24 Aug 2018

Six reasons to go to Bob Dylan's NZ shows

From RNZ Music, 2:00 pm on 24 August 2018

David Cohen gives us some compelling reasons to catch Bob Dylan live in Auckland this Sunday or in Christchurch on Tuesday.

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Photo: Supplied

Bob Dylan is the electrifying granddad of every budding singer-songwriter of the past 50 years. He's lyrically dazzling and a Nobel laureate to boot.

These are some great reasons to see him in concert anywhere in the world. Here are six reasons why New Zealand fans in particular should consider catching him live in Auckland this Sunday, or in Christchurch on Tuesday.

RELATED: Bob Dylan to play NZ: Expect the unrecognisable

6. It might be your last chance

The 77-year-old American star, who knows a thing or two about hard living, appears to be in surprisingly excellent health. Considerably more so than many of his contemporaries who are, alas, no longer with us or else are knock-knock-knocking on heaven’s door.

But Dylan has been at this lark for a while now, his first performance having taken place five years before the arrival of his eponymous debut album in 1962. Bowie, Cohen, Aretha and even the London schoolmaster who, when confronted with the Freewheelin’ album once said, “He looks like a Dickens crossing sweeper and sounds like a sheep in pain,” he’s outlasted them all.

However, the mathematical fact is, he's getting on. Be honest – would you be able to live with yourself for spending the night at home watching YouTube clips if this turns out to be Dylan’s final stint in the South Seas?

5. We hold a special place in his heart

Okay, Dylan has never said as much – and possibly he may not even be consciously aware of this – but on some level he must know that when NZ inaugural album chart came out in 1975, Blood on the Tracks was at number one.

4. He’s still relevant

It’s not an entirely new thing to say Dylan’s songs are obtaining fresh relevance for a new generation of fans.

Thirty-five years ago millions turned out to protest the deployment of cruise missiles in Western Europe, and the US president of the era – Ronald Reagan, and his Soviet counterpart seemed poised for a military showdown. Dylan's 'Masters of War' (1963), 'The Times They Are A-Changin' (1964) and 'Desolation Row' (1965) – which he's been performing on the current tour, suddenly felt infused with super-fresh social relevance, his obloquy having attached itself to a different world situation, as it probably has to the current Trumpian era.

Still, not every song title has worn well with the passage of time. Try singing 'Isis' the next time you’re going through customs in Auckland, and you might end up finishing the tune while confined to a sparsely furnished side room.

3. He’s still going strong

Dylan has probably played to more fans than any living act this side of the Rolling Stones, whose head-count is potentially bigger only on due their taste for stadium-size crowds.

To take just one slightly depressing statistic: he's performed 'All Along the Watchtower' live in concert no fewer than 2,215 times. Isn’t that amazing?

2. He owes us

Big time. Picking the worst of Dylan’s 4,000-odd live performances to date is an inexact science given that no living person (possibly not even Dylan himself) has been entirely present at every gig. A plausible case can be made for one of his least notable performances being Wellington 33 years ago at the start of his True Confessions tour with Tom Petty.

Not only was the sound as dismal as a wet Tuesday, a savage Southerly whipped much of what remained of it away. The Heartbreakers struggled to get to grips with the standards, one of which ('In the Garden') was even performed in an entirely wrong key.

At least this was the view of one imperious young reviewer from the night who, by an eerie coincidence, shares this writer’s name.

1. You might inspire him

Dylan has lyrically set many of his songs in parts of the world well outside of his native America: Mozambique, Buenos Aires, Brussels, Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon – and that’s just for starters.

However nothing with a New Zealand badge, unless you count (which you shouldn’t) a throwaway reference in his 2012 release 'Tempest': "Wellington he was sleeping/His bed began to slide". It probably can’t be taken to be about a local earthquake.

So who’s to say the coming shows won’t finally inspire the gnomic muse to compose something about the country whose prime minister was born after he had already released most of his classic albums? And who’s to say that your enthusiastic presence in the crowd won’t make all the difference?

So go on, give one or both of the coming shows in Auckland and Christchurch a whirl. Don’t think twice, now, it’s alright.

* David Cohen is a Wellington author and journalist.

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