Bob Dylan makes debut in Vietnam

Legendary American musician Bob Dylan, whose songs became anthems of the anti-Vietnam war movement, played a symbolic first-ever concert in the communist country on Sunday.

A hero for the West's ageing "counter-culture" generation, Dylan and his protest songs are less well-known among the young population of the communist nation, who have no memory of the years of war with the United States.

But that didn't stop a number of young Vietnamese, as well as foreigners, from turning out for the gig in Ho Chi Minh City and cheering for Dylan, who made no comment on Vietnam or the significance of his appearance there.

"We all really enjoyed it," said a 29-year-old banker, who gave his name as Quan, as he and his friends left the concert in the former Saigon, Vietnam's largest and most westernised city.

As was the case in Beijing, where Dylan also made his debut on Wednesday, he did not play two politically-charged songs that are among his most well-known: "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and "Blowin' in the Wind".

After reportedly banning a concert by Dylan last year, Beijing agreed he could perform if his songs were vetted by censors.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga could not say whether Dylan's songs would have to be checked by Vietnamese authorities, but a review by censors would be normal procedure.

Dylan's voice sounded on good form as he performed, dressed in a white hat, black suit and pink shirt, ending the set with an encore that included "Like a Rolling Stone".

One concert-goer, 37-year-old Hoang Quoc Tuan, described himself as a "big fan" of Dylan, having listened to him when he was studying in the UK.

"Some of his songs remind me of what my family told me about the war. The meaning is hard to explain - it's like an uncle telling you from the other side," he said.

"He was an inspiration to Trinh Cong Son," said 20-year-old female student Tru Hong Ngoc, referring to the singer known as Vietnam's Bob Dylan when he sang about peace at the height of the war.

Son died ten years ago this month in Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnamese singers opened Dylan's concert by performing some of Son's love songs.

The landmark gig by Dylan forms part of his Asia-Pacific tour marking 50 years since his first major performance on April 11, 1961.

Organisers estimated a turnout of 5-6000 at the open-air concert after a number of late sales, with a mixed crowd of locals and foreigners.

Washington and the European Union this week expressed concern over human rights and free expression in Vietnam after a high-profile dissident was jailed for anti-state propaganda activities.

Brad Adams, an executive director at Human Rights Watch, accused Dylan of allowing censors to choose his playlist.

"Dylan should be ashamed of himself," he said.

Since poverty-stricken and isolated Vietnam began to embrace the free market 25 years ago it has developed rapidly and become increasingly integrated with the rest of the world.

Chuck Searcy, a Vietnam War veteran who has lived in the country since 1995, saw the Dylan gig as part of this process, significant for the Vietnamese because he is a major international artist, rather than for his anti-war associations.

About half of Vietnam's 86 million-strong population is aged under 30.

"They don't have any political connection with the era in which Bob Dylan became famous," Searcy said.

The concert comes after two much-hyped shows by American 90s boy band Backstreet Boys, who reportedly drew about 30,000 fans last month.

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