LIVE / Support the warm-up man: Giles Smith watches Roddy Frame do Dylan a favour

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The Independent Culture
BOB DYLAN is booked into the Hammersmith Apollo all this week, turning in performances which are, as ever, more variable than the weather. On Tuesday at least (and again tonight) he has a support act who, in these circumstances, tends only to blow hot.

Roddy Frame strode out of the wings at 8pm, dressed in white, hair squeezed up into a Tintin quiff. There was warm, if slightly scattered applause. (Most people were still at the merchandise stand in the foyer, trying to choose between a Bob Dylan baseball cap and a hooded sweatshirt.) Frame was the warm-up routine on Dylan's last tour, too, and continues to seem the sensible choice - a lone figure with an acoustic guitar and a head full of strong tunes, many of which nod respectfully in Dylan's direction. Except that these days, for Frame, unlike Dylan, some of the traditional virtues still seem to count for something - rehearsing, for instance, and singing in tune. He started with an unerringly tough version of 'Birth of the True' and didn't falter once in the next half hour.

There can be something infectiously worrying about the sight of a solo performer in a giant hall, armed only with an acoustic guitar. The mechanics of the performance seem fragile and exposed and the audience can sometimes catch the potential embarrassment, waiting for fingers to snag in the strings or the voice and the playing to wander waywardly apart. Frame's strength is in being able to rout those worries by playing with a vigorous attack that somehow doesn't sacrifice the subtleties. His rendition of 'Down the Dip', its tricky guitar figures running at tangents from the sung melody, sounded almost orchestrated.

Frame has nothing new to sell at the moment, which often brings out the best in a performer. His next album (as Aztec Camera, the name he continues to use for recordings) isn't due until later in the year. His single from last summer, 'Spanish Horses', died a mysterious death and is, as he noted after playing it, currently available in a bargain dumper bin near you. A storm of Flamenco guitar, it deserved a better fate, though clearly it can still be pressed into use as an on-stage party piece.

By this time, Gary Sanctuary had come on to supply some piano and saxophone. The pair played two recent songs ('Pianos and Clocks' and 'Belle of the Ball'), somehow converted the aggrieved rush of 'Good Morning Britain' into a mid-tempo ballad and right in the middle of a passionate 'How Men Are' dropped into a verse of 'People Get Ready' just to show where Frame had stolen the idea from in the first place. 'Enjoy Bob Dylan,' he said as he left. It was meant straightforwardly, but it could have been a challenge.

Concert details, p 16