Uncut Editor's Diary

Bob Dylan Live In Glasgow

Allan Jones

I won’t be seeing Dylan on his UK tour until Sunday at Wembley Arena, so I asked Damien Love to be a guest blogger and review the show for us. Damien is a veteran Uncut contributor, the author of a great biography of Robert Mitchum and a longstanding Dylan fan.

Here’s his report from the Glasgow SECC, every word of which makes me wish I’d been there.

Bob Dylan & His Band
Glasgow, SECC
April 11 2007

Back in 1991, as what we now call Gulf War I raged far away, Bob Dylan stood onstage at Glasgow’s SECC and unexpectedly pulled what must rank as one of the most shambolic concerts of his (or anyone’s) career out of the fire with a howling, electric “Masters of War.” Sixteen years on, playing with the sustained, growing focus and energy that has marked his concerts since the turn of the millennium, every other song seems a highlight. The concerts couldn’t be more different - but he stops the room in its tracks again by returning to another song he wrote about war in 1963.

Before that, though, the first big news about Dylan’s first UK show since 2005 is that he’s playing guitar again, for the first time since 2002. Stepping out in a black suit with white piping on the trousers and a flat, wide-brimmed hat, he looks like he was dressed in a happy collaboration between Zorro and Miami Steve, and as his five-man band careen into a rollicking “Cat’s in the Well,” he’s throwing shapes with his Stratocaster to fit the look. We get four songs with the guitar, including a blues-reverie of “Just Like Tomb Thumb’s Blues” and a newly reworked “It’s Alright, Ma,” words falling like precise little dagger-jabs, hounded by Donnie Herron’s dark, *Desire*-esque violin wails.

Dylan switches back to keyboards for “The Levee’s Gonna Break,” the first of six *Modern Times* numbers, and a revelation. Never one of the big songs on the recent album, it comes alive in a new way. Dylan absolutely whips the thing till it buzzes and stings. His voice is stronger and more elastic than it has been in years – far stronger than the album take of this song.

As further demonstrated by a coruscating “Rollin’ and Tumblin’ ”, he seems energised by the new material. He’s playful enough to build a small pantomime inside “Spirit on the Water,” bending the line *“You think I’m over the hill,” * into a question, pausing for the inevitable audience scream: *“Nooooooooooooooooooo!”* But there’s no joking on “Ain’t Talking,” a scintillating, urgent reading that finds a dark, arcane and spine-chilling groove within the song, the floor of the SECC turned into a kind of haunted disco.

If Dylan was throwing shapes before, he’s positively vamping now, jerking, jiggling, twisting, grinding and humping around his keyboard as if he was plugged into it the way Jane Fonda was to the orgasmatronic organ in *Barbarella*. Actually, that might explain some of his more eccentric playing. Dylan has ditched the warm piano sound of his 2004 shows for a weird, high-pitched organ reminiscent of ‘60s garage bands and fairground carousels. When it works, as on an intensely beautifully reworked “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” it lends a floating, dream-like cast; at other times he’s plainly noodling around playing an entirely different song from anyone else onstage.

That, though, is part of what keeps Dylan’s shows so vital. While the Stones, bless ‘em, whip through sets like a machine, with Dylan the rough, bleeding edges and moments of confusion and uncertainty are still allowed. Unbelievably, the biggest stumble comes on the song he must have played more than any other, “Like a Rolling Stone,” which takes an age to coalesce into any recognisable shape. It’s followed an apt visual metaphor during the encore, as Dylan’s ominous eye-logo banner fails to unfurl properly, and hangs above the stage as a weird, scrunchy rag – possibly the closest he will ever get to a Spinal Tap moment.

We end with the sucker punch of “Thunder on the Mountain” and the traditional knock-out, “All Along the Watchtower.” But what will linger in the audience’s minds is that moment in the dead centre of the night, when Dylan pulled out one of his oldest, perhaps least-known songs. A spooked martial shuffle, a plucked banjo ringing out like the sound of very desolation, it’s “John Brown,” a blunt, plain sing-song about a boy who went off to war straight and tall in his uniform, and how his mother was proud – until he came home and she met him off the train to find “his face was all shot up and his hand was all blown off and he wore a metal brace around his waist.”

Fresh from seeing the latest flag-draped coffins on the evening news, the 10,000 souls of the audience seem mesmerised, hanging on every simple word, feeling years and wars blur together and hold hands, realising it’s the same canny joker up there today who was singing about this back then. The effect is truly uncanny. Eerie, even. It’s nothing to do with “protest songs” or “the voice of a generation,” but something older and stranger – the stuff he’s been dealing in all night, and all his life. It’s impossible now to think of anyone else who can conjure it up.

DAMIEN LOVE

SET LIST

1. Cat's In The Well
2. It Ain't Me, Babe
3. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
4. It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)
5. The Levee's Gonna Break
6. When The Deal Goes Down
7. Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)
8. John Brown
9. Rollin' And Tumblin'
10. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
11.Spirit On The Water
12.Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
13. Ain't Talkin'
14. Summer Days
15. Like A Rolling Stone
16. Thunder On The Mountain
17. All Along The Watchtower


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