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Bob Dylan review (Palais, Melbourne)


The Palais Theatre is nestled between Port Phillip Bay near the end of the number 96 tramline to St Kilda, six kilometres southeast of Melbourne’s CBD. Tonight the Palais was hosting rock & roll royalty, Dylan — Bob Dylan. The flickering lights of distant yachts lit up the overcast Monday night sky. The early start of 8pm meant the queue to get in the 2900 seat theatre had extended to the edge of Luna Park. I was sardined between two Dutch retirees who had been following Dylan on his 2014 Never Ending Tour for the last five months. From Tokyo to Greece to Romania to Denmark, they live and breathe Dylan.

I felt all tangled up in blue before the first chord was even strummed. Dylan has written 450 plus songs in his lifetime. This is not including when he punched out two albums with Harrison, Orbison, Petty and Lynn, The Traveling Wilburys.

The stage was shrouded in darkness as an acoustic guitar rang out, signalling the appearance of Dylan and his band. Dressed in his signature white Cordobés hat and black suit, Dylan entered the stage to a rapturous applause. Beginning the show with his Academy award winning song, Things Have Changed from the film Wonder Boys, Dylan eases into the set like a seasoned golfer.

He is not known for his upbeat enthusiasm like a Mick Jagger or a Patti Smith, but he has always been cool, calm and collected, the quintessential tough guy. He stares into the sea of adoring fans, pauses, looks at the band and signals them to start playing again; they do.

Charlie Sexton on lead guitar is best known for his 1985 hit Beats So Lonely. He was a teenage sensation of the MTV generation of the ’80s but now looks at home in the background of the enigmatic Dylan. The rhythm guitarist Stu Kimball is well-known for his work with Carly Simon and Peter Wolf. The drummer George Recile and bassist Tony Garnier lock in perfectly, with a jazz groove akin to a Sunday walk in the park. Garnier is widely known as Dylan’s right hand man, directing the songs with his harmonic bass runs, recognisable from films including Down By Law. Donnie Herron is constantly swapping instruments as he moves in between banjo and pedal steel to violin and the occasional mandolin. His brilliant multi-instrumental work does not go unnoticed throughout the evening.

Dylan no longer plays live guitar, perhaps the hands don’t glide the way they used to. He tinkers on the baby grand piano, albeit sporadically. His signature mouth organ lights up the stage as he to takes us back to 1965, with She Belongs to Me, from the album Bringing It All Back Home.

The older folk begin to bop up and down, reliving their youth listening to Dylan, maybe on a portable transistor radio. Waiting For You is filled with sadness and hope as Dylan paces across the stage deep in thought. It’s nearly 30 minutes into the show and he is yet to acknowledge the audience. No thank you, no hello, nothing.

But then you remember it’s Dylan, Bob Dylan, Robert Zimmerman, a demi-god and he doesn’t need to say or do anything. His songs and lyrics say it all. A sandy haired man screams “We love you Bob!”. Dylan doesn’t flinch.

From his 35th studio album, Tempest, comes Duquesne Whistle and Dylan is warming into the show. The song was co-written with Robert C. Hunter, a long time friend and collaborator of Dylan’s. Hunter is well known for his songs with pioneering psychedelic band the Grateful Dead.

The crowd rises to their feet as the opening chords of Tangled Up In Blue are softly plucked. This is an instant hit and the standout song of the evening. I think of my Dutch retirees, the mothers and grandmothers, and all the generations in the crowd who join in singing: “She lit a burner on the stove and offered me a pipe/’I thought you’d never say hello’ she said/’You look like the silent type’/Then she opened up a book of poems/And handed it to me /Written by an Italian poet”.

Lovesick, a song popularised by The White Stripes, comes and goes. Dylan is looking like he needs a scotch on the rocks and a cigarette. He finally says: “Why thank you, we are going to take a short break”.

The crowd scurry out to the foyer for the 20 minute interval. The smokers look thankful for the break. The line to the official merchandise stand is overwhelming. The crowd line up like St Kilda foreshore seagulls, waiting to snap up Dylan memorabilia. Suddenly half the audience is wearing Dylan shirts, caps and hoodies. A bootlegger sets up beneath the laughing clown of Luna Park, “Dylan tour shirts $10!” he yells. A small crowd forms around him, with women and men sizing up the “unofficial” merchandise. “Geez,” an elderly gent says, “I just paid $50 for the same shirt.”

