Bob Dylan: Melbourne Rod Laver Arena

Still crazy after all these years, Dylan lives up to his legendary status in Australia...

Bob Dylan‘s relentlessly cited enigma is less about who than why. Why does this poet laureate of some distant ideal work 150 nights a year when he looks like a pale bag of bones in a fright wig and somebody else’s flame-streaked cowboy boots? And why do so many of us care so very, very deeply?

The questions answer each other. We’re there for Bob and he’s there for us, with his mystifying song choices – the unreleased ‘Duncan And Brady’ is the opener, the lost masterpiece ‘Blind Willie McTell’ the highlight – and breath-defying re-readings of screeds we dare call poetry.

Crucially, the unsmiling gent in yer grandad’s suit also knows a slick rock’n’roll band. Texan gun Charlie Sexton and the longer suffering Larry Campbell help turn the dusty folk of ‘To Ramona’ and ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ into sweetly rollicking guitar boogie. And no matter how absurd the maestro’s spontaneously swinging song finales, drummer David Kemper makes it all sound like part of the plan. By the time ‘All Along The Watchtower’ and ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ make a proper stand-up rock show of the generous encore, Uncle >Bob is damn near duckwalking.

Any genius to be found is, as ever, verbal. Dylan‘s inspired elastic phrasing serves the dual purpose of ruling out the dire singalong and ensuring we hang on every syllable. The fact that ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ can still summon such withering sarcasm in the singer and ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ such poignant reflection in the listener begs descriptions of the “timeless” and “peerless” variety.

And so he takes a long, pleasurable bow. Elbow-patched 60-somethings leave beaming and one bug-eyed 19-year-old dashes to the men’s room to check his Minidisc. If Bob Dylan was ever great, he was never more so than now. How’s that for enigma?

Michael Dwyer