Bob Dylan - M.E.N. Arena - 9.5.02

Amongst the advertisements for soft drink beverages and fast food restaurants the people at the back can see a distant figure in a stetson. His name is Bob Dylan and he just happens to be the greatest and most prolific songwriter of the past 40 odd years and while most people of our generation are lucky if they make it past that difficult 3rd album, Dylan can plough through a back catalogue of 43 albums for tonight's mammoth two and a half hour show. With the mega-arena's come the problems of the impersonality of it all and in an attempt to make it look like an intimate gathering for close friends, the set design is minimal with the mood set by subtle changes in the heavens above (or by a master technician of the lighting department) - and with the old adage that the revolution will not be televised, TV screens are turned off as a sign of respect.

Joined by the best musicians in the business in the form of drummer Jim Keltner and guitarist Charlie Sexton, Dylan has a total disregard for the conventions of the modern age and henceforth delivers a set which spans his whole career rather than delivering a selection of recognizable favourites. That doesn't mean that the nostalgia trip is not fully explored with the likes of "Like A Rolling Stone", "Blowin' In The Wind" or the set closer "All Along The Watchtower".

With a voice so croaky, and when you use croaky with reference to Dylan it truly does mean more the unusual vocal ticks that divide music fans the world over, a few choice selections from the recent studio album "Love And Theft" are played with the sort of intent which lifts them above what was initially a disappointing release last  year. In fact in retrospect perhaps the critics were a little harsh and with time these could become staples of the set.

With a seamlessly never ending touring schedule, which sees him regularly perform 200 gigs a year, if he tours again it would be interesting to see him take it back to the intimacy of the Apollo as a thank you to the hardened fans. With so many bands getting lost when it comes to arena shows, it takes a true legend to walk on stage with a guitar slung round his neck like John Wayne and walk away with his held high. Dylan didn't just walk offstage with his head held high - he was floating up in the heavens of musical history.

Alex McCann

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