Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Late Review: Dylan at the Roundhouse, 2009

Last weekend Bob Dylan performed at the Hop Farm festival in Kent, his only gig in England this year (it's worth reading the comments of the Guardian review of his performance – still polarizing audiences after all these years...).

Here's my Very Late Review of Dylan at the Roundhouse last year, which I started writing at the time then forgot about. FYI: this is my 200th post.

Set list:
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat* / Don't Think Twice, It's All Right / Tangled Up In Blue / Million Miles / Rollin' And Tumblin' / Tryin' To Get To Heaven / Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum / Sugar Baby / High Water (For Charley Patton) / I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met) / Po' Boy / Highway 61 Revisited / Ain't Talkin' / Summer Days / Like A Rolling Stone / (Encore) All Along The Watchtower / Spirit On The Water / Blowin' In The Wind

*At least it wasn't Cats In The Well

To get tickets I spent over two hours on a temperamental laptop. A password had been posted on bobdylan.com a month before the gig. I had to register on the Roundhouse website, type in the password and pray to God. Tickets were available at 9am. I logged on at 8.45am. The website went down at 8.55am. For the next hour I cursed at the laptop. I finally logged on at about 10.30am. The site crashed a few more times. I wasn't even sure I'd got a ticket. I gave up some time after 11am. I checked my emails – and there was my order confirmation for two tickets. I went out into the garden, lit a cigarette, praised God, and wept. Only 3,000 standing tickets were available. Over 100,000 people had tried to get them.

The day of the concert, Sunday, was gloriously sunny, and my boon companion and I left early – it was the day of the London Marathon and delays were expected. But when we left it was already over – on the tube an annoyingly precocious boy was wearing a Mini-Marathon T-shirt whilst completing a Rubik's cube every five minutes. He'd give it to his mum to mix up – then do it all over again.

We collected our tickets (only just – my old debit card had expired and my new one had different numbers on it – I was questioned and almost refused the tickets. It reminded me of going to the airport last year for Spain and discovering at the last minute my passport was six months out of date – I'll save that for another post) and wristbands. After a late picnic on Primrose Hill, and a wander through Camden Market, we sat in a nearby park where two women were fighting over their dogs fighting. One of the women got the other's hair, pulled her to the ground and proceeded to kick her in the head. It was time to go and queue up.

The queue snaked round the Roundhouse and up the hill. It looked like the other 2,998 ticket holders were in front of us. When finally in, we nipped out for a cigarette on the terrace and got a bottle of water (but no bottle top – they're not allowed). The Who's Roger Daltrey was doing the same. I must have been staring at him – I wasn't sure it was him, his hair was short, he was wearing John Lennon glasses, looking more like a teacher – and he stared back. I looked away.

I've never seen so many people so closely compacted together, just to get a good view of the living legend. Standing by us was a Scottish couple who told us they'd been to 140 Dylan concerts. Fourteen years ago the wife even got his autograph. But it was the husband who was definitely the fan – he had a room devoted to Dylan at home (this is otherwise known as a shrine and is a bit bizarre). I wasn't sure his wife actually liked Dylan at all – she walked off halfway through the concert. The husband had spent approx £30,000 on Dylan over the years.

Also next to us was a young Indian guy who my companion called beautiful. He was looking up at the balcony. He'd recognised someone famous – but couldn't remember who he was. One look up at the man wearing thick rimmed glasses and suit and I knew it was Bill Nighy. I told the Indian guy. 'Oh yeah', he said, smiling. 'He's a great Dylan fan, you know. Apparently he has to listen to him every day.' I had read similar in interviews. 'Shame he's been in all those Richard Curtis films.' 'At least he has good taste in music,' I quipped.

I lost my companion – Judith – for a while, then saw her walking the other way from me and was about to shout 'Judith!' and then checked myself – 'Judith' sounded too much like 'Judas' and might have sparked riots. There were excited rumours that Dylan was to play an acoustic set (in 1966 someone famously shouted 'Judas!' for him playing electric). There were rumours he was going to play songs from his new album too, released the following day. The rumours stayed rumours, even though there was a tense delay before the music started when set-lists seemed to be changing.

We had a good if tight view and Bob and his keyboard were facing us for much of the gig. We will forever want him standing alone with guitar and harmonica, but he plays keyboard more nowadays and seems to enjoy himself: Dylan was grinning like the Joker. At first I thought it was because of his playing predominately songs from Love and Theft (his 'jokey' album) but then I looked at all the young women in the front row. Whatever, the venue seemed to suit him and he was having a good time. We all were too, even though we were more squashed together than rush-hour on the tube. I mean, I know it's an intimate gig, but this was ridiculous.

He growled through the now-often unrecognisable songs, a typical blend of old and new(ish) ones with his five-piece band mainly able to keep up with him – though you knew when they didn't – he'd shoot them a dirty look. The newer songs have a bit more life in them – and it's a tribute to Dylan that fans want to hear his new songs as much as, maybe more than, his old ones. Going to see any other living legend – The Stones, Paul McCartney, Van Morrison – there's a collective sigh of disappointment when the signer announces, 'And here's one from the new album'.

Overall, we were satisfied. We had seen Bob in an intimate setting. His voice may have gone but he's still with us. Afterwards, whilst crawling out, a young woman accused me of pushing into her ancient grandmother. If she ever reads this: it weren't me, babe. I was being pushed from behind. But the point is Dylan is here for all of us, young and old. Walking outside the building, sculptor Antony Gormley raced ahead of us and nipped onto his bike. I nearly shouted out that he'd left one of his sculptures on top of the Roundhouse. 'You' is a rusty-looking bronze figure standing on the roof, looking as if he's about to jump. It wasn't that bad, honest.

Bob Dylan at the Roundhouse, London, 26/4/09

(This post was link #6 on expectingrain.com, Wednesday July 7, 2010)

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