Bob Dylan is cool again. Itís official. Ryan Adams was photographed schmoozing with him at this yearís Oscars. The Charlatans and Paul Weller are among those who have recorded Dylan tracks for a tribute album in the UK. Thanks to the Coen Brothers film Oh Brother Where Art Thou? a traditional song famously covered by Dylan, "Man of Constant Sorrow," has been resurrected to the mainstream. And last week in London The White Stripes covered a track from Dylanís latest album ñ proving that it ainít just Dylanís Greatest Hits having a renaissance.
And the reason for this return to cool? It certainly has nothing to do with the way he looks: in Bournemouth on Sunday night he came on stage crowned with a white cowboy hat and tailored in an old-school Western suit, his stature as thin as his pencil moustache. In this cynical, superficial age of pop, can we really believe that Dylanís hipness is to do with his talent? Then again, he did win an Academy Award last year for "Things Have Changed," and gained solid all-round critical acclaim for the new album Love and Theft"Ö
This week Dylan has returned to Britain on the last leg of his current European tour. Saturday night saw him play Brighton, and on Sunday the tour bus drove westwards along the south coast to Bournemouth. A few hours before the gig, on the promenade outside the Bournemouth International Centre, Dylan fans killed time before the eveningís performance by browsing a rally of classic cars. Fine vehicles, reupholstered, reconditioned. Not necessarily preserved to their exact original specifications, but made roadworthy again and renovated with classic touch.
Which offers a fitting metaphor for the songs performed by Bob Dylan and his band later on inside the venue. A large convoy of Dylan classics were driven onto the set list ñ "Desolation Row," "Like A Rolling Stone," "Blowiní in the Wind" ñ each taking their original recorded versions as skeletons on which to hang new fine-tuned reworkings.
But thatís not to say that the songs were rendered completely unrecognizable. "A Hard Rainís Gonna Fall" was tinged with a Celtic tint, due mainly to versatile guitarist Larry Campbellís turn on the cittern. And the audience embraced it, as was proven when the crowd helped Dylan out by chanting the final climbing "Itís a hard, itís a hard, itís a hardÖ" for him after his microphone spewed terrible feedback. Even Dylan smiled with appreciation.
The most noteworthy reworking was "Subterranean Homesick Blues," the original guitar-driven progression replaced with an even closer impression of Chuck Berryís "Too Much Monkey Business" (from which Dylan had originally appropriated Berryís torrential phrasing). And as if to further demonstrate his obligation to his rockíníroll roots, the first encore was a pounding version of Buddy Hollyís "Not Fade Away," a treat that he has been awarding to only the most passionate European audiences on this current tour.
"Cry A While" was a chance for Campbell to further demonstrate his dexterity on slide guitar, and "Summer Days" saw Tony Garnier back on standup bass, but generally there were few tracks from recent albums. Thatís not to say that this weekendís London performances will be devoid of new material: Dylan is known for arbitrarily varying what he plays each night. Even if it were possible to second-guess the set list, with Dylanís ability to make a well-known song sound like it has just been crafted, the old dude is still likely to defy expectations.
Source: Nick Oakley, London