“Life is like a box of chocolates” said Forrest Gump “You never know what you’re going to get”
Those famous, understated and above all honest words are perhaps the best (or maybe the only) way to sum up Bob Dylan.
Last night I travelled with a friend to Christchurch to see Bob in concert and it was with a mixture of excitement, anticipation and trepidation that I entered the arena and purchased the obligatory overpriced tee-shirt and show programme.
I was introduced to Dylan in what could best be called inauspicious circumstances when, as a young hot-shot sheep shearer with a Michael Jackson fixation, I was told by one of the older shearers “We are not listening to that %$@#. Put this on.” and he handed me a double cassette tape called Masterpieces.
That was my introduction to Dylan as an eighteen-year-old and while my initial thoughts were “Man, this guy can’t sing”, I got past my own youthful arrogance and started to listen.
That was thirty years ago and now here I was, a forty-eight-year-old at my first ever Dylan concert and doing my best (and failing miserably) to not act like a twelve-year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert.
Bob is nearing eighty and has a reputation for delivering some very average performances so I confess I was more looking for the chance to see an icon and an idol than any expectation that I was going to be well entertained. Also given that he refused to allow big screens on stage and often seemed to hide behind his piano I was even unsure if I might actually get to even see him.
Was I wrong or was I wrong.
The band came out, the lights came on and before I realised we were into a particularly rocking version of Times have Changed followed up by a more mellow “Don’t think Twice” and over the next hour and a half Dylan cranked out songs that encapsulated the full length, depth and width of his remarkable career.
His legendary quirkiness and complete disregard for doing what people expected was on full display and that just added to the show.
About four song in, it seemed like he glanced at the crowd for the first time and seemed a little bemused to find that six thousand people were actually here listening to him but in true Dylan fashion he never once showed that he was even remotely interested.
The lack of big screens and lighting effects added to the scaled back approach, you soon forgot you were at a concert and it felt for all the world like you were intimately watching a talented and hardworking band in your local bar.
The band was tight, the sound was warm and full, the crowd was at first respectful with polite clapping but soon became more animated with yelling, stamping and applause and, perhaps most importantly of all, Dylan seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself.
The songs, while all instantly recognizable (at least to me) as the classics they were, had been significantly transformed so you felt like you were hearing them for the first time and as Bob’s throaty nasally gravelly voice rasped out those sublimely divine lyrics, you knew you were not just in the presence of arguably the most influential figure in music history but also listening to an old friend.
I went to see Dylan primarily to tick a bucket list, see my idol and maybe take a little walk down memory lane.
What I got was one of the most enjoyable nights that I have ever experienced and I left with a feeling of delicious sadness.
Thanks Bob. That was one hell of a show!