And the one that is getting all the attention is that moment when, fifty years ago, at this same time of the year, Bob stunned us all with Highway 61 Revisited and those extraordinary, life-changing opening bars of Like a Rolling Stone.
(I would also like to mention the fortieth anniversary of The Rolling Thunder Review, I’ve seen Bob many times, but one of the massive gaps in our relationship is my absence from those shows, back in the autumn of 1975. I would love to have been there.)
Much has been written and broadcast on the significance of 1965 in recent weeks, and I was reading and listening to much of it as I sat on the train to Manchester last week. Through my headphones, I listened to a 1965-fest: Andy Kershaw’s BBC documentary, my own compilation of all the outtakes of LARS, the Newport show on the 25th July and the Forest Hills show on the 28th August, and finally the NPR stream of the ‘best’ of The Cutting Edge.
But, as I realised a couple of songs into the gig at the O2 Apollo that evening, that was then. Because what I’m here to see and hear was Bob now.
Don’t Look Back.
This was my first time at the Apollo, which is not the most salubrious venue. Think Brixton Academy without the class. But if the furnishings and the red wine were less than ideal, the sound was excellent and Bob was on top form.
The set list was pretty much as it has been throughout this European stage of the tour. Which means that Bob could indulge his newly discovered inner crooner. Seven of the twenty songs were of this genre and they were sublime. His latest voice really suits these songs and they come over as infinitely superior to the recorded stuff on Shadows in the Night. They also provided an intriguing counterpoint to the rest of the repertoire – the Bobsongs.
He warned us upfront of his intentions. Things Have Changed opened the set, followed by She Belongs to Me and Beyond Here Lies Nothin’. He brought the first half to a close with a magnificent Tangled Up in Blue, during which we got a lyric change: “Let the law take it course” instead of “Used a little too much force”. But the highlights of the night – imho – were the songs from Tempest: Duquesne Whistle, Early Roman Kings, Scarlet Town, Pay in Blood and Long and Wasted Years, the latter tellingly juxtaposed with Autumn Leaves. And throughout it all, the band played on.
This current manifestation of ‘his band’ is as tight you could wish. Charlie Sexton is reading Bob as well as GE Smith used to, and Bob is responding by allowing him a great deal of freedom, more than he ever allowed Smith or Larry Campbell or even Freddie Koella. One reason for this is his absolute trust in Tony Garnier, who is the Jason Varitek of the band. He directs it, he holds it together, he leads by example – and, judging by his smiles and grins and laughter during the show, he is enjoying the experience immensely.
One of the points made in the various critical commentaries of the 1965 work is Bob’s discovery at that time of how to work with and in a band (and, of course, subsequently, The Band). It is the way he has worked for fifty years now and it was evident on this occasion. It suits me.
I hope and believe that this is what we can look forward to seeing and hearing more of in the coming years: not Bob Dylan and his Band, but the Bob Dylan Band.
Bob as ensemble musician, primus inter pares.