A mixed crowd gathered in front of the London Palladium on Wednesday evening. From far and wide, smart ladies, gritty gentlemen, tough rockers and free spirits had gathered in the London concert hall to perhaps witness Bob Dylan’s whims for the last time.
On Wednesday evening 19 October, the acclaimed song farmer and Nobel Prize winner gave his first of four performances in London, following his well-received 2020 album ‘Rough and Rowdy Ways’. Expectations were high, but there was still some tension lurking. After all, Dylan is not known as a gifted singer, but as an idiosyncratic enigma who prefers to stay in his own bubble than gratefully acknowledge his audience. Whoever expected a dazzling show full of the greatest hits was disappointed. No ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ or ‘Hurricane’. No, on Wednesday evening the focus was mainly on his latest album. Of the seventeen songs Bob performed in a sober arrangement (the band played in a diorama of classical-looking white curtains, on an illuminated and raised floor), nine were from his latest achievement.
The choice of the set played caused some division in the hall. Before the show, many people quickly crawled between the seats on the floor towards the bar or toilet, hoping in vain that they would be back in time for ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ or other evergreens from Bob’s extensive career. In vain, as it turned out. However, the songs performed were beautifully performed by Dylan who perfectly managed to balance on the edge of nonchalance and rawness, and a band that generally knew how to deal with its improvised whims. It must be a thankless task at times, playing for a man who does what he wants anyway.
Bob Dylan is not a talker, that is well known. The interaction with the audience was limited to a few moments of “Thank you”. It was precisely the music in which Bob showed himself as a master storyteller, but you can guess what he had to say. Without always having a clear idea of what exactly it is about, Dylan managed to bring his songs so convincingly that a large part of the audience kept hanging on his every word, except for a few without murmuring. Those few exceptions in the room got a little restless and noisy towards the end of the set when the hits seemed to be out, and shouted some empty requests into the room in vain.
Dylan hid behind his piano all evening, often standing. Yet it was inevitable that the audience on the floor had seen nothing but his curled crown. Between songs, Bob regularly shuffled away from his piano, revealing himself as a fragile, somewhat stooped and above all a small and shy man. With a stiff bow he nevertheless attempted to thank his audience, with more sincerity than the obligatory cries of thanks mentioned earlier.
Towards the end of the evening, Bob even showed himself a little bold as he moved towards the centre of the stage, not as fiery as he used to be. It’s a sign that this idiosyncratic legend doesn’t live forever, but is also one of tonight’s most human moments. After playing for more than an hour and a half, Bob closed the evening with ‘Every Grain Of Sand’, complete with a great raw but anything-but-flawless solo on his harmonica. The audience that was there with their full attention (fortunately in the majority) rewarded Bob Dylan with a standing ovation, after which a dark blow fell on the stage. The crowd wanted more, and the lingering darkness seemed to hint at an encore for a moment. Unfortunately, Bob Dylan had already left the stage.
The lights in the London concert hall came back on, and the audience left the hall; One confused, the other satisfied. Some were duped, and others were over the moon. Despite the divisions, what all these people do have in common is that they may have witnessed Bob Dylan’s last tour on the British Isle. Because the flame is still burning, but the candle wax is slowly running out. How long will Bob last? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind…