Another side of Bob Dylan

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The Independent Culture
"LADEEZ and gennelmen," oozes an American voice at the Brixton Academy on Thursday, "would you please welcome Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan!" I beg your pardon? Is that all he is? A "Columbia recording artist"? Not the Mythic, Divine Bob Dylan? It almost makes him sound like an entertainer. But then, tonight he almost is.

After Elvis Costello's acoustic support slot, the recording artist comes on in a gold braided black jacket, silk shirt with pointy collar, and trousers with silver buckles down the seams, an outfit which could have been left over from Adam Ant's London shows last week. In a certain light (a bad one, perhaps) he even looks like the Dylan of two or three decades ago. Reports of his Take That-rivalling dance workouts have been exaggerated. He does his first two songs without his guitar, however, and bobs and weaves like a doddery Elvis impersonator (Presley, not Costello). It's hardly Zooropa, but the man is putting on a show.

His back catalogue is revamped as cantering country rock, courtesy of guitar, bass, pedal steel, and a drummer who is under the unfortunate impression that he is being paid by the decibel. Dylan's singing, while cracked and crinkled, is singing, not mumbling, and he invests those magical lyrics with enough thought and emotion to suggest, for once, that he isn't mortally ashamed of them.

This is more than we could have hoped for. Dylan's respect for his material and his audience is often so invisible that any concert at which fewer than 10 per cent walk out is pronounced a triumph. And yet, when I cunningly arrived an hour before showtime to get a place near the front, there was already a queue stretching down Astoria Walk, round into Stockwell Park Walk, and along Brixton Road. Dylan fans don't care if they enjoy themselves or not, it seems. They would pay to see him do macram.

Instead they get "Hey, Mr Tambourine Man" as a spellbinding acoustic ballad, "Masters of War" as a windswept cowboy fable, "Jokerman" as a tense shuffle, and no evidence of the fabled Dylan insanity, pointy collar excepted. Moreover, not only does he speak - "Thangoo," he says - he even smiles. Twice. Once during a spirited "Stuck Inside a Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again", and again during a flirtatious duet of "I Shall Be Released" with Costello. If this carries on, people are going to start going to his concerts because they enjoy them.

Dick Dale has friends in highly fashionable places. Quentin Tarantino used one of his songs, Mark Lamarr MC'd his show at the London Garage on Wednesday, and John Peel was there shouting, "You're bitchin', Dick!"

Credited with creating Californian surf-music with the Deltones almost 40 years ago, Dale recently strapped on "The Beast" (his gold-painted Stratocaster) once again, and now, at 57, he is riding a tidal wave of popularity. It wasn't just John Travolta's career that Pulp Fiction revived.

On stage, Dale is as casually murderous as Travolta's character is on film. He unleashes a torrent of noisy, steely tremelo guitar, interspersed with squeals of feedback and neighing-horse glissandos. A bassist and drummer half his age strain to keep up - and they are no slouches themselves. This is real surfing; none of your Beach Boys paddling-by-the-shore-on- a-Lilo business.

Most of the songs are instrumental (accent on "mental"), so audience interest is perked up by four bikini-clad dancers (only one of whom is male), and by Dale's party tricks, my favourite being when he played the bass with drum sticks.

It's not everyone who can inspire fans to wear T-shirts proclaiming "I'm a Dickhead" (as Dale's fans are known). Whether he provokes such hysteria when Pulp Fiction is no longer making waves is another matter, but for now he's a blast. "Tell them it's like being able to see Hendrix!" an ecstatic John Peel says to me, and you can't argue with that.

Martin Rossiter of Gene refuses to come out of the closet. His stage moves are modelled on John Inman and he sings a barely coded song about being "Left-Handed", but - and it's nothing to be ashamed of - he has yet to stand up and admit: "My band are just like the Smiths." Gene's dbut album, Olympian (Costermonger), not only sounds like an album of Smiths covers, but even has a cover like a Smiths album.

Live at the London Forum on Friday, though, Gene are louder, rowdier and altogether more defiant. Steve Mason's guitar is blazing, and the songs are solid, air-punching anthems. In "Left-Handed" the music crescendos from whisper to shout: "I know you've been stranded/Bruised, kicked... /But take it from me/I will be here tomorrow." Herds of nerds sing along, lives affirmed.

Once you realise that Gene are a tough-talking rock band, the comparisons between Moz and Roz seem less true. Fans hand him bunches of flowers, but he resists the temptation to stick them in his back pocket.

Dylan: B'ham Aston Villa Leisure Ctr, 0121-328 8330, tonight; Manchester Apollo, 0161-273 3775, Mon-Wed; Edinburgh Playhse, 0131-557 2590, Thurs & Fri; Glasgow SECC, 0141-248 9999, Sun 9 April; Belfast King's, 01232 665225, Mon 10; Dublin Point, 010 3531 836 3633, Tues 11.