After seeing Bob Dylan play at Hop Farm on Saturday the SupaJam office was torn asunder-- was he a bonafide legend constantly pushing forward against a tide of mundanity, or a pisstaking miserablist who sounded crap? we decided that the only way to give the gig a fair review was to set two of our crack writers head to head in offering the pros and cons of seeing Dylan onstage in the year 2012-- take it away AndyVale and MisterCharlie....
Many a moaner has piped up their displeasure at recent Bob Dylan live shows. Up to their knees in tears, they lament the fact that a 71 year old man doesn’t sound the same as he does on songs that he recorded around five decades ago. Acting like Sherlock’s, they point out that his voice isn’t that great anymore and that he doesn’t sing the songs in the manner that they are used to. He bumbles, grumbles and squawks through whatever he feels like playing.
They basically moan that you can’t hear what he is singing. Fair enough, but name one line in a verse from the set of the last new band you saw. It’s also harder to sing-along to modern day Dylan, as he twists the delivery of songs that you’ve sung in your car for years. Oh boo, well I’m sorry that you don’t have the perfectly packaged live music experience. Go and see The Eagles, then tumble graciously into your grave. He doesn’t want to play the same songs, in the same style forever. That same adventurous streak that made him so special is suddenly a core part of the mallet that his critics want to beat him with. They’re probably the kids of the same people who had a right old cry when he went electric.
But from an audience perspective, if you’re sensitive about hearing your favourite songs messed around with then you may enjoy the songs you don’t know even more. What other artist on the planet has that feature? Then you can just take what’s being presented at face value, without having all of your comfortable preconceptions shattered. What you get is a tight band, some of the finest songs ever written and one of the few chances to see a unique vocal delivery on a big stage.
I’m a Bob Dylan fan. I own several of his albums on LP, I’ve read Chronicles and I’ve watched innumerable documentaries about the man. So I speak to you now as a fellow fan: It’s time we all faced up to an unpleasant truth.
Bob Dylan is shit live.
There. I’ve uttered the unspeakable. Now I’m gonna go a bit further- watching Bob Dylan commit atrocities to his back catalogue is one of THE worst gig experiences I have ever, ever endured. And I’ve done it twice in two years. Hate me now Dylan fanatics (and Christ knows there’s enough of you), but lets look at the facts:
- His appalling voice. It isn’t ‘gravelly’, or ‘unique’, or ‘full of character’ or whatever else you apologist can come up with. Realistically, it lies in the little used sweet spot between ‘Scooby Doo got throat cancer’, and a bitter Nan gurgling on about her hip replacement. Dylan’s voice is a horrible sound. He makes Ian Brown sound like Pavarotti welcoming you through the Pearly Gates, and that really takes some doing.
- The reimagining of his songs. This is one of the most tedious things about watching Dylan play—for as much as it’s a vicious chore to sit through the new material no one gives a toss about, it’s far, far worse when he starts wilfully raping his back catalogue. Bob needs to stop pissing about and accept that some things are just right as they are. No one- literally no one (OK, except maybe Dylan himself, but I’m not even sure of that)- wants to hear Like A Rolling Stone turned into a quick steppin pub rock boogie woogie nightmare as sung by someone who heard it once, on telly, years ago, but didn’t really like how it went. Dylan should be proud of the fact that he made some songs that were as close to perfect as humanity gets, and play em the right way or just leave em be. Look at it this way: Imagine if he was in charge of the world’s fork supply. For years he’d make blinding forks, great tines, lovely handles; a bloody good fork. Then one day, late on in his career, he’d decide that the forks were actually rubbish and would be far better made from hot wet lava, buttons and some wee. And woe betide anyone who dared to suggest that the old fork was better. IT WASN'T, RIGHT!
- The backing band. So, you’re Bob Dylan, you can pretty much cherry pick your musicians from the great and the good. You can go experimental, or you can go straight up folk virtuoso. You can pluck the finest wild and passionate guitarists, and drummers with a near ethereal sense of timing. You could have Beezlebub himself on the fiddle, or at very least the bloke from Nick Cave’s band. And, yes, admittedly, you could have a lumpen bunch of pub rock chancers playing club footed Chas n Dave covers, BUT WHY WOULD YOU? WHY BOB?
So there we are, the Dylan live experience: Songs played badly and sung worse, occasionally interrupted by a stone cold classic being brutally mutilated by a man too grumpy to care. There’s only one conclusion I can reach people. Bob Dylan hates you, possibly to a psychotic level. Stop giving him money. Stop encouraging him. He’ll thank you eventually.