Of course, I’d love to have been there, but since I wasn’t, here’s guest blogger Gavin Martin, on Bob Dylan’s return to Nashville. . .

Of course, I’d love to have been there, but since I wasn’t, here’s guest blogger Gavin Martin, on Bob Dylan’s return to Nashville. . .

BOB DYLAN

Ryman Auditorium

September 20 2007

Down on Nashville’s Broadway, Dylan’s arrival is being treated as the return of a musical saviour. Things certainly have changed – back when Johnny Cash presented Bob, the pilgrim rocker, to Music City in 1969, Dylan was regarded as a blow in, a musical carpetbagger.

Now he’s an heroic survivor, a custodian of the values Nashville’s reigning country establishment have forsaken, an iconoclast as single-minded as any in country music history.

Excitement around Bob’s two night residency at the 1,200 capacity Ryman, setting for the Grand Ol’ Opry’s golden era, increases with the news that Dylan and his road band, still riding their post-millennium hot streak, are spending their days in a local studio, prepping a follow-up to Modern Times.

The show repays the anticipation – Bob wields a Stratocaster on the opening “Cat’s In The Well”. No longer spending his entire performance to the side of the stage behind the organ (when he does take to the keyboard its stage centre), it’s immediately clear the Ryman’s aged wooded interior suits the band’s old world sound – much better than the cold oppressive arenas that have become their common habitat.

Two songs originally recorded in nashville – a shaky “Lay Lady Lay” and a rambunctious “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” – makes Bob’s longstanding special Music City connection explicit early in the set.

Just as striking a tribute to outré country tradition is his stage garb – imperious wide-brimmed, purple hat, spangly chartreuse guitar strap and accompanying glitter flecked purple cravat and bible black, hanging judge suit.

A rapturous “Working Man Blues” and a “Tangled Up In Blue” with Bob blowing poignant, electrifying harp confirm the band’s abiding heat. Bob aside, tonight’s man of the match is drummer George Recile – his fiery thrash and rimshots blazing a ferocious trail. At least he is – until local resident Jack White turns up.

Confined to barracks with the cancellation of this winter’s White Stripes tour, White is a vortex of anger and frustration, spitting out the lyrics, slashing at his axe on “One More Cup Of Coffee” and “Outlaw Blues” (the previous night’s show had featured Jacl on the first-ever live version of “Meet Me In The Morning”, from Blood On the Tracks)..

The latter is being played for the first time ever onstage and White’s intensity – a lusty mule, running crazed, feverish circles around the stage – never lets up. Finger pointing

Bob chuckles, conducting his performance from behind the organ.White’s guitar lines have a sizzlingly warped ferocity, like Neil Young of old.

It is a singularly charismatic performance, the first time I’ve ever seen anyone on a stage with Dylan usurp the maestro. Dylan’s delight makes it seem that a long lost grandson has joined his band and one can almost hear the sound of Elvis Costello – responsible for a particularly egregious, solo acoustic support set that had people feeling to the bars – spitting teeth at the side of the stage.

White evidently energises Bob further – a delicate but horny “’Til I Fell In Love With You” and brilliantly rephrased “Memphis Blues” ensue.

The magisterially haunted “Ain’t Talkin'” towers over everything, however – confirmation that at 66 Bob looks and sounds as potent as he has at any point in his career.

An invective-filled “Ballad Of A Thin Man”, a joyfully unbounded “Thunder On The Mountain” and tear-inducing “I Shall Be Released” bring the show to a close.

There’s a mass standing ovation long after Dylan has left the stage and outside an applauding crowd slow walk the tour coach up the hill, a response that emphasises the fact that fortonight and forever more he has made a home from home in Music City.

GAVIN MARTIN

Set lists

Ryam Auditorium

September 19 2007

Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat

Don’t Think twice, It’s All Right

Watching The River Flow

You’re a Big Girl Now

The Levee’s Gonna Break

Spirit On The Water

Desolation Row

Working Man’s Blues #2

Things Have Changed

Most Likely You Go You’re Way (And I’ll Go Mine)

Meet Me In The Morning [with Jack White on electric guitar]

Highway 61 Revisited

Nettie Moore

Summer Days

Masters Of War

Thunder On The Mountain

Blowin’ In The Wind

Ryman Auditorium

September 20 2007

Cat’s In The Well

Lay Lady Lay

I’ll Be Your baby Tonight

Working Man’s Blues #2

High Water (For Charlie Patton)

Spirit On The Water

Tangled Up In Blue

One More Cup Of Coffee [with jack White on guitar and vocals]

Outlaw Blues {with Jack White on guitar and vocals]

‘Til I Fell In Love With You

When The Deal Goes Down

Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again

Ain’t Talkin’

Summer Days

Ballad Of A Thin Man

Thunder on the Mountain

I Shall Be Released