Sinlung /
06 July 2010

Bob Dylan, Hop Farm Festival, Kent, Review

At 69, Bob Dylan sounds more comfortable performing songs from later in his career.
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan Photo: PA
Bob Dylan concerts should come with a public warning: if you attend expecting to hear the young man of Blonde on Blonde or Bringing it All Back Home, his powers undiminished by cigarettes and time, then you will leave disappointed. If, on the other hand, you come to see Dylan at 69, in the middle of a late flourish of creativity, then he will still have the power to transfix you.
Since 1997’s Time Out of Mind, he has used themes of middle-age and mortality as inspiration, and he appears now as an ageing troubadour trying to process his new experiences into song. The breathy growl that his voice has become is backed by a supportive blend of rockabilly, rock ’n’ roll, blues and swing that emphasises his love for the American musical tradition. It’s this newer Bob who arrived at the family-friendly Hop Farm Festival for his only UK date of 2010.
Though opening with a collection of Sixties tracks (including Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, Just Like a Woman and Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright), Dylan refashioned them as if they were taken from a more recent album. Simple Twist of Fate – from 1975’s Blood on the Tracks – now sees his broken voice exposed as the band hushes, providing the most affecting moment of the evening.

With a delivery somewhere between crooning and storytelling, he adds a moving sense of world-weariness to its heartbreaking end-of-marriage narrative.

Dylan sounds most comfortable performing songs from later in his career, and a quietly anthemic Working Man’s Blues and pacy Thunder on the Mountain show just how creative the past 13 years have been for him.

Here we get to listen to the songs as Dylan intended them to sound and, although the lyrics may not be hard-wired into fans’ memories, the passion of his performance made them unlikely highlights of the evening.

It was the slower, harmonica-fuelled Ballad of a Thin Man that was the evening’s stand-out moment, however. As he repeated the refrain ''…do you Mr Jones’’ with bitter clarity, it was impossible not to feel that the protest singer from Minnesota still has a hunger to attack the establishment and its hypocrisies.

The encore – the almost inevitable Like a Rolling Stone – was the one song where Dylan’s discipline slipped and he strained to sing like his younger self. The song is a crowd-pleaser, and both old and young fans were happy to assist as his voice was left horribly exposed by the rousing melody. It was ironic that the final song was Forever Young – Dylan seems to be at his weakest when he tries to keep up with his youth.

Having first seen Dylan in concert in 2003, I’ve witnessed how a lack of intonation and a lazy stage presence can make him a disappointing live performer. Here in the Kentish sun, though, he proved that he’s still more than capable of holding thousands of fans in thrall and – unlike many his age – restlessly refuses to imitate his younger self badly.


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