Bournemouth International Centre, Bournemouth, 28/
published: 23 /
At his second Bob Dylan show in the spcae of a year, Benjamin Howarth watches the veteran rock blast through a crowd-pleasing, but fiery set at the Bournemouth International Centre
It may be closer to 30 degrees than 20 today on Bournemouth’s seafront, but there are still plenty of middle aged men wandering around in leather jackets, drinking coffee. Are they really all here to watch bikini-clad students play beach volleyball?
The answer to that, surprisingly, is no. They are here to watch the second of Bob Dylan’s two summer dates in the UK, rather oddly scheduled in the Bournemouth International Centre, which overlooks the town’s outstandingly tacky pier. Here on the South coast, most of our hallowed gig conventions have been tossed into the sea, and we are allowed to queue inside, can access the merch stand all day long and have been provided with ample parking. Most shocking of all, the security and staff are friendly, and seem to have decided that, yes, we are indeed human beings, and should be treated as such. The only organisational feature that has followed us down from London is the parade of touts outside the venue. Why can’t the police start arresting these fuckers? They are hardly inconspicuous.
Unintentionally, the bar staff were pouring out one Fosters and one Kronenburg to anyone who ordered two Kronenburgs - due to some confusing labelling - but I was wise to this, and supping my carefully ordered "tactical" pint, joined the throng to wait for what I was sure would be a prompt arrival from his Bobness.
But, rather typically, when I make it to the venue early, Dylan arrives fifteen minutes late, and it isn’t until 8 that we heard the announcement "Ladies and Gentlemen, Columbia Recording Artist, Bob Dylan.” Those were to be the last words spoken from the stage until the encores, as Dylan maintained his typically dignified silence. I may have seen Dylan at Brixton Academy only eight months prior to this outing, but I would have been a fool to presume that much else of the show would have stayed the same in that time.
It feels like a transition period for the Never Ending Tour, as tunes from the classic 'Love And Theft' albums are being eased out of the setlist, but as yet have not been replaced by any from his new album, due in late August,(previews of which have been saved only for a few lucky possessors of promo copies). But that meant that this was the closest I have seen Dylan come to giving the crowd a ‘Greatest Hits’ performance, as he rolled out some of his finest songs from the 60's.
For some reason, the show took a while to get going. 'Maggie’s Farm' and 'She Belongs To Me' were standard, unexceptional readings of these well known songs, and 'Tweedle Dum And Tweedle Dee', usually a highlight of the set, was totally lacklustre, with Dylan’s vocals off the beat, and the band sounding completely lost. But I needn’t have worried, because from the fourth song onwards, Dylan was on fire. A country version of ‘Positively 4th Street’ was unbelievable, but even better was a relatively straight reading of 'Just Like A Woman', for which the crowd became euphoric in their applause. Best of all was the pumped up blast of 'Cold Irons Bound', a highlight in its recorded form on the seminal 'Time Out of Mind' album, but even better in person. Add to that the closing blast through 'Summer Days', 'Like A Rolling Stone' and 'All Along The Watchtower' and one has a pretty decent show.
Dylan’s appearance may have been a coup for Bournemouth, but for Dylan - the hardest working performer of his generation - it was another show in another town. He will keep on keeping on, we all imagine, as long as he can. These shows may lack the ‘event’ qualities of, say, a Rolling Stones gig, but - musically - they offer fans something new every time, and his devotees keep coming back, happy to ignore those newspaper columnists who insist on writing the same criticisms every time (“doesn’t sound like the records” sums them up). We are still no closer to knowing what Dylan is thinking when he stands at the front of the stage with his band at the end of every show, but I think that’s the reason we all keep coming. A ten out of ten gig, as per usual!