It’s weird that being such a fan of Bob Dylan, I’d never seen him live before. Having grown up in New York City, I was never able to get tickets to his concerts in the mid-1970s. Later, when he was in his born-again phase, I really didn’t want to see him live. I left New York in 1984 for France, and was never anywhere I could see him all those years. Finally, now that I’m in the UK, I had an opportunity to see him in Cardiff, Wales, about a two-hour drive from where I live. To celebrate the occasion, I splurged and bought front-row VIP tickets.
(Not my photo; I don’t know who to credit this to, it was included in a distribution of a bootleg from 10/25/15 at Royal Albert Hall, London. The ushers were very strict about preventing people taking photos, so I didn’t take any chances.)
Bob’s show in Cardiff was not very different from the rest of the concerts on this leg of his tour. The setlist was the same as in most of the concerts in the past few months:
- Things Have Changed
- She Belongs to Me
- Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
- What’ll I Do (Irving Berlin cover)
- Duquesne Whistle
- Melancholy Mood (Frank Sinatra cover)
- Pay in Blood
- I’m a Fool to Want You (Frank Sinatra cover)
- Tangled Up in Blue
- High Water (For Charley Patton)
- Why Try to Change Me Now (Cy Coleman cover)
- Early Roman Kings
- The Night We Called It a Day (Frank Sinatra cover)
- Spirit on the Water
- Scarlet Town
- All or Nothing at All (Frank Sinatra cover)
- Long and Wasted Years
- Autumn Leaves (Yves Montand cover)
- Blowin’ in the Wind
- Love Sick
The band was all dressed in scarlet suits, making a vivid contrast against the dark stage. Dylan didn’t play guitar at all, and played piano on around a half dozen songs. To the right of the piano (from the audience’s point of view), there were two small statues on a box, lit so they were clearly visible. One was a bust of Pallas Athena, similar to the one used on the cover of his album Tempest, and the other was either the original or a replica of the oscar he won for his song Things Have Changed, which was featured in the movie Wonder Boys. Behind the piano was a bust of Beethoven.
(Photo by Lee Ridge taken at the end of the concert.)
The lighting was subtle, featuring old-style movie spotlights behind the band that pointed forward, and some subtle lights at the front of the stage. There were no flashing, colored lights, just a nice atmosphere.
(This photo is from a YouTube video of another performance this year.)
As you can see from the setlist, Dylan performed a combination of his own songs and covers of songs such as those on the 2014 Shadows in the Night. He sang two songs that have not yet been released: Melancholy Mood and All or Nothing at All; I would think there will be a follow-up to Shadows in the Night, containing these and other songs he recorded in the same sessions. He also sang three “classics,” She Belongs to Me, Tangled Up in Blue, and Blowin’ in the Wind. The rest of the concert featured more recent songs, from albums released in the past twenty years.
The whole concert had a decidedly old-timey feel. Not only because of the Sinatra-esque songs and the subtle lighting, but also because of songs like Beyond Here Lies Nothing, Duquesne Whistle, and Spirit on the Water, which all have an old-fashioned sound. Dylan crooned, sang, and he even smiled a few times, and did a couple of shuffle steps on stage. He seemed to be really enjoying himself.
Of course, Bob Dylan, at 74, does not have the voice he used to, and it’s likely that a lot of the songs he chooses to sing these days are those that fit his voice now. The only song that really didn’t sound good, as far as his voice was concerned, was Pay in Blood, which I also think doesn’t sound very good in the studio version on Tempest. But all the other songs, whether the rockers such as Things Have Changed and Love Sick, or the Sinatra songs, sounded excellent. I think the best performances of the night were Tangled Up in Blue and Blowin’ in the Wind, but that’s probably my bias toward the older songs. All of the covers were performed very well, and I would pay to hear Dylan do an entire concert of just those songs, perhaps in a smaller, more intimate venue.
As for the venue, Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena is a 5,000-seat box. The sound wasn’t great; the vocals and the piano weren’t ideal. But this may in part be because I was in the front row. The drums were very strong from that location, and the guitars as well, since I could hear the onstage amps. The vocals were coming from a speaker array above the stage at the center, and the poor sound may have simply been its location compared to where I was sitting.
All in all, it was a great concert. It’s not cheap to get front-row seats, but for my first – and, perhaps, only – Dylan concert, I’m glad I spent the money.