Concert review: Bob Dylan's show is about reinvention, not faithful renditions

Bob Dylan was not so much inclined to simply play his hits straight, but more to live up to his reputation as a master of reinvention.
Bob Dylan was not so much inclined to simply play his hits straight, but more to live up to his reputation as a master of reinvention.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/AEG PRESENTS ASIA


Bob Dylan and His Band Live in Singapore 2018

The Star Theatre

Monday (Aug 6)

Here is the thing about watching American music icon Bob Dylan live in 2018 - you do not go to his concert expecting to hear faithful renditions of songs from the past five decades that have become rock and roll canon.

If you did, and you wandered into his show at the The Star Theatre on Aug 6 blissfully unaware of this important fact, you would have been sorely disappointed.

The 77-year-old, playing his third concert in Singapore, was not so much inclined to simply play his hits straight , but more to live up to his reputation as a master of reinvention.

Take Blowin' In The Wind, a certified Dylan classic dating back to 1962, played as the first encore after his main set ended. It is stripped off its distinctive melody, and because Dylan's voice these days is famously gruff and gravelly, it takes a couple of lines in the first verse to pass before you realise that it is that famous song.

Highway 61 Revisited, the title track of his 1965 album, went through a similar treatment, although the song retained its rollicking tempo.

Then there is his take on Ballad Of A Thin Man, from the same 1965 album. Despite the rough crooning, the song still shines with an almost-spiritual quality and was certainly one of the highlights of the show.

For close to two hours, Dylan, dressed in a dark suit with red trimmings, sang and tinkled the ivories on a black grand piano. He did not play any guitars, unlike in his last appearance here at the Timbre Rock & Roots music festival back in 2011, but would occasionally blow a few full-blooded notes on the harmonica.

The stage was bare, save for Dylan, his band and their instruments, and several warm-hued lights which were always kept fairly dim.

There was no photography allowed, not even for the media. Prior to the show's start at about 8.30pm, the audience, estimated to be about 4,500-strong, were reminded not to do any kind of recording. To enforce this, burly, black-clad guards roamed the venue, and were quick to go up to anyone who so much as turned on the screens of their phones, even if they were merely checking messages. It is a tad strict, but it did ensure that the audience had their attention focused only on what was happening on stage.

He did not speak a word to the audience, not even to introduce the songs or his band members. The only time he acknowledged the fans was when he walked to the centre of the stage and faced them before making his exit at the end of the main set and the encore.

It did not really matter, because the songs spoke for themselves.

Dylan, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016, packed his setlist with songs that represented various musical transformations that he went through in his long and prolific discography.

There was no The Times They Are a-Changin', the classic 1964 protest anthem, but he did start the show with the more recent Things Have Changed, a 2000 track that earned him both an Oscar and Golden Globe for its use in comedy-drama Wonder Boys.

From his 1990s output there were robust renditions of Love Sick and Make You Feel My Love while his 1970s work was represented by Tangled Up In Blue.

His last three albums might comprise covers of Great American songbook tunes and traditional pop songs but his setlist focused more on tracks like Pay In Blood from Tempest (2012), his last album of original songs.

The live take is a lot more faithful to the album version, perhaps because it was a relatively recently recording. But make no mistake, give him enough time and Dylan would surely have found a way to re-imagine the song live, just like he has done with his classics.