And what he was doing was … well, pretty much what he has been doing 100 nights a year for a quarter of a century.
There was no reference back to those legendary nights in May 1966, apart from a slightly weird version of She Belongs To Me, the only song performed on both occasions. There was little to remind us of those electrifying performances by the band that became The Band; even Charlie Sexton appeared to have been reined in, remaining almost motionless throughout the show. And there was little original in the set list; it was business as usual.
(This was also the show when the England cricket captain, RDG Willis, and I stood at adjacent urinals and discussed test cricket at length. My conversation with him about Dylan took place outside the pavilion at Lords during a test match a couple of years later. But that’s by the by.)
Wednesday at the Royal Albert Hall was not anything like as poor as October 1987. But it was a show which will remain in the memory only because of Bob’s return to the Royal Albert Hall after so long.
It has been many a year since I have anticipated a Bob show with quite so much enthusiasm and relish as this one. But although Bob seemed happy enough, his mind appeared to be elsewhere. The band, too, seemed lifeless. Professional but passionless. Not sure why Donnie was there at all. Charlie, as I say, was as quiet as I have ever seen him. Stu provided some good basic rhythm guitar, but it was really only the admirable Tony Garnier who seemed to know what was going on and, on at least two occasions, saved the day by bringing a song to a premature but welcome end, as Bob’s piano lost all rhythm and reason.
True, the second set was a major improvement on the first, featuring very tolerable and professional renditions of Scarlet Town and Soon After Midnight from Tempest. It is also true that Long and Wasted Years was a triumph, a considered, thoughtful and profound performance of a great composition. But this was the 17th song of the evening.
There are some, even many, whose opinions I respect, who have recently argued that the never ending tour has run its course, and that Thanksgiving at the Royal Albert Hall would be an appropriate finale.
As Bob sang Blowin' in the Wind for the nth time at 9.30pm on Wednesday evening, it occurred to me, for the first time in my life-long relationship with Bob and his music, that they might be right.
A belated Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, especially friends in Boston and to Michelle, who once again hosted a wonderful evening. Sorry about the Steelers, Mich!
Today from the everysmith vault: I played through Tempest yesterday, but this morning – with thanks to Wolfgang’s Vault – I’m playing a great set from the life force that was Levon Helm (ably assisted by ex-Bob and Dead guitarist Larry Campbell). Newport 2008. I commend it to you for its vitality, vibrancy and life-enhancing joie de vivre.