Waltzing with the Zimmerman: Bob Dylan at 73.

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“I’ll see him anywhere, I’ll stand in line..” (Brownsville Girl, 1988).

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Leaving the Christchurch concert venue last night after spending two more hours in Bob Dylan’s public realm, I fell in with an angry fellow concert goer who felt he’d been short-changed. “Salon! Salon! I didn’t come to hear bloody salon music!” he bellowed to somebody beside him who was trying to avoid him.

He had a leather jacket, a black leather pork pie hat and he looked like he belonged in that Dylan concert crowd of 40-something plussers, like me (66). I ventured that as Dylan was (i) 73 now and (ii), his hands were arthritic, he never played guitar but stuck to the mouth harp and the piano, maybe we should cut him some slack?

Black pork pie hat was having none of that: “making excuses, I don’t want excuses, I want the music!”. I guess he meant the set lists from the 1990s? I said, “Sure, ok, he ain’t doing Brixton Academy 1995, which was fantastic back then but he’s getting old now like the rest of us.” My new friend wouldn’t have that either, but he did admit that as his girlfriend (nowhere to be seen) had got him a free ticket, he hadn’t actually had to pay.

Interesting: he got a freebie and still moaned and complained. We came abreast of the Irish pub on Lincoln Road and he swung in the door, “I need a whiskey after that!” and disappeared from my life. I wandered on down the road to pick up my scooter, quietly brimming with the warmth of my evening near that old fading genius whose voice can still crack sticks.

Yes, that’s the image of some who say he can’t sing anymore (same as those who said he never could), but that argument is as futile to have as the one I didn’t pursue with Pork Pie Hat. I was just glad the American Shakespeare was still sentient, still on the planet, still running around the world, and my neck of the woods.

I literally fell over myself to get there, stumbling heading down section GG for seat E1 and going almost head over heels on the shallow steps. I was cast, on my side and head pointing downhill, a little shocked. A kind fellow fan inverted me and dusted me off. That was an interesting start to the evening.

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On the left of the stadium, up a little but not too much or too close, it was a pretty good seat for the $160 I could afford so I got to counting down: Texting, WhatsApp-ing and Tweeting family members, including when Dylan came on and got started (my son eventually told me to put the phone in my pocket and enjoy the gig). A couple of us got the torch flash from the usher for snapping pics (one woman had a bloody great iPad up in the air making a video – doh!).

The set burst off with Things Have Changed and ran through virtually the same songs as in Sydney two nights prior: mostly from the Tempest (2012) with Tangled up in Blue in the middle, then Watchtower and Blowin’ in the Wind for the predictable encore. It was only these old chestnuts that got the polite crowd worked up as in “the old days’, especially Watchtower, which galvanised what passes for the moshpit at his concerts these days, to get up and boogie.

It’s true to say that Pork Pie Hat was right: these were slower bluesy and ballad treatments and Dylan – minus the youthful akimbo stance and swagger, looking like a vaguely animated Mississippi riverboat gambler wandering around the Sunset Rest Home, unaware he’s not on the steamer these days – wobbled and shambled, mostly.

He held the mic stand between choruses, stepped back and waved his arms under the wide-brimmed white panama and conducted the polite, uniformly-suited band to the ending of each number when he was done. The lights would darken: he would variously appear at the piano, where he played with vigour waving his left foot off the floor now and then, and later, wander back to the mic to pull out the harp for a piercing solo.

I loved it. He is what he is. To hell with that “living legend” crap: he’s an old song and dance man, like he once said with plenty of song and sprinkling of dance. As he sang in a cracking version of Early Roman Kings, “I ain’t dead yet, my bells still rings..”. That’ll do me.

And somebody should tell Pork Pie Hat that this song is not at all “Salon” – it can easily be read as a prophecy and a parable and an attack on the “users and cheaters” he was fingering back in the 1960s, the money traders and gun runners that have brought the world to its knees and to the brink once more. Go, Bob.

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Forgetful heart
Lost your power of recall
Every little detail
You don’t remember at all
The times we knew
Who would remember better then you

Forgetful heart
We laughed and had a good time you and I
It’s been so long
Now you’re content to let the days go by
When you were there
You were the answer to my prayer

Forgetful heart
We loved with all the love that life can give
What can I say
Without you it’s so hard to live
Can’t take much more
Why can’t we love like we did before

Forgetful heart
Like a walking shadow in my brain
All night long
I lay awake and listen to the sound of pain
The door has closed forevermore
If indeed there ever was a door

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About paparoa

Writer and researcher.
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