Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bob Dylan Concert Review - Adelaide Entertainment Centre 19/04/11

1.  Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking
2.  Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)
3.  I'll Be Your Baby Tonight
4.  Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
5.  Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
6.  Simple Twist Of Fate
7.  The Levee's Gonna Break
8.  A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
9.  High Water (For Charley Patton)
10.  Tryin' To Get To Heaven
11.  Jolene
12.  Tangled Up In Blue
13.  Highway 61 Revisited
14.  Ballad Of A Thin Man
15.  Encore: Like A Rolling Stone
16.  All Along The Watchtower
17.  Forever Young

Bob Dylan is one of the legends of rock music. He along with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones defined 60's music and he is a cultural icon. He released great albums throughout his career and I was excited to see him here in to Adelaide and see the legend himself perform live.

However, the concert I saw was just downright bizarre.

I have to clarify my thoughts on Bob Dylan as a singer first before I go further with that statement.

In my opinion, Bob Dylan is not just a great songwriter but a great singer. I believe that one of things he showed the world is that you can be a great singer and emotionally move people even with an unconventional voice that sounds nothing like Elvis Presley. I believe it was Bob Dylan's influence that paved away for other singers with unconventional voices to be accepted to be great singers such as the likes of Ian Curtis, Thom Yorke, Eddie Vedder, Kurt Cobain, Billy Corgan etc.

So I reject all notions that Bob Dylan can't sing and I don't understand how people can listen to songs like The Times They Are a-Changin' and Blowin’ In The Wind and It's All Over Now, Baby Blue etc and don't recognise how good of a singer he is. However at this stage of his life and at his age, it's upsets me to say that Bob Dylan really can't sing.

It seems to me that time has paid a toll over Dylan's voice and it's now become shot and at this concert it became evident how much Dylan has lost his vocal power.

The fact of the matter is, he didn't sing this concert. He just spoke through the song. Every time the melody of the song changes dramatically or the melody goes high; Bob Dylan just speaks through it. During the anthemic "How Does It Feel" that should have initiated a crowd sing along (listen to the live cover by The Rolling Stones of this song. That initiated a bigger crowd singalong then when Bob Dylan actually performed it himself), Bob Dylan just spoke through it. This half-speaking voice went on for the entire concert. This is a big shame because Dylan also writes great melodies and we didn't get to hear them properly this concert.

His half speaking voice helps him project the gruff bluesman sound. Sort of imagine Tom Waits singing who is probably the gruffest bluesman and the most cigarette affected vocalist I have ever heard on CD and times that dodgy voice by hundred to get what his vocals was like in this concert

At times his dodgy voice was a positive as it gave the fast paced blues rock a mean edged to the songs. In fact, when he played Gonna Changed My Way Of Thinking from the born again Christian era of his career, it was a vast improvement over the original song. This was partly due to the quality of the backing band who gave the song an extra punch by stripping the way the 80's production that marred most records during that era but also due to Dylan voice whose gruffness really add to the song.

However, when he sang songs that actually are reliant on melody and actually requires some decent singing. The songs just fall apart. Listening to Dylan just speaking away to Tangled Up In Blues which is supposed to be a beautiful ballad was just embarrassing to listen to. The lowest point of the concert was when he sang A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall where this beautiful acoustic song was given a country music full band makeover and Dylan just spoke through the entire song and during the chorus didn't bother to sing the chorus which was supposed to be the focal point of the song. The performance pretty much relied on the audience to imagine the record in their head of a younger Dylan singing over it but even then that was difficult because the current Dylan wasn't singing/speaking in sync to what the song usually sound like. 

I came to the concert wishing that Dylan plays his classic songs such as Like A Rolling Stones, The Times They Are a-Changin', Blowin’ In The Wind, All Along The Watchtower, Mr. Tambourine Man etc. However halfway in the concert, I just wished he didn't touch his old stuff and just sing songs from his later albums as he was murdering the classic. It was the first time in a concert where I wish the artist didn't play their classic popular songs.

Of course it is to be expected that singers lose some of their vocal power with age and I wasn't expecting Dylan to sing like it was 1960. I listen to current day live performance of other 60's artist such as Paul McCartney and The Who and their vocals are far inferior to what they were during their peak as expected. However, they still sing and hit their notes even if they don't sound as good. However with Dylan, he didn't even bother singing it all. It was basically a spoken word concert with little sprinkles of singing in between the speaking

When listening to Dylan record from the 90's to the 00's, you can tell that Dylan lost some of his beauty in the voice and therefore he changed the style of music to suit his vocal. So he rebranded himself as a dark bluesman and sometimes a crooner and wrote songs accordingly which suit his aging voice to a tee. That's why his performance of songs from his last three album were fairly decent such as Jolene, High Water etc and it would have been a better thing if he stuck exclusive with those type of song. Of course they weren't as good as the records because in the records he was actually singing and not speaking but at least it was tolerable to listen to.

The most puzzling thing was that it was only two years ago with the Together Through Life album where Dylan was singing quite competently (he also sang fairly well in his Christmas album as well). It was the gruff bluesman feeling but he was still singing his melodies instead of just speaking through them like he is going through the motions. So either Dylan spent the last two years chronically smoking cigarettes until he wrecked his voice or Dylan can't sing in a live setting as he gets fatigue as the set goes or he actually deliberately "sang" like that during the concert for vocal effect without caring what the fans think about it (he is notorious for that). It would be fascinating to see what the next Dylan album will sound like and whether his voice still has it.

