I'm fortunate enough to have seen Bob Dylan in concert nearly 70 times - from Blackbushe in 1978 to the Royal Albert Hall in 2015, via France, Switzerland, America and all over the UK. People sometimes ask what it is that keeps me going back again and again? I tell them that it's the moments. Across the years I've witnessed astounding, transcendent performances - shaky, uneven performances and everything in between. But even the bleakest concerts have contained moments that made me laugh out loud, cry real tears or simply involuntarily yell out my appreciation. We in the audience know when something magical is happening up there - we're lifted, elevated, even levitated. It's hard to explain, as you can see.
Here's an example. Back in 1994 I did a three show run across France, taking in Paris, Besançon and Lyons. I could write a volume on each night, but just take a look at this performance of I'll Remember You from Lyons. It's a grainy audience shot video of an ok song from a wildly overproduced mid-80s album, but, not for the first time, for some reason Bob really connected with it lyrically that night. After noodling through the intro, Dylan is immediately engaged with the opening verse - passionate, articulate, focussed. More noodling, then he steps forward to deliver verse two, again, fully engaged with his vocal. Things almost imperceptibly step up a level with the 'There's some people that you don't forget...' line, but nothing prepared us for the change of gear with 'When the roses fade, AND I'M IN THE SHADE...' - just listen to the audience reaction. To quote a great man, something is happening here and we don't know what it is. By now he is elsewhere, as are we. I'm feet away, caught in the spell, as the spittle flies from his mouth '...didn't I try to care..?' He sensibly pulls back from the brink for the final verse, but once again it's a controlled, passionate build to the concluding '..in the end, my dear sweet friend, I'll remember you...' and the audience, once again, erupts. Note the wry smile that flickers across his features as he sings '...it was you who came right through, it was you who understood, though I'd never say, that I done it the way, you would have liked me to...' If he's ever addressed any audience directly and openly, it was right there and then. Naturally, Bob being Bob, having taken us to an altogether higher plane with a phenomenal, captivating vocal, then allows the song to drift instrumentally and aimlessly to an eventual conclusion, a very l-o-n-g three minutes later. Seriously, when the vocal is done, you can switch off and get on with your day.
The fact that Bob Dylan features so rarely on these pages is a conscious decision. If you've made it this far, you've no doubt noticed that I can bore for my country when I get into pontificating about the man, his cultural impact on my life and the minutiae of his art. The last thing the world needs is another amateur wannabe Bobcat spouting forth, when there are so many far more eloquent students of his work available to tap into. I couldn't let today of all days pass by unacknowledged though. Many happy returns of the day Bob.