The Palais Theatre, Melbourne
August 18, 2014
“It’s the words, Bob,” I said to him. “We can no longer hear the words.”
There was other stuff I wanted to tell him, too, after that diabolical Rod Laver Arena gig back in 2011. Stuff like “Bugger the hits, Bob. You’re better than that. Just play the new stuff. It’s fresh. It’s more you. And it’s gold.”
Then there was the perennial “Bob. Maaate. Do you REALLY need the money so bad that you’ll piss one of the greatest little bar bands on Earth up against the thudding silo walls of a godforsaken sports stadium every night?”
But the editor said I only had 280 words. And I needed 19 of them to describe “a ravaged voice that can barely raise itself from a monotonal lurch without shredding like nails down a blackboard.”
Bob, however, works in mysterious ways. Come last night, it turned out he’d heard all of my concerns, both printed in the daily newspaper and beamed telepathically to the troubleshooting cortex in the brow of his superbrain.
At least 15 years into what looked awfully like terminal decline into a sleepwalking stupor and/ or deliberate contrariness, Bob played the plushly appointed and acoustically tolerable Palais Theatre with a set-up and a setlist worthy of a 73-year-old master craftsman as near as dammit to the top of his game.
He did at least half of Tempest, his latest album of crackling bloodlust, old bastard rage and stately Old American swing, wiggle and grind. He did exactly three songs from his ’60s “heyday”, two from his ’70s “masterpiece”, Blood On the Tracks, and the rest from his post ’97 “renaissance”.
No less significantly, the only Shakespeare of any generation since Shakespeare seemed to have consulted a 1,000-year-old microphone oracle on the vexed subject of projecting verbiage of peerless gravity with flinty precision above and beyond the sound of a smokin’ little country-swing outfit hellbent on vouching safe its immaculate manifestation without compromising the sand-and-glue integrity of his very particular throat strings.
I counted four mikes in a neat, tight bunch circling his expertly spitting jowls. Fabulous old ribbon and grill contraptions they were, some like the ones referees pull from the ceiling in old boxing pictures; others like cops bark into during film noir chase scenes and possibly the very one Bing Crosby changed the world by whispering into.
One could spill a lot more than 280 words itemising the sheer eye-moistening thrills conjured by this simple, yet seemingly so elusive combination of environment, technology and Bob Dylan. But let’s face it, none of those words would come out as good as his. And Bob. Maaate. I heard ’em this time. Every. Lovely. One.