Review: Bob Dylan, Sydney Entertainment Centre – 2011


Sydney Entertainment Centre, April 27, 2011

Bob Dylan, for those who wandered in from a remote island and picked up The Brag (good choice), is one of only a handful of bonafide living musical legends. His prolific output helped shape the face of American culture in the ‘60s, advancing the lyrical content of popular music and bringing weight to a format previously beneath the ‘poets’ and ‘artists’ of the world. He was uncompromising, contrary and frustratingly obtuse, laying waste to previous notions of how songwriting, recording and the album format were approached. The fact that he is still selling-out shows almost 50 years after his recording career begun is a triumph – but from the disgruntled air and half-heard conversations of the audience filing out of the Sydney Entertainment Centre tonight, it appears he didn’t hold up his end of the agreement: to trundle out a selection of his greatest hits in an affable manner.

Firstly, he didn’t address the audience once, not even to let us know that Sydney contains by far the best audiences he has ever played to, ever, and that he loves coming Down Under. Secondly, instead of regaling us with tales of answers blowing in the wind, seeking shelter from the storm, and other weather-related well-known songs, Dylan instead ran through a set heavy on songs outside his agreed upon ‘hits’ period of 63-78, from latter albums that indicate that Dylan hasn’t lost his flair for the English language. Thirdly, he kept changing the melodies to the few sanctioned hits played, so the result was less the cheery singalong expected of a performer of his age (see: Brian Wilson), and more a gravel-voiced, ever-evolving ‘performance’ – which is fine for the odd song, but when people are shelling out top dollar, the last thing they want is for an artist to act in any manner that can be considered artful…

Of course, for a great deal of the audience, none of this came as a shock, and – even more importantly – none of this mattered at all. Bob Dylan was up there, being all Dylan-esque, performing like a man half his age with a vital, forward-propelling band half his age, with enough on-stage energy that Dylan didn’t feel the need to get the audience too involved. He is, after all, Bob Dylan, and when you have completed the bulk of your life’s work by your mid-20s, having the audience sing along to ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ probably isn’t a big priority. He did play ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ though. That ol’ sentimentalist…

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