However if his voice is shot and irreparably gone then I feel that Bob Dylan should really retire. If he can't sing properly in a gig due to fatigue but can still pull a good performance in studio then he should stop his never-ending tour or at the very least charged less than $95 for the cheapest ticket to see him play live as I felt a bit short change from the performance. It was really uncomfortable to listen to and it was akin to watching a bad singer on Australian idol embarrassing them without realising it. I almost felt sorry for Dylan seeing him perform as a shadow of a singer than he used to be.

If Dylan is not retiring and he is choosing to continue to sing in that style, than I have a few songs to recommend him to perform that may suit his half-singing voice.

1. Subterranean Homesick Blues from Bringing It All Back Home
There are only two melodic notes in the entire song and they are all in a comfortable register for Bob to "sing". The fact that this song is considered a precursor to rap music, it would suit his semi singing vocal style to just have him going through all those lyrics quickly. I actually believe that this style of singing would actually improve the song and add a bit of punch and menace to the song. It's amazing that Bob no longer plays this song considering how much it suits his current vocal style now.

2. Tombstone Blues from Highway 61 Revisited
I recommended this song for the same reason as Subterranean Homesick Blues as it is a fast pace energetic blues song with minor melodic variation in a comfortable vocal range. Also this song is fairly monotone in its melody and therefore Dylan doesn't have to strain himself to reach these notes. If he decides to semi-speak it then it would still work due to the fast pace nature of the song.

3. Love Sick from Time Out Of Mind
 Although this is more of a blues ballad and have a greater emphasis on singing, Bob Dylan could have took the crooner approach (similar to Tom Waits in songs like Tom Traubert Blues) to this song. I'm surprised that Bob Dylan never took that approach in the entire concert as I felt that would have suited his crooked voice especially when he did a decent job of the crooner voice in his recent studio albums. Also the music in this song is just beautiful and the quality of the song is very much due to the atmosphere (especially the organ section) of the musicians. His backing band seems pretty competent and I believed that they could have pulled off this song quite well even with a barely functional lead singer.

4. Forgetful Heart from Together Through Life
Just for the same reason as Love Sick. This song is also reliant on atmosphere created by the musician (great guitar work) and this song would have also worked if Bob took the crooner angle in his singing. This is also a fairly simple song melodically and considering that this song was only two years old, you think that his voice hasn't deteriorated that much in that short span that he couldn't sing this song properly.

5. Things Have Changed from Wonderboy Soundtrack
Just to hear him barely singing this song, so when he sings/speaks "Things Have Changed" we really know that it has for Bob's voice.

I admit that I didn't do my research before hand and listen to any bootlegs of Dylan concerts in recent years and I'm quite sure some hardcore Dylan fans out there would tell me "what do you expect' or "Dylan being singing like this for many years, why didn't you know?” etc. I admit I'm not a hardcore Dylan fan to do stuff like that but I don't think it should be expected of me to do that and I don't think I was the only one who came in and was shocked by his singing.

In any case, I wouldn't go see Dylan play live ever again if he continues to sing like that (next time he tours Australia, I'll make sure I listen to some bootlegs of that tour beforehand) and I was overall disappointed with this gig.

Highlight of the Gig: Best Perform song was High Water (For Charley Patton). Other highlights was Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking and Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power)

Lowlight of the gig: Worst perform song was A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall. Other shockers were Simple Twist Of Fate, Tangled Up In Blues, Ballad Of The Thin Man, Like A Rolling Stone and All Along The Watchtower.

That's right all the classic popular songs he performed were awful.


I just want to say for those people who read my previous article where I claimed that Bob Dylan was overrated and that he was merely a good artist rather than a great artist

I just like to partly retract that statement. After I finally got into Blonde on Blonde, Highway 61 Revisited and Time Out Of Mind I have to accept that he is a great and brilliant artist (I have listen to these albums many times before without enjoying it but after a few repeated listen, the songs just suddenly clicked). Nevertheless I stand by comments that his music is repetitive and this does detract from the quality of the songs and that makes him slightly overrated. Sometimes the melodies and atmosphere of the song overcomes the song repetitiveness (it's just now with repeated listening where I start to recognise the atmosphere that I didn't hear before) but sometimes it doesn't and I still believe that is the key weakness of Bob Dylan as a songwriter.


  1. Interesting comments although makes me wonder why you would shell out that kind of money for someone you might not like that much.

  2. I love Bob Dylan. I think Blonde on Blonde is in my top 20 albums of all time. I also own about 80% of his records and all of his classic albums from the 60's and 70's (as well as all of his records in the 90's to 00's). So I think I consider myself a fan of him and therefore that's why I went and see him live.

    However reading most rock history. Bob Dylan is generally considered the greatest songwriter of all time. Part of the trio with The Beatles, Rolling Stones.

    Personally I wouldn't rate Dylan that high and I don't think he is in the highest tier of songwriter and that's why I think he is a little bit overrated.