What is truth? To tell you the truth, that’s not an easy question to answer. So much of life is placed in this twilight zone between us, the truth as you see it and what I believe or experience as truth. You are right from your side, and I am right from mine, we’re both one too many mornings and a thousand miles behind. That’s a humble statement, a platform to build on in dialogue. “We live in two different worlds, dear”, as George Jones sings, and that might be true, even if it’s also true that we live in the same world. “Don’t trust me to show you the truth, when the truth may only be ashes and dust, if you want somebody you can trust, trust yourself”, sings Bob Dylan. He might be right, depending on what kind of truth he is speaking of. After all, London is the capital of England, even without a PM, and London Palladium was built in the early years of the 20th century. That’s the truth.
What is truth when it comes to experience, to look, feel, listen or taste something, when it comes to reviewing something, even the smallest matter, or much worse – reviewing something as complex as a Bob Dylan concert? Tell me the truth about it – how was it, really? When the reviews of yesterday’s show differ from two to five stars, is it even a question about truth – did someone get it right and someone got it wrong? Of course not. We live in the land of the free. Your personal taste and criteria belongs to you. The problem comes when one insists that he or she owns the truth about a show, indicating that the ones that beg to differ needs diagnosis of some kind, whether its hearing difficulties, psychological and/or religious problems or just plain bad taste, or combinations of those.
I just love both Jimmie Rodgers, Charlie Patton, Hank Williams & Blind Willie Johnson, George Jones & Muddy Waters, Charlie Rich & Howlin’ Wolf & many more, and I can see Bob Dylan carrying the torch for them all, in the penthouse apartment in the Tower of Song, just above those mentioned, all of them born on the wrong side of the railroad tracks, I know. These days all of them and more and more might be an acquired taste – as in “not for all”, and I accept that, and that’s just how it is. To each his own. Still, it makes me wonder, and reminds me of how different we are, when some journalists doesn’t reflect on the place Dylan has as the most important keeper of the flame, that some of them don’t seem to register the obvious strong connection between the stage and the audience those nights at the London Palladium – no matter what personal taste the journalist might have. The smiles and the stars in people’s eyes when leaving the wonderful room, what does it really prove? I don’t know, but it is beautiful to see. Sparks are flying in the darkness of this show, and it is many reasons for that. There are art lovers, who knows a true artist when they see one, there is three or four generations present, obvious with different soundtracks to their lives, from the one where tonight’s artist is the center, to those where he has been an inspiration for the younger artists they adore. For some his music is a childhood memory, for other about growing up, and for other it’s this special night to be taking steps into a foreign country of music. My experience with those “Rough And Rowdy Ways” shows is that the audience stands united after those shows, more than anytime I’ve seen with Bob Dylan, the man with this special and unique gift for divisiveness. Tonight is no exception, as far as I am able to interpret what’s going on. How come?
Bob Dylan seems obliged to present precisely this show for the world, it’s important for him, to tell the whole story, exactly like this. In the same time I got a feeling of gratitude from Dylan towards the audience, maybe towards life itself. These two factors, combined with inspired, powerful and heartfelt performances, impeccable timing and phrasing and a versatility in his voice like never before, might be some of the explanation. “Like never before!!!???” some people will say, thinking he of course sang much better in 1966, 1975, 1979 and so on. In some way he did, but he can do other things now, things based on both age and experience, an ability that makes his palette of colors richer in the September of his years, the same way it did for Leonard Cohen in his later years, for my ears his most commanding years as a performer. There are things Dylan can do now, that he couldn’t do forty or fifty years ago. And he does.
Tonight at Palladium Dylan throws out the first “Thank you!” already after “Watching The River Flow” – great version, with some improvised piano before it starts, but I can’t hear “Oh, Susannah” in it. We notices that Bob Britt is not on stage tonight, and that Doug Lancio is trying to do compensate as best as he can from the get-go. Great job, Doug!
“When I Paint My Masterpiece” is working great as a new duet with Donnie at violin, with long solos at the piano, even a little bit of harmonica at the start. Dylan takes the stage with his staring at us like a night owl getting a little to much light, still standing a few seconds to let the audience’s greetings rain over him. He repeats this several times, before he the last time takes a slow backwards moonwalk before he leaves us in the dark.
The songs of darkness, “Black Rider” & “My Own Version of You” comes in strong, brilliant performances, as different they might be when it comes to rhythm and melodic patterns. The audience are caught in the net by “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”, before another great reading of “Crossing The Rubicon” – I don’ think I ever heard a bad version of this one, fitting Dylan’s musicality & temper like a glove. For the second time I think I can hear Dylan sing “The killing frost is on the ground, and the early days are gone”, instead of “…the autumn leaves are gone”. It might be a freudian slip or mis-hearing by me, but it’s a striking image in the song where the artist also includes the line about “…in ten, maybe twenty years, I’m gone…”
“Key West” is a cornerstone in the set each night, and the audience listens quiet and concentrated of these hypnotizing story of a magical dreamscape, of which there are several in this set. Dylan stands by the piano, the left hand on the top, him leaning towards it, and playing with his right hand. The audience is overwhelmed at the end of the song, and they show it.
Donnie is worried about Dylan’s supply of drinks, and waves to get this fixed, but Dylan just starts what might be one of the best versions of “Gotta Serve Somebody”, really reelin’ and rockin’, even gives us a “You Gotta, You Gotta, You Gotta Serve Somebody” in an otisreddingesque style. This is fun! Dylan having a great time, actually he’s almost all smiles tonight, standing tall behind the piano, almost acting proud, after all. Then he gets more to drink in the darkness after this great performance.
The almost prayerlike songs “I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You” and “Mother of Muses” melts the hearts of the audience – you can hear it, you can feel it. Dylan jumps into “Goodbye, Jimmy Reed” and gives it his all, attacking the microphone like a snake under it, in perfect time. When introducing the band he also send his greetings to Jimmy Page, who is in the audience tonight, and to the wife of Joe Strummer, adding “We love Joe Strummer!”, inviting her to stand up, which she gracefully does, before the set closes with the wonderful smooth waltz of “Every Grain of Sand”, ending with harmonica also tonight.
I happily shake hands with Jimmy Page on my way out of the venue, and he says smiling: “What a wonderful night this was!” I agree, and I think that’s not far from the truth. In my humble opinion.
2 thoughts on ““The truth was obscure, Too profound and too pure, To live it you had to explode.” – Bob Dylan at London Palladium, 20th of October 2022”
Great review Johnny , thanks!
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First time read of a Johnny Borgan Blog.
Great writing, great thoughts .
Bob is the man .