It is nearly sixty years since Bob Dylan first visited England in the fall of 1962, to participate in the BBC production, “Madhouse on Castle Street”. Sixty years, sixty banners united over the fields, where the good shepherd grieves. In about thirty of those sixty years, Dylan visited London for one or more shows. London and Dylan is together through life.
The so-called Never-Ending Tour lasted from 1988 to 2019 and resulted in a total of 3064 concerts, making it an average at almost 100 shows a year this period. In 2021 the Rough And Rowdy Ways World Tour started, and Dylan now arrives in London about 90 shows into this new phase. Its a touring activity impossible to compare to any other artist on this level, both when it comes to quantity & diversity. Tonight Dylan brings the performed drama of Rough And Rowdy Ways World Tour to the beautiful old West End Theater, The Palladium, built in 1910, his second stay at this venue, the first three shows in 2017, then advertised not so long after mentioning the theater in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in 2016: “When I started writing songs as a teenager, and even as I started to achieve some renown for my abilities, my aspirations for these songs only went so far. I thought they could be heard in coffee houses or bars, maybe later in places like Carnegie Hall, the London Palladium.” One part of that dream hadn’t been fulfilled by the time of the speech. Tonight Dylan starts his second stay here, and the in-few-minutes sold out venue oozes of excitement the minutes before Dylan and his band enters the stage. What will he do this time?
The earlier hints of Stephen Foster’s “Oh, Susannah”, is tonight an integrated part of the show, a charming instrumental version starts the show, leading directly into one of the most successful versions of “Watching The River Flow” I’ve heard this tour (The second Paris night version still my favorite!), a very vigorous version, Dylan insisting to give the song a treatment that exceeds its role as a warm-up for the band. He is on fire from the get-go! “I Contain Multitudes” becomes the first highlight of the night – the perfect sound kisses our ears and the warm vocals drips like honey. It’s the real prologue of the set, after the flirtation of “I-don’t-have-much-to-say”, starting to say more than ever, a composite image of poetry, the whole night delivered in a way like its a matter of life and death, the triumphant “I opened my heart to the world and the world came in” reminding us that this is the real story. “False Prophet” in the new brilliant disguise makes it a greater song and performance than the original version, there it comes strolling along. Both the song and the performance is, in my opinion, now fully released, with its brave message of “I ain’t no false prophet, I just know what I know and say what I say”, the true poet’s credo. Donnie Herron, the now unmasked ranger, after his face mask from Paris is gone – his eyes are glued to Dylan’s hands, making tonight’s version of “When I Paint My Masterpiece” really special, following every turns and twists of the performance to the utmost perfection. Great job, Donnie!
“Black Rider” is from the first chords greeted by the audience like its an old friend from, the intensity of Dylan’s vocals wins everyone over. “My Own Version of You” continues the bravado of the last show in Paris, and Charley Drayton makes his intense and tasteful work at the drums shine. He is a humble drummer, but paints his own important part of the picture, the whole time focusing on Dylan’s hands at the piano, almost playing a melody line on the drums and percussion, making me wonder if I ever saw a better drummer at work. He really is the perfect choice for this special Dylan concept of shadow and light. It’s a true delight to follow Drayton’s moves when he is playing, as it is to listen to the result.
Then its the time for Prince Charming – a phenomenal “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” unfolds before our very eyes, audience enthralled from the start, but what really makes it special is the latin rhythms and groove of the instrumental part, which completely replaces the well known rockabilly take from earlier shows I’ve seen. Dylan is the driving force, the whole band reacts like one well-oiled machine behind him. Another highlight.
“Crossing The Rubicon” is a personal favorite each night, including this night, a simple melody lifted by Dylan’s vocals, where his pace shifts, timing and phrasing underlines the existential drama of the song. Something is still happening with “Key West”, Dylan endlessly searching for the ultimate way of doing it, working with new figures of both tempo and rhythm through the song – did I hear some latin in this one, too? Great version.
“Gotta Serve Somebody” connects in a special way with the audience these days, no one is provoked by its message, everybody is silently moving in their seats, it rocks and its impossible to not be drawn into the ride. The waltzy “I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You” makes the audience sigh happy every time the title line is repeated, slowly rocking along as the song moves forward, a river that sings, Dylan singing his heart out.
“That Old Black Magic” is perfectly executed musically, but it feels like Dylan is resting his voice a bit on this one tonight. “Goodbye, Jimmy Reed” is swinging great at the end of the show, Dylan at the end quickly into humorously introducing the band, even asking if this is where the audience just rattles their jewelry, a cool hello to John Lennon. The show ends with a beautiful version of one of this artist’s most beautiful songs, “Every Grain of Sand” – a life story released more than forty years ago, in 1981, but still perfectly working as a poetic tableau of a life’s journey, the perfect closer of a set diving into all the important questions of life and death. The things that words can’t tell, he blows into the bluest of harmonica solos at the end. Everyone understands.
It was another great night of the tour, a great start of the four-show-stay at the London Palladium. Looking forward to the next shows.