Opening the second half of the show with High Water (For Charley Patton) Dylan looks refreshed and ready for the second round. Simple Twist of Fate, from his 1975 Blood on the Tracks is the highlight of the second set. It almost feels like Dylan is speaking a poetic monologue like a stage actor during the song; “They walked alone by the old canal/A little confused I remember well/And stopped into a strange hotel with a neon burning bright/ He felt the heat of the night hit him like a freight train/ Moving with a simple twist of fate”.

The band has finally loosened up, there are periodic smiles from one to another; they are in the homestretch once Scarlet Town starts up. This is one of five songs from Tempest, an obvious premeditated move by the band, perhaps Dylan’s most acclaimed album this century. There is no Maggie’s Farm or Subterranean Homesick Blues or Like a Rolling Stone, the real hits, and the crowd knows it, but it’s Dylan, and it’s like walking into a candy shop.

And when you’re 73 years old, maybe you chose the songs that are easy on the throat, on those  well-travelled vocal chords. The two-hours quickly comes and goes. The audience chants “More, more, more! with whistles and ongoing applause as the band and Dylan return for the encore.

They are absorbed in  All Along the Watchtower, a song made famous by Jimi Hendrix on Electric Ladyland, and in the ’80s by U2 on their breakthrough album, Rattle and Hum. Dylan seems to go through the motions here — he’s been on stage for nearly two-hours and 55 years. Even though he seems disconnected during it, the song is a constant in the Dylan live repertoire. Perhaps his most famous song, a song that spoke to an entire generation, Blowin’ In the Wind begins.

“How many roads must a man walk down/Before you call him a man/Yes, and how many seas must a white dove sail/Before she sleeps in the sand/Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly/Before they’re forever banned/The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind/The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

The song instantly connects with the audience. They fall quiet; a pin drop kind of quiet. Dylan is sitting slouched over the piano, a wry smile creases his face, he brings the band together like a football coach, they bow and disappear into the night.


Things Have Changed,  She Belongs To MeBeyond Here Lies Nothin’Workingman Blues #2Waiting For YouDuquesne WhistlePay in Blood, Tangled Up In BlueLove Sick. Interval: High Water (For Charley Patton)Simple Twist Of Fate, Early Roman KingsForgetful HeartSpirit On The WaterScarlet TownSoon After MidnightLong And Wasted Years. Encore: All Along The WatchtowerBlowin’ In The Wind.

Bob Dylan plays Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide and Sydney until September 7. See tour dates here. Stock image by Kevin Winter.

23 responses to “Bob Dylan review (Palais, Melbourne)

  1. Saw Dylan at Bluesfest some time ago and it was devastating how bad it was. Tangled up in Blue is one of my all time favourite songs and he absolutely butchered it. He can’t sing anymore. The phrasing of his songs which was his strength is totally gone.

  2. Friday 5th September 2014
    Saw him at State Theatre…also had been waiting all my life to see him…and what a HUGE disappointment. Wanted to leave at interval (so did my husband) but didn’t , hoping like hell, the second half would be better…but it wasn’t.
    Dim lighting on stage, terrible croaking through the songs I’d never heard of, no acknowledgement of the audience, no interaction with anyone…soooooo bad. Looked like some weird puppet.
    I so badly wanted to hear and experience his early work…I get that singers evolve and do different and new things but I’d hope they’d do half old stuff as well…surely there are lots of other people who want the original songs??? We paid enough for the tickets!!!
    Arrogance ??? Coz he can !!!

  3. Just saw him last night at the State theatre. What a disappointment. I went really wanting to appreciate him and his music. I was in the front row of dress circle and couldn’t see him through the dim candle lit stage lighting or the wide brim hat he wore. God help everyone else back of front row! He mumbled his way through a repertoire of songs I had never heard of. Even the two I did know were totally inaudible and unrecognisable. He didn’t engage with the audience at all and looked and acted like a ventriloquist doll. I couldn’t wait for it to finish. The ushers of the theatre were totally rude and patrolled the theatre to prevent anyone taking photos or videos not that anyone should bother the lighting and the hat made that impossible. Bob you were lousy mate what a cash grab!

  4. Bob Dylan is an amazing performer with great songs! I wish we could see more artists like him today! I hope to be in one of his performances if he decides to visit Greece some time. It is so wonderful to see artists in that age to give amazing performances.
    Well done!

