh, Susanna (Stephen Foster) before picking up speed with “Gotta Serve Somebody”.
“That Old Black Magic” with Dylan behind the piano, loving the spin that he’s in, the perfect demonstration of one end of the scale of what this band and this singer can do. Charley nails it!
Another humorous presentation of the band, even surprisingly suggesting that Donnie is the man behind the classic countrysong “Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On” .. Ho ho! Bob the Joker! This is before the finale and “Every Grain of Sand”, abruptly interrupted in the third verse – where Dylan sings “like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer”, and then stops the song, pointing to a blue light in the audience, begging the owner of the light to shut it down – “pleeease shut it out” – Dylan getting huge support from the audience, before he delivers a fabulous ending of the song, complete with harmonica and piano, Dylan insisting on playing both of them together. Some might find this lack of blue light discretion funny, I’m not one of them. Dylan is not just our clown. Don’t disturb him when he’s singing his heart out for us all, making all this effort to avoid disturbance for us and himself.
The night in Gothenburg was really one to remember. A beautiful show and powerful proof of the joys of seeing more than one show. It’s not the same concert. It’s not the same river.