Search This Blog


Friday, November 29, 2013

Bob Dylan at the Albert Hall - the view from twenty feet

I hadn't planned to go. My old friend Nick Stewart very kindly invited me. I took this picture when we sat down because I couldn't believe how close we were. Row 1. Seats 108 and 109. Go and look at the seating plan to see how close we were.

We reckoned we were about twenty feet away from the microphone. Actually it was more like fifteen when he played the piano and as little as twelve when he came and took a drink between numbers.

You don't get many opportunities to observe a legend at close quarters for a couple of hours. All the lights are behind him, discouraging any examination of his features. When he walks he bounces, like a puppet whose head is slightly too big for his body. When he comes to the microphone to sing he holds on to it like a politician addressing farmers somewhere on the prairie.

He looks as if he belongs to a flyover state rather than Los Angeles or New York. He wore a Nudie type suit with powder blue panels. His band were dressed in grey suits and black shirts. It could have been a County Fair. When he wanted to emphasise a lyric he put his hand to his hip in a manner reminiscent of Larry Grayson. There's an odd tentativeness about him since he abandoned the guitar, as if he's looking around for a new crutch.

He actually spoke to announce the interval. At the end of the set he and his band stood centre stage and accepted the audience's applause. They didn't put their arms around each other, nor did they smile.

He played hardly any old. I would have been happy if he hadn't played any. Most of the songs came from Tempest or one of the albums immediately before it. He narrates the songs rather than singing him but the band definitely play them and play them well. You could see all five of them watching him closely at all times, clearly aware that he could do anything without warning.

It was intense, particularly on High Water, Scarlet Town and Wasted Years, but despite that intensity he doesn't seem to use up any of himself. John Le Carré said he wasn't doing any more interviews because he couldn't afford "the expense of soul" it involved. Bob Dylan seems to have avoided that problem. I've been watching and listening to him for fifty years now and still he gives nothing away. It's this that keeps you coming back.