Almost 1500 people packed into The Tivoli on Wednesday night for a very special evening with Bob Dylan. Some had waited the whole day in line outside to score a good spot, others squeezed themselves in afterwards. Apparently Tim Finn and Robert Forster were inside somewhere too. There was an excitable buzz going around the intimate venue, and a few doubts about how he would sound. The stage was set carefully, with a couple of sculpture busts dotted around, lit with dimmed lights. Then a few figures quietly took the stage, some wearing various hats, one of them was Mr Dylan, and the crowd’s excitement boiled over.
Dylan skipped the greeting, as usual, and the band launched straight into Academy Award winning Things Have Changed, from Wonder Boys. They followed up with an oldie She Belongs to Me from Bringing It All Back Home, and continued with an assortment of songs from his output over the last two decades. Most of the songs have been given slightly new arrangements to fit with the swinging vibe and rockabilly stylings of the band, who play well. Don Herron’s pedal steel sets the mood particularly beautifully for some of the numbers. Charlie Sexton, yes the same one who sang Beat’s So Lonely in ’85, plays some fitting lead lines as the rest of the band tightly roll through the show. Dylan divides his time between being a fixture at the mic stand, strategically obscured by several other old mics standing around, and the baby grand which he does a decent job of jamming on. There is a well received Tangled Up In Blue, again a little different than it was almost 40 years ago, but enjoyable all the same, before Love Sick takes us to an intermission. This break was really the only time Dylan said anything directly to the crowd, something along the lines of a respectful ‘thank you, we’ll be back shortly.’
The second half really warmed up, Dylan’s growly remnants of a voice really found its place as he and the band loosened up a bit. They spoiled us this half, deviating from the standard tour set list and really jammed on a few songs. A quiet, respectful rendition of Girl From North Country from his second album was awe inspiring, a highlight of the night. Tryin’ To Get To Heaven was similarly beautiful, with the crowd cheering as he sang the final line of the chorus. Elsewhere the band got going with particularly rocking versions of Thunder On The Mountain and Lonesome Day Blues that allowed the crowd to let loose a little. To finish off, a surprise Ballad Of A Thin Man was met with much applause and as Dylan spat the chorus I resisted the stupid urge to yell “Judas” just to see what would happen. After a short break they encored with All Along A Watchtower and Blowin’ In The Wind. Again, the melodies were different but it was still special to behold.
Now, I can’t say I’ve been present for the rest of his shows, but I’m sure this one at the Tivoli takes the cake over many, many others. How many times do you get to see Dylan in a small theatre like the old days? The sound was great, nothing lost in the small room filled mostly with adoring fans, and the man himself seemed in good spirits flashing a bit of a grin many times through the night. Those in attendance were lucky. Dylan may not have any amazing performances left in his old frame, but it was definitely one great show.