Bob Dylan, MEN Arena, Manchester

Don't worry, Bob - you hum it, we'll sing along
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The Independent Culture

How does it feel? How does it feel? How does it feel to be not on your own with no direction home, but to be onstage in front of several kazillion Mancunians, some of whom are doubtless here because of the buzz around the recent Martin Scorsese documentary, some of whom are doubtless here just to say they've seen Baahb Dylan, the legend from the Rock'n'Roll Hall Of Fame, but all of whom have paid upwards of £30 to be here and are therefore deserving of a little respect... and to afford them next-to-none? I'm not saying this was a terrible show. It was, after all, Bob Dylan singing Bob Dylan songs, and that, like Marmite, has its own special love/hate appeal.

As he writes in Chronicles of his early days playing in Greenwich Village: "I'd either drive people away or they'd come in closer to see what it was all about. There was no in-between. There were a lot of better singers and better musicians around these places, but there wasn't anybody close in nature to what I was doing." Which is true, but doesn't make sense of the fact that now he's surrounded himself with people who can play: a team of men in grey who can play anything from pedal steel to double bass, and turn "Most Likely You'll Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine" into sleepy 12-bar blues, and "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues (Again)" into a ragtime jazz stroll.

It's disappointing that Dylan's learned to play the harmonica properly. Back in the day, it was a bracing blast of dissonance, as much of a battle-call as The Jesus and Mary Chain's feedback howl. Nowadays, doddering around onstage, he can actually carry a tune.

Would that this were true of Dylan's vocals. He rattles off every line in a veryfastmonotonethatgoes upanoctaveattheEND. The drumbeat that signals "Like A Rolling Stone" still feels like a gunshot, and the crowd are having none of this eccentric scansion nonsense, singing the "proper" version regardless.

As he and his band follow their Hendrix-influenced finale of "All Along The Watchtower" with a curtain call, it occurs to me that he hasn't sung a verse all night. I can believe that his voice might be somewhat shot at the age of 64. But would it really kill him to open his lungs just once, and bring the house down with a proper Bob Dylan "aaahhh!!!"? If you tell me it would, you're a liar. I don't believe you.

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