REVIEW JAY HANNA
Bob Dylan has always been a rule breaker and risk taker. And at the ripe old age of 77, rock’n’roll’s poet laureate is not about to change.
And so, at the opening concert of his latest Australian tour, Dylan treated the 6000-strong crowd at Perth Arena to a carefully curated set of songs delivered his way.
There’s no denying the iconic singer-songwriter could fill the Arena to capacity on the promise of a hit-laden set delivered with gusto and interspersed with stories from his colourful life. But it’s not Dylan’s style and never has been.
Instead he unleashed a fast-paced almost two-hour long set bookended by the Oscar-winning Things Have Changed and the 1961 classic Ballad of a Thin Man.
Ably supported by his cracking five-piece band — comprising musical director and bassist Tony Garnier, lead guitarist Charlie Sexton, rhythm guitarist Stu Kimball, multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron and drummer George Recli — Dylan delivered a total of 20 re-imagined gems.
“Not a word was spoken — not so much as hello or goodnight — and Dylan didn’t stray from behind the piano”
For the most part he played it like he and the band were simply jamming. The only concession to the fact there was an audience present was the matching shimmery silver jackets worn by everyone on stage.
Not a word was spoken — not so much as hello or goodnight — and Dylan didn’t stray from behind the piano. As on previous tours there were no screens offering close-up shots of the great man even as he unleashed his signature harmonica solos. And as much as the fans might have hoped he would, he didn’t touch a guitar.
Of course, it’s nothing new, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner has been thwarting convention for most of his career. Thanks to his two most recent Perth shows — at 2011’s West Coast Blues N Roots Festival and across a three-night run at Riverside Theatre in 2014 — most fans knew what to expect.
The set-list spanned his almost six decade-long career from 1964’s It Ain’t Me Babe to the rollicking Duquesne Whistle from 2012’s Tempest. Even the most recent songs including Tempest’s Pay in Blood were not spared a reworking by the master of reinvention.
Simple Twist of Fate from 1975’s Blood on the Tracks was a highlight with its poetic pace and soaring harmonica while Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right received a rousing reception and was the most immediately recognisable song of the night.
Some songs from his peerless back catalogue, including beloved classics like Tangled Up In Blue and Blowin’ in the Wind, were virtually unrecognisable thanks to the unconventional rearrangements. There was even occasional bursts of surprised applause partway through some songs when a familiar line emerged from the musical obscurity. The reworkings left no opportunity for the crowd to sing along with that familiar raspy voice.
And really who would want to? We were there to listen to one of the greats playing his songs, his way. And let’s face it, there’s probably nothing Bob Dylan dislikes more than a rousing singalong.