Hey, Mr Piano Man - Bob Dylan takes to the Palladium stage

Hey, Mr Piano Man - Bob Dylan takes to the Palladium stage

MARK CASSERLY reviews Bob Dylan’s recent concert at the Palladium in London.

Bob Dylan, even though he seemed in a good mood, didn’t play Hey Mr Tambourine Man. But then Dylan has never been a back-catalogue performer. Which is probably why now in his 8th decade he remains one of the major figures in popular culture and one of the most influential poets and songwriters over the last sixty years

The Rolling Stones are now just a Rolling Stones tribute band, Elton John relies largely on his old hits and Paul McCartney really has nothing new to say; but Dylan remains innovative and relevant. Which is why his back-catalogue, should he ever choose to reprise in on a stage  (unlikely) includes a huge range of songs from The Mighty Quinn to Like a Rolling Stone, and from The Times They Are a-Changing to A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.

But although there was a good vibe from Dylan — who spent most of the night behind the piano — we knew he wasn’t going to sing Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.

Mind you it’s always difficult to tell when a good mood has descended on this particular performer. But whether in buoyant humour or not, he thrilled audiences at his sold out concerts at the London Palladium. The shows were part of his European leg of the artist's Rough and Rowdy Ways' Worldwide Tour. As with all concerts, the Bobcats, his loyal fans, were out in full strength — although I believe the term ‘Bobcat’ has somewhat gone out of fashion in recent years. Whatever they’re called  now (and I have heard “Dylanologists’), these followers of which I am an honourable member, listened intently to every word that Dylan sang. To the dedicated Bob fan, it’s not just the music, but the lyrics as well. The man who was born Robert Zimmerman is the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature winner, after all.

So throughout the concert, a hush engulfed the auditorium for Dylan's wonderful, poetic, mellifluous lyrics. They are an arresting contrast to his gruff, croaky voice, now 81 years old. Mind you, you might argue that Dylan has always sounded like an 80-year-old, even since his early twenties.

It’s worth mentioning that this was a non-phone audience at the Palladium. No selfies, no videos, no photos, no Instagram moments. I assume the same pertains to all gigs on his tour.

Around half of the material at the London Palladium is from the singer’s most recent album, 2020’s highly acclaimed Rough and Rowdy Ways. The only song from the album not played was the almost 17-minute epic, Murder Most Foul about the assassination of President Kennedy.

But there were favourites such as I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, Gotta Serve Somebody and When I Paint My Masterpiece, with the prayer-like tour de force Every Grain of Sand closing the show in fitting manner after Dylan has introduced his band to the audience.

For most of the show, Dylan is seated behind his piano —he’s an exceptionally talented pianist — but finally he produced his famous harmonica to great cheers around the venue.

The atmosphere was electric on both nights and this culminated on the final night with Dylan and his band coming back out on stage after their final bow, not once, but twice, to show their appreciation for the adulation that all in attendance were showing them.

Dylan’s band: Bob Britt, Doug Lancio, Charley Drayton and long-time members Donnie Herron and Tony Garnier, provide a wonderful layer of sound to the songs and arrangements — electric, acoustic and lap steel guitars, mandolin and fiddle

The band are able to play soft when required, like on the mysterious Black Rider, or rip-it-up, when let loose on songs such as Gotta Serve Somebody. These musicians are all at the top of their game and deserve high praise.

The 81-year-old's tour dates are scheduled to run until 2024. If you get a chance to attend one of his gigs, grab it.

Seeing Dylan still perform with such creativity and energy, it’s hard to argue with what he sings in False Prophet: “I'm first among equals, second to none. The last of the best, you can bury the rest.” Dylan is indeed one of the very best artists in music history. May he continue to stay forever young.

Back outside as the Palladium empties, it was the usual melee trying to get transport home. Indeed, I’m sure I heard someone singing, “How many roads must a man walk down before they call him cab?” Still, I suppose a Dylan concert is bound to leave you in a lyrical mood.