Dylan still blowin in the wind

Even Bob Dylan's most devoted Aussie fans were taken by surprise at the news - revealed the same day he celebrated his 73rd birthday in May this year - that the much- lauded poet laureate of rock'n'roll would be touring here in August and September.

This time around Dylan, who last played in Perth in 2011 at the West Coast Blues 'n' Roots Festival, has chosen to get closer to his audience by performing in smaller theatres across the country, kicking off the tour at Perth's Riverside Theatre next month.

Hailed as the singer- songwriter who freed your mind the same way Elvis freed your body, Dylan's illustrious career has spanned more than half a century and made a seismic impact on popular culture.

He's released more than 50 albums (including the brilliant Bootleg Series, initiated in 1991) and, like the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney, he can still rock with the best of them.

When he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 Bruce Springsteen said: "To this day wherever great rock music is being made, there is the ever-present shadow of Bob Dylan."

His Australian dates are part of what is now commonly known as Dylan's Never Ending Tour - a tag he dismissed in 2009 when he told Rolling Stone: "Does anybody call Henry Ford a Never Ending Car Builder?"

In June he started the European leg of the tour in Ireland and last month hurtled through the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Sweden and Finland, on his way to Australia.

Amazingly, this almost endless string of one-night stands started almost exactly 26 years ago. It grew out of a time in the 1980s when Dylan was anxious to rejuvenate his career following the commercial failure of his often-maligned albums Infidels (1983), Empire Burlesque (1985) and Knocked Out Loaded (1986). At the same time he was hooking up with the Traveling Wilburys and backing bands such as the Grateful Dead and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Over the ensuing two-and- a-half decades the Never Ending Tour has included more than 2500 shows in more than 850 cities around the world. According to the website Songkick, Dylan and the band have travelled a distance of 2,271,312 km, the equivalent of going to the Moon and back twice. Some fans have travelled around the world to attend as many Dylan shows as possible.

Throughout the history of the Never Ending Tour, 22 different band members have come and gone. In recent years the line-up has evolved into the tight ensemble of Stu Kimball (guitar), Donnie Herron (pedal steel, violin), Charlie Sexton (lead guitar), Tony Garnier (bass) and George Receli (drums). They also backed him on his latest albums including Together Through Life (2009) and Tempest (2012).

What songs can you expect to hear at the concerts? A trawl through the set lists of Dylan's recent shows reveal a concentration on new songs such as Duquesne Whistle, Pay in Blood, Early Roman Kings, Scarlet Town (all from Tempest) Forgetful Heart, Beyond Here Lies Nothin' (from Together Through Life) and Workingman's Blues #2 and Spirit on the Water (from Modern Times). Fans who haven't kept up to date with his latest recorded output will recognise some radically rearranged versions of early triumphs such as Things Have Changed, Simple Twist of Fate, Tangled Up In Blue and All Along the Watchtower.

As prolific, expressive and energetic as ever, Dylan is poised to release his 36th studio album called Shadows in the Night on August 26. As usual, there has been little advance information about the album except for a shot of what appears to be the album cover posted on Dylan's website.

Also of interest to Dylan fans is the soon-to-be-released project called Lost on the River: the New Basement Tapes, co-ordinated by producer T Bone Burnett and featuring Elvis Costello and Mumford & Sons' Marcus Mumford, among others.

With Dylan's permission, the various artists who appear on the album have recorded their own songs using lyrics Dylan penned in the late 60s in Woodstock.

All the lyrics are from unfinished songs that never made it on to the heavily bootlegged Basement Tapes that were officially released in 1975. Burnett recently told Rolling Stone: "These are not B-level Dylan lyrics. They're lyrics he just never got round to finishing."

Bob Dylan is performing at the Riverside Theatre on August 13-15. Tickets available from Ticketmaster.

The West Australian

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