Review: Bob Dylan in Christchurch last night, by John Stringer

A smiling and happy Dylan took a sold out Horncastle Arena of adoring New Zealand fans in Christchurch on a tour of re-arranged songs from across his six decades of albums.

At 77 –dressed in a silver grey tuxedo jacket, bus conductor pants and a black Western shirt with silver buttons and a bolo tie, and that trademark mussy Dylan mop top, but no hat this time – Dylan still has it.

Singing without any backing vocals, just his five-piece live Band, the man from Duluth, Minnesota, sent us through a rollicking three sets of re-arranged songs without a break over two solid hours.

He sang a set from the early days, the middle of the concert was more recent songs, and ended up with some 60s classics.

Kicking off with Things Have Changed from Wonder Boys (for which he won his Academy Award which was on stage) and It Ain’t Me Babe and Highway 61 Revisited, Dylan took us to a strong new version of Summer Days with some high energy southern fiddle.

He variously stood askance or sat down playing vigorous or melodic reflective baby grand piano and there was plenty of trademark harmonica. At two points Dylan left the baby grand piano to huge applause and sang centre stage. There was obvious fun with those gangly Dylan stage moves and the hand on the hip.

Bob Dylan plays Christchurch for the fourth time, 28 Aug 2018, Horncastle Arena.
plays Christchurch for the fourth time, 28 Aug 2018, Horncastle Arena. PHOTO: JOHN & LAURIE STRINGER. 

Non-use of hand-held devices, recording or photos and video was strictly enforced. People were encouraged to just enjoy the performance for once instead of distracting everyone with little illuminated screens in their faces. We were 20 metres away and caught every Dylan grimace and nuance. He was really enjoying himself in Christchurch. It was fun watching The Band watching Dylan like a hawk, to see where he was going next and what chords to follow in. Classic Dylan!

Backed by huge red velvet curtains which Dylan brought with him, The Band wore black fedoras and matching tuxedo jackets with silver glitter lapels. Dylan had a matching silver yoke on his Western shirt. The stage was full of retro nostalgia (also brought in) such as: a suspended set of seven vintage trashcan-style movie-set spot lights, a ring of eight caged retro industrial lights on stands glowing orange in some songs and to the right of the piano, his academy award and that neo-classical bust of Athena with a bob that he takes everywhere.

Dylan gave us: Tangled Up in Blue, Roman Kings, Like A Rolling Stone, Honest With Me, Make You Feel My Love, Love Sick, Thunder on the Mountain, Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, among others. Some were unrecognisable new renditions. I didn’t recognise Desolation Row until it was over.

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was a new version of 1979’s Gotta Serve Somebody from Slow Train Coming, but with funny new lyrics: “You mi-ght be a My-stic…” something about a “fine-toothed comb” and “hallucinating, you mighta seen a ghost” to “you might not even know, the day of your birth!” which was received with standing applause and Dylan beaming.

He encored at 9:50pm after 110 minutes with a nice Blowin’ In the Wind backed by some lovely fiddle, and finished up with a feisty Ballad of a Thin Man (“Do Ya, Mr Jones?”) from 1965. The audience loved it and Dylan seemed pleased, smiling and grinning throughout.

​Here’s the Setlist, 20 songs in all:

Things Have Changed
It Ain’t Me Babe
Highway 61 Revisited
Simple Twist Of Fate
Summer Days
When I Paint My Masterpiece
Honest With Me
Tryin’ To Get To Heaven
Make You Feel My Love
Pay In Blood
Tangled Up In Blue
Early Roman Kings
Desolation Row
Love Sick
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
Thunder On The Mountain
Soon After Midnight
Gotta Serve Somebody
Blowin’ In The Wind [encore]
Ballad Of A Thin Man [encore]

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