Wednesday evening was one of the best live music moments of my life. Sat in Choir West at the Royal Albert Hall, directly looking down at the band, I watched as Bob Dylan took to the stage for the first of five nights at the iconic venue. Whether you love or hate Dylan, he is undoubtedly a legend. Not only musically, but culturally, socially and arguably even politically. Although he has undergone his fair share of criticism, such as back in the 1960s for going electric, Dylan is now at the stage when he can deservedly do what he wants.
I had heard mixed responses to Dylan’s recent live shows through the grapevine so really did not know what to expect. I certainly was not expecting to be hugely impressed by his vocal talents because of his age (although according to his critics he could never sing in the first place). However, not only was I very pleasantly surprised by his voice, but the whole performance was just live music magic.
As Dylan and his incredible band effortlessly blended between his more recent songs and the odd classic, the softly lit stage provided a beautiful intimate atmosphere, the whole set up evoking a mix of a vintage Parisian film and a bar in late-night Chicago. He may have not performed ‘Hurricane’ or ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, some of the typical crowd pleasers, but they were not missed. Singing his covers of Sinatra from his most recent album ‘Shadows In The Night’, the audience were absolutely entranced. Dylan may not ‘interact’ with the audience by chatting between songs, but he really doesn’t need to when he is able to say so much in that gritty but also enchanting voice of his. Besides, with a band that good, the music really does speak for itself.
Too often brilliant artists from the 1960s and 1970s tour to satisfy their fans or, quite simply, for monetary gain. And while it is great to see your favourite bands performing their classics, there is something infinitely more special about seeing perhaps the greatest singer-songwriter ever showcasing the music and style that reflects his present stage of life. Yes, he performed ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, but not simply to keep the crowd happy as his live version was beautifully close to being unrecognisable. And when he sang ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ I, rather embarrassingly, was almost reduced to tears because it struck me in a way that the original recording has never quite managed. Evidently, Dylan does not tour for the sake of it and that is why the night felt so special and iconic. It was a musical painting of where Dylan is at now, acknowledging the journey he has been on, but very much staying in the present. As the crowd erupted into one of many standing ovations as he ended his last song, I knew I had experienced something very special.