What with motorcycle crashes and a period of fairly heavy drinking (but enough about me, already!) I’ve somehow lost count of the number of times I’ve seen Bob over the past 35 years (it’s somewhere in between that of The Magic Band and Costello who I’ve now seen on 32 different occasions). I was fairly late getting round to see Dylan live, by the time he appeared at Earl’s Court in 1978. Each time since, though, has been in the cavernous Hall 4 of the SECC. Tonight is different though, because it’s in the far more intimate& bijou setting of what’s known locally as The Armadillo. It’s quite wonderful looking, even before anyone’s onstage.Heavy velvet curtains, picture framed mirrors, very sparse and subdued lighting (Bob’s mainly backlit most of the evening, whether this is due to vanity and hiding his wrinkles, I know not. However it crossed my mind. He’s almost as vain as myself!)
I am here, with Rhursach, to see and hear the wee man who I consider to be the greatest songwriter of the 20th Century. This is the second of a three night residency in Glasgow and tonight we are down on the Guest List courtesy of Denny Walley, slide guitar colossus with The Magic Band and Zappa alumni. I know I’m a name dropping bastard, however if you’ve got it, flaunt it! These seats are wonderful. Any closer and we might as well be on Bob’s piano stool!
My friend the Professor suffers from a syndrome whereby, if there is a deranged lunatic anywhere in a bar we visit, he/she will seek out El Prof and, within seconds, impart their gospel of lunacy completely uninvited (“Did you know that I was the very first person in Glasgow to ever drink coffee?” springs to mind as the most recent example). I on the other hand seem to attract strangers who want to demonstrate that they have no sense of rhythm whatsoever. The lights go down and a solo acoustic guitar (Stu Kimball) chimes out in the darkness. The mumsy looking woman on my left must be listening to something else completely different, in her head, as the handclaps and rhythm that she demonstrates at no point coincide or compliment Kimball’s chord work at all. A combination of the band then joining in, as the lights come up, Bob’s onstage arrival and my arched eyebrows pointing in her direction bring her ‘batterie extraordinaire’ to a merciful close
Looking very much like Charlie Chaplin dressed as Zorro, Bob has nowadays ,for sound arthritic reasons, totally eschewed guitar playing . As a result, when he’s centre stage he hangs on to the mike stand with right hand, however, the left hand is a bit of a loose cannon. He hasn’t learned what to do with it yet. The result is that he occasionally looks like (a) a gunslinger who’s forgot to pack his ’45
(b) a clippie counting out the change for your tram fare in his invisible/imaginary satchel or
(c) on the occasions when playing one handed piano, Dale Winton having just had a slight ‘trouser accident’.
Charlie Sexton’s guitar playing throughout the evening is absolutely sublime and he never takes his eyes off of Bob, looking for any clues or cues as to where the song’s going to go next. I’d love to hear him let rip ‘off the leash’, so to speak!
The whole band, actually, are incredible and reconfigure their instrumentation for each tune (Guitars, stand-up and electric bass, fiddle, mandolin, pedal steel, lap steel and even the much loathed banjo were all given a good dusting off). They are all, however fairly anonymous looking chaps and, had they all taken their hats off, and stood next to me, at the interval bar, I would have been none the wiser.
Speaking of which, during the interval while in the toilet, Rhu sees a father with adult son doing lines of coke. When they move into the cubicle next to him, there appears to be some jostling to get in and suddenly there’s the remark ‘You’ve spilled it, I paid good money for that now lick it up!’
Bob meanwhile is Bob and, as such, adored by this strangely reticent crowd.
Much is made these days about his singing. He’s an old man and, in my eyes, going about his business (and with Dylan Hoodies selling for £80 in the foyer, this clearly is a business) with a lot more dignity than say those masters of ‘mutton masquerading as lamb’, The Rolling Stones. The set list leans heavily towards his latest album ’Tempest’ and these songs understandably suit his voice, rather than, say, Mr Tambourine Man which a punter behind me persistently shouts for. The set finishes with Long and Wasted Years and it’s terrific. A shimmering muscular burnished beast. Nothing like the album version. All the Tempest tunes have grown so much, I begin to wonder if he recorded it too early ie before the songs and band had ‘bedded in’.
Tonight’s encore is Watchtower/Blowing in the Wind and right at the start of the first song, Tony’s bass amp seems to give up the ghost. This results in much onstage head scratching by his roadie while the rest of the band power on regardless. It seems to be fixed for the last chord or two before they slide into Blowin In The Wind.
I’ll be back tomorrow night to hear Bob play All along the Watchtower for the 2,180th time (fact).