  5. Bob Dylan has always done his gigs in that disconnected way – it’s his thing. A great song writer when it comes to phrasing (possibly the best) but he is just a bloke. An old bloke who got lost in his ego and appeared in Victoria Secrets advertisements in the early 2000’s.

  6. I was there – and I must say the reviewer must have been somewhere else. A long time fan of Robert Zimmerman’s music – the concert was embarrassing. Forget the gravely voice I can make allowance for that – but to hide on the dimly lit stage behind four largish microphones and to not acknowledge his band members and more importantly the audience was unforgivable and not worthy of an entertainer of his experience. In short, I was embarrassed for him. It was too bad to be surreal – but it happened.

  7. You either like this or you don’t. Dylan gives a strong performance, with power and feeling in the vocals, more so than in his early music. It is subtle, so don’t expect to get it served on a plate. The band is top class. Huge power in the rhythm and bass section, with complex guitars, banjo, slide instruments, and the piano played by Dylan that add the feminine. Spotless rhythms throughout. What a pity it wasn’t a dance – lovely foxtrots and waltzes in there. Blowin’ in the Wind better than the original, Simple Twist of Fate also. Fine blues and rock. This is grown up music.

    1. Update – the Sydney show. Dylan and his band showed themselves appreciative of the wildly enthusiastic crowd, especially in the thunderous encore. Each player in the band was once again first class. To mention one, that George Recile is your nice young guy, smiling sweetly. Before and after he smashes it right out of the park. As for Dylan, don’t look him up. Whatever he says, the crowd is mad for his protest era, the enduring taste of freedom that came from America then, and the history of it all. Plus the long, involved, sung stories. In the layer-cake, scogliato splendour of the State Theatre, Dylan and his top flight band put on a lot of fun and a real ornament of a show.

  8. Having read some of the wildly effusive reviews of Dylan’s latest shows I’m wondering if I saw the same act. Warwick McFadyen’s review of a Perth concert is one of the more extreme – At the Dylan concert last night I saw an arthritic man in his 70s plodding through some very middle of the road country pub rock tunes. I didn’t see a wondrous endlessly reinventing enigmatic genius. Still, it was a less tedious experience than the barrel-scraping arena shows he did in 2011.

    1. So barrel scraping that you just had to see him once again? Very odd.
      For what it’s worth, the smaller venues, and the songs he chose did make these shows superior to the last ones. Dylan isn’t pap, to be listened to while you check your facebook updates. You have to put work in yourself, as you do when watching a Shakespeare play. But the payoff when you do is magnificent and rewarding.

  9. You don’t go to a Dylan concert to see an amazing performance. You go to be in the same room as musical greatness, and perhaps for the last time (except for that Dutch couple, maybe). Which is just as well, because when I saw Dylan in 2007 and 2011, he croaked his way through the old songs, the lyrics indistinct and the tune and tempo so changed from the original recording as to be often hard to recognise.

    1. The exact reasons why I can’t go to his shows, since he played Bluesfest at Byron a while back. The Emperor had no clothes. No timing, out of tune, wrong words: he didn’t know his own songs as well as I do! But the majesty remains and he will always be the greatest songwriter of our times. I just can’t bear to watch him fade.

      1. “No timing, out of tune, wrong words: he didn’t know his own songs as well as I do!”

        Are you serious? He changes the words as and when he feels like, to make an improvement, to make a joke, to make a topical reference, or just to make a performance more interesting for himself and his audience. He doesn’t need permission to vary from the one version that you happen to have heard.
        Ditto for timing. A singer doesn’t have to stick to the timing in which a song was written or first recorded. Have you ever heard Willie Nelson or Frank Sinatra?

  10. So excited to be seeing Bob in concerton Wed August 20th in Melbourne…our first time ever to see him live and seats in Row D…woo hoo!! It would be a dream come true if Bob were to perform our wedding song…”To Make You Feel My Love”

  11. I saw Dylan in Perth. He was great! I am in my 40’s, so not an ‘original’ fan, but I first saw him in 1986, with Tom Petty. That was great too, but I lot of water has passed under the bridge since then (a lot of other stuff too). I think he is making a big statement, either consciously or unconsciously, with these concerts. They focus on his work since 1997 (Time Out of Mind), and he is letting us know there is a valuable body of work there. There have been number one albums, Grammy’s and an Academy award. He seems to be a man who is comfortable with where he has come to. Judging by the reaction of his fans at the concerts, they are happy too.


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