Sir Bob Dylan, the legend, the mystical, the troubadour, finally returned to Australia to headline the near sold-out Byron Bay Bluesfest 2011, after nearly a decade of rejecting their offers. Two Melbourne sideshows were also performed at Rod Laver Arena.
Who else gets the honour of an extra day added to a festival to cater for them to do more performances?
Special guest supporting act was our very own poetic knight Paul Kelly, joined by none other than his musician nephew, Dan Kelly. Their performance was abrupt devoid of Kelly Snr.’s usual storytelling between songs. The closest he got to communication with the audience was to say that Dan was playing the electric guitar because he wanted to use his new big amp.
The highlight of his performance was when Kelly stood in front of the microphone unaccompanied by Dan and their guitars, and recited Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air, in a softly almost spoken-word tone. The stadium fell quiet in awe.
Anticipation and excitement were finally over; Dylan entered the stage with his band. And what a disappointment the almost two hours he played were.
Gone are the days of his soft, balladry voice, replaced with a growling deep tone. At times it was hard to tell what song was being performed because Dylan was mumbling the lyrics taking away his poetic aura. It took an hour into the concert to figure out which song was being performed when he presented us with a reworked rendition of Highway 61 Revisited.
Fans going into the concert for a spot of nostalgia, or to hear his classics live for the first time were left disappointed. Perhaps those tracks weren’t performed because Dylan felt he wasn’t required to play them, especially the protest songs, maybe because what he was protesting against back then isn’t relevant now. Dylan’s approach was more to his upbeat rock oriented tracks, such as Thunder on the Mountain from his 2006 release Modern Times. A small number of audience members decided to leave before the concert concluded.
However, the instrumentals were a joy to listen to. The backing band, as well as Dylan on keyboard and harmonica, performed mostly upbeat, rock tracks that made you feel like getting off your seat to dance. Unfortunately, this was a sit down concert, so to do so was near impossible. Not once did he play an acoustic guitar.
The encore was the best of the night. Dylan and co. returned to the stage armed with a duo of classics. First off was Like A Rolling Stone, followed on by Forever Young for which his voice was miraculously back to its soothing old self. The growl had disappeared.
The harmonica solo, however, was by far the highlight of the night. Although his voice may not be the same as it once was, his harmonica playing had not lost its touch! Only a few rows at the front had given him a standing ovation during the encore.
Recorded and uploaded to YouTube by Lillian Altman
As the band left the stage at the conclusion of their performance, the rest of the audience stood up cheering, clapping, and whooping. The band returned to the stage for a final bow.
And with a blink of the eye, Sir Bob Dylan, the legend, the mystical, the troubadour was gone.
Did seeing the legend live ruin the mythical ideas I had of Dylan’s persona?