Bob Dylan – Vector Arena, Auckland April 30, 2011

At one month shy of his 70th birthday, Bob Dylan has earned the right to play whatever songs he wants, however he wants to. So-called fans who show up at his gigs only to complain that he didn’t perform their favourite “hits” or that they were mangled beyond recognition simply haven’t been paying attention to what Dylan has been doing for the last decade or so. Just listen to Modern Times or Love & Theft or Together Through Life and it’s obvious that Dylan has completely immersed himself into the music he grew up with…blues, gospel, western swing, country and early rock & roll. So why would anyone be surprised when his concerts are made up of a majority of that material? He would be dishonest to himself and his fans if he showed up and played a nostalgia-driven set full of songs that belong to an era long past.

Not that Dylan completely ignored his past at the Vector Arena, but he did re-invent it, starting with Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking from 1979’s Slow Train Coming. Bob started out behind the keyboard, but moved front and center for This Wheel’s On Fire. Rather than singing, it seemed that Dylan coughed up each line of the song like a hairball. A spirited harmonica solo was included.

Bob strapped on his electric guitar for Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues and Beyond Here Lies Nothin’. His guitar solo on the latter was breath-taking. After Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum came a, shall we say, “deconstructed” version of Tangled Up In Blue. It’s the kind of performance that gets purists furious, while others just grin and enjoy the show.

Dylan spent the remainder of the set behind the organ and he played with passion during a 10-minute Desolation Row. His roller-rink sound put a special “twist” on Highway 61 Revisited. Bob reached for his harmonica again at the end of Spirit In The Water and then wrapped up the regular set with Thunder On The Mountain and Ballad Of A Thin Man.

For those waiting for the hits, he returned with a stirring Like A Rolling Stone, then All Along The Watchtower and finally, Forever Young. What more could you ask for?

As usual, Dylan is touring with an excellent band: Charlie Sexton (lead guitar), Stu Kimball (rhythm guitar), Donnie Harron (pedal steel, banjo, mandolin), Tony Garnier (bass) and George Receli (drums). But it was Dylan himself that created the most memorable musical moments playing electric guitar, organ and harmonica.

While the Dylan of yesteryear may have been all about the lyrics, it’s obvious he is now totally into the music. Anyone coming to the show, straining to discern the words, was missing the point. Dylan is now leading a great dance band. They should throw away the chairs and let the folks shake a leg.

Tim Finn provided a fine opening set. He played acoustic guitar and was accompanied on electric by Brett Adams (of The Bads) and Tony Buchen on bass. The 11-song set included a few favourites (Poor Boy, Six Months In A Leaky Boat), three tunes from his 2008 album The Conversation and a new song entitled People Like Us. Adams whipped up some guitar magic on Straw To Gold and Dirty Creature and they closed the set with a lovely Charlie from Dizrythmia.

Marty Duda

Click here for Dylan’s set list