Master of reinvention lives up to reputation



The Star Theatre


Here is the thing about watching American music icon Bob Dylan (above) 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 part of the rock 'n' roll canon.

If you did, and wandered into his show at The Star Theatre on Monday 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 of 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 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 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 tickled 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 in 2011, but would occasionally blow a few full-blooded notes on the harmonica.

The stage was bare, save for him, his band and their instruments, as well as 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, was reminded not to do any kind of recording.

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 the various musical transformations that he went through in his long and prolific discography.

His last three albums might comprise covers of Great American Songbook tunes and traditional pop songs, but his setlist focused more on tracks such as 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 he would surely have found a way to reimagine the song live, just like he has done with his classics.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2018, with the headline 'Master of reinvention lives up to reputation'. Subscribe