Bob Dylan & His Band
Glasgow SECC, September 17th, 2000
These days, when it says 7.30pm on a ticket to a Bob Dylan show, that’s pretty much what it means. We arrive just as he’s hitting the stage and it’s immediately clear tonight is going to be special. The band are tearing joyously into the opening acoustic set with the traditional “Somebody Touched Me,” and from his first thorny yelp of “Glory, glory, glory,” Dylan is singing with astonishing power. Across the next two hours he’ll stretch his vocal chords in the kind of gymnastic display I thought had been confined to history. He’ll cry and whisper, purr and growl, tease, terrify, seduce and, constantly, joke the words. “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” and “Just Like A Woman,” are as exquisite as 1966.
He sounds like he looks: thin and dapper, sharp enough to cut. In his black suit with its silver buttons, he’s positively throwing shapes with his guitar – Link Wray posing for a 1957 album cover. He’s playing the thing with new confidence, too, leading with these weirdly right three-and-four-note solos. The acoustic set is a constant wonder. With guitars and mandolins sparring, “Tangled Up In Blue,” becomes an extended, complex hoedown, like some backwoods bluegrass version of Television trying to remember how to play “Sweet Home Alabama.” For a rare “This World It Can’t Stand Long,” the SECC becomes a revival meeting.
His band are right on the nail, layering songs, shading and texturing, creating odd, detailed fills where you least expect, and more importantly leaving space where it’s needed. When it goes electric with an unexpected “Country Pie,” and then later a raging “Highway 61,” they seem to be channelling The Band itself. During a strangely funky “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” the closest I can get to describing the sound is The Band being covered by… Orange Juice!
Surprises keep coming: a sly, hilarious “Highlands,” a song I never expected to hear live, sounding far better, funnier, ornier and hornier, stranger, more deliciously unsettling tonight than it does on record. It floats. (A measure of the mood Dylan is in: in a nod to his Scottish surroundings, he’s not “listening to Neil Young” tonight, he’s “listening to Annie Lennox.”) A slinky “Things Have Changed” that grooves like an underground 1967 discotheque.
He closes the final encore with a canny one-two combination, a rare rock through “To Be Alone With You,” followed by a simply sublime “Forever Young,” vocal harmonies rising heavenward on the chorus. As the band line up for their final bow, Dylan is shimmying in his silver spotlight, smiling like a man who knows exactly how good he is.