Bob Dylan, Sydney International Convention Centre, August 18
TRYING to offer a fair and objective assessment of a Bob Dylan concert is a mug's game.
You are on a greasy slope to critical damnation.
Firstly, Bob doesn't give a damn.
Secondly those punters who went along expecting to hear the hits as Bob sang them more than 50 years ago, will not only be disappointed but are likely to walk out.
And thirdly the hardcore Bobsters, like pre-pubescent Justin Bieber fans, having worked themselves up into a lather of anticipation (for weeks they have deluged social media with set lists, eulogies and arcane information (did he really play harmonica on Tangled Up in Blue?), will not hear a word against the man they view as music's God Incarnate.
To hell with all that: what was the concert like?
Well, given the inevitable limitations (i.e. his voice is an ageing, husky adenoidal instrument; he doesn't talk to the audience; he always offers new interpretations of his old material; every song was delivered from behind his piano; he never tries to establish a rapport with his audience) this was a fascinating stroll through the "great American songbook" via an eclectic reinterpretation of 20 of his songs.
What Dylan has done – and this is very clever – is to say that all his songs (and the concert spans his entire career) have their roots in the vast flood plain of the American song.
With a new arrangement they can be turned into a country number (with a little help from Donnie Herron on pedal steel guitar or violin); raging, in-your-face rock'n'roll (Tangled Up In Blue starts with the riff from Elvis Presley's Trouble); glorious back porch blues (Don't Think Twice, It's All Right); a piece of Les Paul and Mary Ford 1950s jazziness (Simple Twist of Fate) and, perhaps most intriguingly, a kind of warm, Stephen Foster-like ballad with Blowin' in the Wind.
For years Dylan played radically different sets on different nights and sometimes he was, as even his fans vividly remember, genuinely terrible.
In his dotage he is playing it safe.
This was largely the same set he played in Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne.
A safety net template with radical reinterpretations of his vast songbook.
Not a bad move, Old Bob.