20 Aug 2019
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Gig Review: Bob Dylan @ Horncastle Arena, Christchurch - 28/08/2018

29 Aug 2018 // A review by Jacquie Walters

“Expectation is the mother of crisis” as my father is fond of saying. Perhaps no performer visiting New Zealand of late has had the weight of expectation more firmly foisted upon him than Bob Dylan.

My father is a contemporary of Dylan and first saw his hero perform at Madison Square Garden in New York in the 1970's, so I couldn’t wait to hear what he thought of the now 77-year-old singer-songwriter four decades on. “Fascinating”, he said, as we both sat shedding a tear listening as our personal favourite Don’t Think Twice was revisited, repolished, and delivered to the attentive and appreciative crowd at Christchurch’s Horncastle Arena.

Dylan’s Christchurch concert was a triumph. We knew we were in for something special from the opening acoustic guitar intro which began the event without fanfare. What followed was a polished two-hour long set featuring plenty of Dylan’s most well-known tracks, such as Tangled Up In Blue and Ballad of a Thin Man – all of them reimagined and reinvented.

It took the audience a little while to recognise their favourites at times, but the act of requiring all of us to pay attention and listen anew breathed life into the material in a way I couldn’t previously have imagined. I genuinely felt like I was hearing Blowin' In the Wind for the first time.

Bob Dylan sat and stood at the piano to play for the majority of the concert, allowing the audience to see his wry smile as he delivered lines such as “I used to care but things have changed” from his 2006 Academy Award winning song Things Have Changed. We were then back in 1964 for a very cool version of It Ain’t Me Babe, spoken at times with a gravelly purr and informed by decades of experience of the ebb and flow of relationships. Alternating mellow and rockier numbers Dylan and the band had fun with tracks such as Highway 61, Dylan adopting a legs spread pose standing at the piano.

Accompanied by a band of very accomplished musicians, Dylan gave the Christchurch audience his energy and commitment as he launched into song after song at a cracking pace. He was very much the band leader guiding transitions with the whole group looking every inch the part - the band in matching black jackets with gold trim and Dylan sporting a sparkling silver jacket.

Simple Twist of Fate was a particular highlight, beautiful and poignant and featuring a touch of harmonica from Dylan. Trying To Get To Heaven also packed a punch with plenty of pathos behind the delivery of lines such as “when you think you’ve lost everything and you find out you can always lose a little more.” Make You Feel My Love was stunning and delivered with great heart, but in a second Dylan could take the audience from a moment of such poignancy into a number such as Love Sick with no trace of irony.

Bob Dylan seemed to be enjoying himself, particularly during numbers such as How Does It Feel, smiling at the audience and taking a spot behind a microphone mid-stage on occasion to allow himself the occasional moment, hand on hip, to accept the audience’s applause.

It didn’t matter that Dylan didn’t speak between songs, the entire performance was a conversation and an invitation to explore the familiar and the new with arguably the most influential singer-songwriter of our time.

At the end of the encore the audience was on their feet to applaud an absolute masterclass of a live performance. If you came with expectations it probably confounded them. Nevertheless, this was a fascinating, entertaining and endlessly surprising evening. This was a Bob Dylan concert to remember for all the right reasons.


Review written by Jacquie Walters

 

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