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Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Bob Dylan live at the O2: An experience

Bob Dylan rolled into town this weekend to play at the O2 - an enormous venue and not where most people would choose to see a guy like Dylan. But it didn't take me long to think about it - I mean, the guy's not getting any younger and I've never caught him live before, so it might be now or never.

I know a lot of people who have seen him live and reports haven't always been glowing. In fact, they've never been glowing. So I went into it with my eyes open about the 'experience' of seeing him live and I'm glad I did have a little bit of background info, because he definitely comes with some quirks.

First things first, the music was great, his band were tight and he did play some of his 'greatest hits', something which he doesn't always do. Maggie's Farm and The Times They Are A Changin' both came out early on. But as for a lot of the other songs, I couldn't actually claim to know what they were exactly. Sure, some might be from his new album, Together Through Life, which is out this week, but presumably there were much more dedicated fans in the audience than me, and I didn't hear many cheers of recognition before many of the tracks. He's famed for performing his tracks live at a completely different temp to the album versions, and it was only a few minutes in to The Times They Are A Changin' that I recognised it. That's fine - an artist's prerogative. But when you've got as many songs in your armoury as Dylan, it makes it a challenge to keep up with what's being played if you're just a normal fan like me.

It wasn't just the songs that were sometimes hard to identify. The O2's a massive venue - 20,000 seats and one of the largest indoor arenas in Europe - and someone (Dylan himself presumably) decided that for this gig, there wouldn't be any jumbo screens. Thank God he wore a white outfit, and his band were all in black, because my eyes aren't that great even with my glasses on. Plus he didn't say a single word to the audience between songs. And he played keyboards most of the night, stage right, like a regular band member rather than the star of the show. Again, anyone of those elements and you can chalk it up to being an artist, but put them all together and it did make me think on a couple of occasions whether I'd have been as well to stay in and put a Dylan DVD on.

When we left, some women were actually complaining to venue staff about how "disgusted" they were about him not talking and the lack of screens. I'm not sure I can agree with complaining to the venue, and a lot of these enigmatic touches are what put Dylan apart from more conventional stadium gigs that you could see, like the Eagles or Bryan Adams or someone. And thank God there is a difference.

So it was an odd night, and not least because I was watching someone who for decades has been a symbol of the counter-culture performing in a venue named after a mobile phone company. Still, I wouldn't have missed it, and I'd probably go again given the chance.

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