Positively Bob Dylan

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Vienna 28 June, 2014: A surprising performance of a non-surprising setlist

Posted on 06/28/2014

I was prepared for anything to happen, even the worst. But when Bob Dylan and his band played the first of two Austrian gigs in Vienna tonight, I was surprised. Standing only a few meters away from the stage I witnessed one of the best shows I have seen in years. Dylan's voice was sharp, clear and on many occasions even melodic. He obviously was enjoying himself, smiled a lot and even shook his hips a little in between his vocal parts.

As you might know the cover photography of Dylan's latest studio album "Tempest" shows part of a female statue on the “Pallas Athena” fountain in front of the Austrian parliament in Vienna. On stage there were two small white replicas of that statue. So the playlist matched quite nicely, including six songs from that album – one third of the setlist. The last time he played that many selections from his then current album was probably in 1979 on the tour following "Slow Train Coming".

The Vienna setlist 28/06/2014:*
Part one:
Things Have Changed
She Belongs To Me
Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
What Good Am I?
Waiting For You (from “The Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood” soundtrack, 2002)
Duquesne Whistle
Pay In Blood
Tangled Up In Blue
Love Sick

Part two:
High Water
Simple Twist Of Fate
Early Roman Kings
Forgetful Heart
Spirit On The Water
Scarlet Town
Soon After Midnight
Long And Wasted Years

All Along The Watchtower
Blowin' In The Wind

* click song title to post your rating/comment

The setlist basically was the same set as on most of the gigs during the past months, except for Greece, where parts of the setlist were changed for two nights.
"Things Have Changed" makes a great opener for this tour, a song carefully selected to send a message to his audience "Don't look back, I'll play more of my new stuff tonight."
And so he did: "She Belongs To Me", "Tangled Up In Blue", "Simple Twist Of Fate", "All Along The Watchtower" and "Blowin' In The Wind", for less than half of the songs Dylan turned back the pages of his extensive songbook to his classic period. All in all practically no "hits", no "Like a Rolling Stone", no "Knockin' on heaven's door", and no "The Times They Are-Changing". What might be a disappointment for casual fans, pleased all others. Haven't we seen and heard it all through the years? It's nice to get that many new songs live this time around.

On "She Belongs To Me" Dylan's voice mostly stuck to the original melody which has been extremely rare in the years before, while the band played "Oh Mercy"-style with a pounding bass drum. "Duquesne Whistle" was performed in a swinging/jazzy version, superior to the studio recording. "What Good Am I?" hasn't been heard that often live in the past decade and Dylan proved that yes, he still can perform a song as beautiful and authentic you want to hear it. For "Tangled Up In Blue" Dylan changed parts of the lyrics and performed the second half of the song on the piano. "Pay In Blood", the "hardest" rocking song on "Tempest", worked fine live just like most other new songs and the musicians were apparently enjoying themselves.
The biggest surprise to me was "Simple Twist Of Fate". It was probably the best performance of the "Blood on the tracks" classic in 30 years. Dylan's voice was clear, melodic and the whole song sounded beautiful just like a flashback to the 1970s. What a fantastic moment!

Dylan obviously seemed very comfortable with his newer material, that hasn't always been the case. But now he carefully chooses which "classic" tunes to play in between so that those match the sound and feel of his new songs. All in all it was a "concept" show. The stage decorated as an old theater with vintage static lighting, curtains and microphones. Old-school ringing – once, twice, three times – before the musicians entered the stage. No introduction ("Please welcome Columbia recording artist"...and so on as in previous years), a well conceived setlist with a focus on newer songs. And: a half-time break! Can you believe it? It's all part of the vintage theater experience that Dylan creates and it works!

Bob Dylan has not been the "voice of a generation" for a long time and never intended to be one in the first place. He's not a "folk poet", as papers still write today. He's one of the greatest lyricists of our time and he's still very much alive, consistently writing new songs and actually still enjoying performing on stage. And we do love him for that.

I could never sit in a room and play all by myself. I needed to play for people and all of the time. You can say I practiced in public and my whole life was becoming what I practiced. (from "Chronicles, Volume One", Simon & Schuster 2004)

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