The reputation of Bob Dylan as poet and musician hangs by the thinnest of threads in the course of his UK tour. There were 200,000 applications for 2,000 Roundhouse tickets in the first hour they went on sale, but those who got left on the outside were not necessarily the unlucky ones.
Dylan, 68, no longer playing guitar due to reported arthritis, banged a keyboard and mumbled his way through Tangled Up in Blue and other legacy numbers, adding little by way of musical development. His face hidden beneath a broad-brimmed hat, he seemed intent on giving the audience as little as he could – and this was supposed to be an intimate event, the best section reserved by invitation only for Bob’s few hundred best friends.
As the set wore on, monotony set in. The Bobcats seemed to be enjoying themselves – one fellow behind me had seen 50 Dylan shows since he was 16 years old – but those who remember Dylan in his extended prime were left wondering if there is much left beyond an urge to mangle his works: they’re mine, I can wreck ’em if I please.
Some were doubtless having a better time than I did, but there was no joy to the occasion, no sense of re-creation bo conjoining of artist and audience, just a wander down a rather derelict memory lane. Like a Rolling Stone was something of a highlight, but that may have been a nod to former glory nights in this converted railway shed, a memory all the more dispiriting in ts present travesty.
What was Dylan giving us? Never a leader in customer care, or a seeker of eye contact, he was always prone to drone into his armpit. That self-alienation has now reached a clinical point where you have to ask, what the hell’s he doing there?
A poet exists to articulate words in unusual combinations. Dylan sounded at times like a dowager who had left her teeth on the bedside table. Entire songs flowed by without a discernible phrase.
A musician is meant to excite the ear with variable tones and intervals. Dylan was monotonous, over-amplified and negligent in everything but rhythm. The cult endures but the words and music came a very distant second.
I guess he’d come back with ‘don’t criticise what you can’t understand’, but there are no hidden mysteries here. It’s just an icon of a bygone age growing old disgruntledly.