“It’s Alright, Ma, I’m Only Sighing” – Bob Dylan at London Palladium, 23rd of October, 2022

“What is a poet? An unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so formed that when the sigh and cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music…. And people flock around the poet and say: ‘Sing again soon’ – that is, ‘May new sufferings torment your soul but your lips be fashioned as before, for the cry would only frighten us, but the music, that is blissful.” Those are Søren Kierkegaard’s words about the poet in his golden masterpiece “Either/Or”. When it comes to the poet known as Bob Dylan, it might be well known that I always thought about him as a Singer that writes, more than a Poet that sings. The song comes first, the sound of it more important than the words alone, and the sigh and the cry are not left out, but comes out in the singer’s struggle to always put the song across, more than to put himself across. The lack of compromise as a performer, the establishing of a vocal aesthetics of whatever raw feelings were needed, of barks & yells, sighs & cries, recitation & whispering, sand & glue, silk & honey, talking & rapping, hammer & whip, soft crooning & brutal percussive delivery as well as a little tenderness when needed, made the voice and the vocal a tool as diverse as a unique Swiss Army Knife of soul singing, his own blend of folk expressionism in motion. Always his most underrated skill, of course – his vocals – or “his voice is God’s greatest gift to him”, as Jann Wenner put it in 1979. Did or does he always succeed? Of course not, but maybe in the next take or the next night, maybe already in the next verse, in the next stroke of paint, whether the impasto, the smudging or the scumbling, whatever it takes to put the song across, to put the drama of the song across, to make the song transcend “the information in it, the character and the plot.” “Some words had truthful vengeance/That could pin us to the floor/Brought a few more people on/And put the fear in a whole lot more,” sang Bowie truthfully about Dylan one time. Dylan himself laid it out in his Musicares Person of the Year speech 2015, citing Sam Cooke: “…voices ought not to be measured by how pretty they are. Instead they matter only if they convince you that they are telling the truth. Think about that the next time you are listening to a singer.” I’m thinking of that each time I’m listening to a singer, more than ever when I listen to Dylan. I thought about it tonight, too. That’s why I’m here tonight at the Palladium, actually. Third time around.

From where I sit tonight, fourth row, the sound is a bit muddy from the start, the two first songs back to their role as warm-up and not much more tonight. “I Contain Multitudes” is beautiful, the audience listens and cheers throughout the song, Dylan attacks the bridges with great power – he really snarls to that greedy old wolf, with his left hand on the top of the piano, a place where it is much of the night, the pianist mostly using just the right one. The removal of the black cloth at the back of the piano, that is the side we can see, made a little more open and light impression. There is a crack in everything, that’s where the light comes in.

For me “False Prophet” is the first highlight of tonight, I love the new version, its proud bounce, its rollin’ & tumblin’ “ready-or-not-here-I-come-take-no-prisoners” attitude. I went to this beautiful Winslow Homer exhibition at the National Gallery today, his touching & empathetic paintings related to the Civil War, the race issues and the so-called Recreation period with the abolition of slavery. As an artist both his art and his heart went to the depth of this troublesome period and the following years. It made me think of “False Prophet”.

Winslow Homer – “Gulf Stream”

When I walked to the rooms of his paintings, it made me think of the US of today, made me wonder when or if the “Recreation” of the challenged democracy over there will come in my time, and if the lusty old mules with the poisoned brains will be married to a ball & chain, or if the sharks will continue their heartless efforts in the opposite direction. I started thinking of “Tombstone Blues” when I see this bus advertising for a “Jack The Ripper Tour”: “The ghost of Belle Starr, she hands down her wits/To Jezebel the nun, she violently knits/A bald wig for Jack the Ripper, who sits/At the head of the Chamber of Commerce” – Jack in Dylan’s world already head of the Chamber of Commerce in 1965, what will be the next chapter, and who will be the next PM? “False Prophet” makes you think.

“When I Paint My Masterpiece” is moving in a “Hot-Club-De-Dylanesque” direction and I like it – Donnie’s violin an Dylan’s piano in a long intro to really get the swing of it before Dylan starts singing. As we know, even the old songs are new, these days. In “Watching The River Flow” the “I” in the song meets a man “to sad to cry”, in “When I Paint My Masterpiece” both the Coca Cola & the Gondola is retired a few years ago, instead we got this beautiful bridge over grateful water: “Lookin´over the world full of crimson and clover/Sometimes I think that my cup´s runnin´over”. Most of the lyrics in “To Be Alone With You” is completely new (since last year’s “Shadow Kingdom”), “Gotta Serve Somebody” got new lyrics as we found them in “Mondo Scripto” and live in 2018.

Dylan writing and rewriting his lyrics in “Mondo Scripto”, 2018

“Black Rider” is a highlight each night, judged by the audience’s reactions to the song from the start, “My Own Version of You” the same. Both heightens the drama of the night. Dylan releases all of his charm in “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” before another intense version of “Crossing The Rubicon”, complete with all the shifts of tempo and temper through the performance. “To Be Alone With You” in one of its finest versions tonight, beautifully sung in Dylan’s high & tender register from the start.

“Key West” is a moving thing in more than one way, it evolves from show to show. Despite the fact that it is the longest song of the night, it doesn’t feel that way, the audience and we all are listening intensely & needle-drop-quiet to everything that’s going on, both vocally, musically & lyrically. What a song – What a masterful delivery – What great drumming from Charley and his mystical Arabian drums. His arrival in Dylan’s band is a match made in heaven.

Dylan takes several of his little trips out from behind the piano and out on stage, always to the audience’s great delight. It is something Pinocchio-like when he moves, of course with no strings attached, but it is different than three years ago, the cost is higher. That makes it an even more touching and generous gesture from the artist.

There is a collective sigh from the audience when Dylan starts singing “I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You”, it is attacking our softest spots each night, as touching as it gets. Wonderful version tonight, with an especially intense delivery of the “My Heart´s Like A River, A River That Sings” bridge. Wonderful.

“Gotta Serve Somebody” is a highlight and the most rocking song each night, the audience fall in like a cheering choir in the first refrain, and stays with the singer through the song. “Mother of Muses” comes in a heartfelt and warm version, and it is rather touching that the man with so many muses of inspiration through the years, now are addressing the Mother of them all, begging her to “sing for me”, reminding us of the last words in Dylan’s Nobel lecture in 2017, where he ends it citing Homer: “Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story.” Something tells me that she listened, three years later came the album “Rough And Rowdy Ways”.

There are “ancient footprints” to observe in Rome in “When I Paint My Masterpiece”, but in the evenings closer, “Every Grain of Sand”, the “I” of the song can “hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea” – a song of unspeakable beauty and in a very tender version this night, Dylan caressing each word before he one last time walks out on stage to receive the audience’s rewarding applause, or as much letting the audience get the chance to give something back.

The Sad-eyed Prophet of both the Highlands and the Lowlands brings it all together one more time. His eyes are still blue, his bell still rings, and we are the lucky ones to be at London Palladium those nights of the “Rough And Rowdy Ways Tour”.

Johnny Borgan

10 thoughts on ““It’s Alright, Ma, I’m Only Sighing” – Bob Dylan at London Palladium, 23rd of October, 2022

  1. Dylan himself laid it out in his Musicares Person of the Year speech 2015, citing Sam Cooke: “…voices ought not to be measured by how pretty they are. Instead they matter only if they convince you that they are telling the truth. Think about that the next time you are listening to a singer.”…or a speaker!


  2. I liked: “Dylan himself laid it out in his Musicares Person of the Year speech 2015, citing Sam Cooke: “…voices ought not to be measured by how pretty they are. Instead they matter only if they convince you that they are telling the truth. Think about that the next time you are listening to a singer.””…or a speaker! Knut


  3. Thanks for your beautiful words and fine quotations, they also express my feelings of gratitude.
    I went to Copenhagen, Flensborg and France ( all three of them in Paris; the second was one of my greatest Dylan concerts ever )
    All the best Anne Sofie


  4. My whole life they have been talkin’ about ‘new Dylans’….., many of them coming around through the years

    Maybe you are the ‘new Paul Williams’, ;–))))

    I loved Paul’s books, as well as I love your writing….

    Funny little message above (on your picture up on top from London):……’Things aren’t what they were…’

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Martha and I were disappointed not to be able to attend the London shows, but your reviews are the next best thing. Stay well and keep up the excellent work. Jeff


    • I’ve had negative comments from People saying Dylan is past it ,the truth is the really don’t know or indeed understand what our greatest poet songwriter is about, and so it’s unbelievable he is still performing and entertaining us after all these years
      Bless you Bob


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