It should be considered as good a badge of greatness as any in the music industry to fill the Royal Albert Hall at 74 years old, and leave the punters begging for a second encore. The adoration and admiration that Bob Dylan still inspires in fans of all ages is unlike almost any other performer in the world. On Sunday night, I could see clearly why that is.
If you have heard 2015’s Bob Dylan perform, or you plan on doing so at some point, you should know that he’s a different man from 1967’s Bob Dylan. His voice has not aged well. The inimitable strains of the classic recordings are gone, replaced by something rougher and weaker. He hurries his lines, dispensing with the poise and measure that characterised his younger sound.
In spite of this, I expect the night didn’t (indeed, won’t) disappoint you. Even if his voice is a shadow of what it used to be, his choice of supporting musicians is not. While Dylan himself drew every eye, their understated class perfectly propped up his vocals.
Before the show began, not having looked up Dylan’s recent set lists, I was hoping his older material would hold its own in the running order, fearing it would lose out to his more recent work. What he delivered was a seamless blend of old and new, sliding to and fro between the decades. Highlights included ‘She Belongs to Me’ and ‘High Water (for Charley Patton)’, as well as several covers of older tracks like ‘Autumn Leaves’.
For most Dylan fans, expectations will centre on generation-defining ballads like ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ and ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, neither of which, I regret to report, were heard. However, hearing ‘Things Have Changed’ and ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ from the mouth of their maker was exactly the quasi-religious experience I had hoped it would be. Remarkably, the size of the Royal Albert Hall detracted nothing from the intimacy of Dylan’s murmured rendition of Frank Sinatra’s ‘I’m a Fool to Want You’.
The show highlighted how Dylan, in his advanced years, has managed to remain, if not relevant, at least current. Through his so-called ‘Never Ending Tour’ (his series of nearly consecutive tours that began in 1988) and his regular new album releases, he has refused to retreat to the background. Tempest (2012) is far from the level of Bringing It All Back Home (1965), but it was still judged by Rolling Stone writers the fourth best album of 2012. It may be hard to believe, but even at 74, Dylan’s shows are worth every penny of their hefty ticket prices.