The man many call the greatest songwriter of all time is back on the road with his “never-ending” tour – and the legendary Bob Dylan wooed his legions of fans in Belgium with a terrific performance.
It was his first concert in the country for over five years but it was well worth the wait.
With cheapest tickets at just over €100 at Forest National – no small price to pay in these lean times – expectations were high of the great man.
But one thing you can always be sure of at a Dylan gig is that something like 95 per cent of the audience would be quite content if he just appeared before them for a couple of hours and mumbled gibberish.
Actually, the first Dylan concert this writer attended, back in 1980, unfortunately fell into that category. It was not, shall we say, one of Bob’s finest.
But, even though there is a kind of strange God-like status surrounding Dylan for many of his followers, he most certainly did not disappoint with a 90 minute or so set on Saturday.
Yes, much of what leaves his mouth is somehow lost by the time it reaches the intended recipients (this might have something to do with the acoustics as much as his now hugely diminished vocal powers) but that is not really the point at a Dylan gig.
One really does feel quite privileged and honoured to be in the same “room” as a man solely responsible for some of the most wondrous song writing ever.
He enters totally without fanfare and, initially, was actually hard to spot on stage as his tiny figure is lost behind a piano with its back to the audience at which he’s sat.
But, of course, the minute those (in)famous vocal chords burst into action you know he is really there among the (quite excellent) five other musicians on stage.
He proceeds, with barely a break, to plough through song after song, the majority receiving extremely polite, if slightly reserved applause.
You really do get the sense that most (rather like this writer) are really just waiting to hear one of the great man’s great classics.
If so, this particular audience was to go home a tad disappointed as none of them really came. But that is Dylan for you – he is most certainly his own man and you get the feeling he does not really give a damn what an audience may want – he will just do his own thing anyway.
So, instead of Highway 61, Desolation Row or Tangled up in Blue, we got That Old Black Magic (covered by, among others, Sinatra and Rod Stewart) which, frankly this writer at least was quite astonished to hear at a Bob Dylan gig. You’d have thought it.
No matter, the old maestro performed it well and it was all rather enjoyable.
And that, for me, was the big difference between Dylan of the early 1980s and today – he is very, very polished these days and, like a good vintage, he really has aged well.
Combined with the subdued, mellow and dimmed stage lighting you could actually be forgiven for thinking you’re watching some schmaltzy cabaret crooner, albeit very ageing, rather than this great figure of the rock industry.
Maybe that is what you should expect from someone who is now 81 and whose career spans a quite incredible 60 years. Indeed, a cursory glance of the audience suggests the average age of most present is circa mid-60s.
Dylan himself hardly moves, save from sitting down (though just occasionally) when not singing at the piano.
But Dylan is not only (for me) easily the best of all time but someone who clearly, even now, really never stops pushing himself to the limit (how much longer he can actually do this at his age is another question entirely).
This is a very polished, sleek and impressive performance, not least by some clearly highly talented accompanying musicians.
We live in very troubled times and it is warmly reassuring to sit and listen, albeit for just a short while, to hear Dylan sing of love and beauty, as he did here.
Much of the set is given over to tracks from his Rough and Roudy Ways album two years ago, his 39th studio album. That record made the beloved entertainer the first to chart at least one album per decade in the Billboard Top 40 from the 1960s to the 2020s.
Arguably, he saved the best here to last with a beautiful and melancholic song, Every Grain of Sand, from that sadly under-rated 1981 album Shot of Love.
After more than 90 minutes, the Nobel Prize laureate finally speaks to his adoring fans (well, at least a few mumbled words) and introduces his backing band. And then the piece de resistance – out comes the harmonica for a final blast.
There’s no encore (and he doesn’t take up the guitar once here) but never mind. There is always the new book, “The Philosophy of Modern Song” that is coming out on November 8. It’s his first book in nearly 20 years and comes six years after he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.
For those able to visit it, there is also a new “Bob Dylan Centre” in Tulsa which houses and exhibits exclusive cultural treasures created and owned by the Mr Zimmerman.
If this is the last time a Belgian audience sees this truly great musician/songwriter/poet/artist/Pulitzer Prize recipient we can say just one thing: So long Bob, you enriched our lives no end.