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.


  1. You lucky git!!!How was the sound? It was appalling when I saw Elvis Costello there in the summer.If I'd been that close up I'd have handed Bob copies of my CDs - as I did with Elvis!

  2. I watched him from about half a mile at the Isle of Wight festival in 1969 and from about 200 yards at Sheffield a few years ago. Wouldn't have missed either experience for the World.
    You were very fortunate Dave, John Bauldie would have loved to have sat next to you. I would have preferred a revamped "Love Minus Zero" or "All Along the Watchtower" from that distance though.

  3. Went to Bournemouth just at the time Time out of Mind came out. When we turned up the staff seemed to be doing something weird with the queue, starting a fresh one for no apparent reason - we were the first people to be redirected. Then when they opened they took us first. We finished up right in the middle at the front - standing in the arena. He was about ten feet from us. At the time I thought we had been the beneficiaries of a cock-up, but later I read that some nights he's just fed up of the same old faces of the weirdos who follow him everywhere, and asks for this sort of process. So there we were Bob, and thanks. Not a bad gig either.

  4. Nice job of reporting. I enjoyed the details.

  5. Have seen most of his New Zealand gigs since the first - 9 March 1978 - to which I flew rather than share a van for the 400 mile journey with my other friends who had also just left school. Having the height and looks of a 12 year old then meant I got a half fare on the plane, $20. The gig was $8. It was an outdoor stadium in Auckland, several days after the "Budokan" show in Japan, and despite what the critics said of his lavish arrangement and big show band, it was terrific. He still had a voice that brought out his melodies, and played with expectations throughout. Many dud gigs in the "never ending tour" followed in the 1990s and 2000s. The one where I was closest, 2002 - five rows from the front, right in front of the microphone - it was so overwhelming I couldn't concentrate. So sometimes a little bit of distance helps. But I do like to see the yellows of their eyes.

  6. By the way is it just me that thinks that Bob in his dotage looks, rather endearingly, like Harpo Marx.