Dylan delivers his best in decades

Bob Dylan
Riverside Theatre
Wednesday, August 13

There was tumultuous applause and shouts of "Welcome back, Bob" as the legendary 73-year old singer-songwriter and his longstanding band strolled on to a stage lit by dimmed yellow sodium lights and decorated like a comfortable rehearsal room. There was even a small bust of Beethoven standing on a speaker case.

Kicking off the first night of his latest Australian tour - and the first show of a three-night-stand in Perth - Dylan looked stylish wearing a dapper long black coat, boots and a wide-brimmed hat. Throughout the evening he alternated between singing centre stage behind a bank of vintage-looking microphones and sitting at a grand piano on the far right. He didn't touch a guitar throughout the two 45-minute sets. There was no idle chit-chat or concessions to showmanship to detract from his riveting performance. It was all down to making the best music he's made in decades.

The intimacy of the 2500-capacity Riverside Theatre afforded everyone a great view and a splendid sound mix.

The well-constructed set list might have proved a bit frustrating for Dylan diehards. The show delved into his peerless back catalogue of more than 500 songs, ranging from blues, rock, western swing and ballads, with few of his obvious hits.

We were treated to an enthralling mix of reinvented nuggets, such as Tangled Up in Blue, with an emphasis on his work since 2001. Six numbers were drawn from his latest album, Tempest.

The laid-back version of She Belongs To Me, which featured his first harmonica solo of the night, the surprise inclusion of the seldom-heard waltz-time gem Waiting For You from the 2002 movie The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, the rolling rhythm of Workingman's Blues, the venomous Pay In Blood and the sublime band workout on Duquesne Whistle were all early delights.

The undisputed poet laureate of rock'n'roll was in remarkably good form. Long criticised for his rough, biblical growl and bewilderingly fast delivery, on this night his singing was better than ever. He put plenty of passion and effort into his vocal delivery and seemed deeply engaged in the material. There wasn't a throwaway song all night.

Ably accompanied by his stellar five-piece band - musical director and bass guitarist Tony Garnier, lead guitarist Charlie Sexton, rhythm guitarist Stu Kimball, multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron (who played pedal steel, banjo and violin) and drummer George Receli - he dug deep into the mood and nuances of every song.

The second half was dominated by new lovelorn ballads Forgetful Heart, Spirit on the Water and Soon After Midnight. To close the show he brought the crowd to their feet with a fast, shuffling version of All Along the Watchtower and a gentle reading of Blowin' in the Wind.

Dylan plays his third and final Perth date tonight - be there if you can.

The West Australian

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