03. November 2022 · Comments Off on Bob Dylan Live at The Armadillo, Glasgow · Categories: Hifi News, Live Music, Music News · Tags:

John Scott goes to see Bob Dylan at The Armadillo, Glasgow.

The last time Bob Dylan and I were in the same room together was in 1981.  That room was the Earls Court arena in London and if I’m honest I’m not sure that it was an entirely satisfactory experience for either of us.  I was a callow eighteen-year-old in the throes of my Damascene Dylan conversion but I had to reluctantly admit to myself that Robert’s run-through of his classic catalogue in that soulless hanger was workmanlike at best. It was little consolation that Bob, on his far-away stage, didn’t seem all that happy about it either.

More than forty years later, as the promotional posters for the current tour proclaim: Things Are Not What They Were.  Dylan has swapped arenas for small theatres, big backing bands for a select ensemble of players and, most surprisingly, exchanged his classic songbook for a carefully curated handful of numbers from his back catalogue intertwined with almost the entirety of his most recent album, Rough And Rowdy Ways.

So here we are again all these years later, me and Bob, in the cosy intimacy of Glasgow’s Armadillo concert hall, an auditorium with all the charm and character of a multiplex cinema screening room, thankfully redeemed by excellent acoustics.  At eight on the dot, the house lights dim.  On the pitch-black stage, we can vaguely make out figures moving.  As the band begin to conjure a bluesy groove out of the darkness, the lights gradually brighten to reveal a grizzled head behind the upright piano, strangely disembodied like John The Baptist on Salome’s platter.  The band are playing and Dylan is singing Watching The River Flow, a stray single from 1971(producer Leon Russell will appear as a lyrical reference later in the evening),  but I’m almost entirely distracted by seeing Bob right here in front of me and so the song passes in a bit of a blur.

I manage to snap back to full attention in time for Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine.  Carried along by Charley Drayton’s lolloping drums the band take it at a more stately pace than the wired gallop of the Blonde On Blonde original; Dylan’s vitriolic scorn replaced by resigned disappointment, the arrogance of youth tempered by the wisdom of experience. Dylan’s phrasing is, as always, a thing of wonder; I wonder if he’s decided not to bother singing the last line of the chorus so I give it a minute or so to wait and see and then come to the conclusion that it’s not going to happen.  Bob throws the line in at the last possible moment, stretching the song and, possibly the fabric of space/time, into new shapes.  The band have, of course, been here before and doesn’t miss a beat.

Ah yes, the band. They are arranged around Dylan in a broad semicircle. To our left, Charley Drayton balances delicacy with dynamism, stroking cymbals and beating drumheads with brushes, mallets and sticks; if it hadn’t been for the bloke behind the piano, I could have watched him all night.  Long-time band member Tony Garnier, keeps everything pinned down on electric and upright bass; no mean feat when Dylan is setting the occasionally variable pace. Bob Britt and Doug Lancio trade rhythm and lead guitar parts (imagine Woody and Keith tidied up and shoehorned into slacks and sports coats, having been warned to be on their best behaviour) and Donnie Herron adds additional decoration with violin, pedal steel, lap steel and electric mandolin, although not all at the same time obviously.

It goes without saying that there is no between-song banter, no enquiries as to how we are doing or if we are having a good time. We do, however, get a couple of good-humoured and seemingly sincere “Thank you, everybody”s. While it is impossible to tell quite how Dylan himself is doing, he does seem to be having a good time and unlike that Earls Court show long ago, there is no sense that he is just going through the motions.  On two occasions he shuffles crab-like from behind the piano out onto the open stage, waving his hands at his side as if to assure us: ”Yes, this is really me” before retreating back to safety. It’s a momentary transformation from Bob Dylan, the songwriting colossus, to the eighty-one-year-old man who chooses still to be known as Bob Dylan, with all the frailties that implies; a powerful, poignant fragment of time that I don’t really want to have to remember but I hope I never forget.

Dylan’s decision to eschew almost anything that might be considered a classic song is simply the most recent example of Bob giving the audience exactly what he wants but dotted between the nine tracks from Rough and Rowdy Ways are a handful of tracks that any self-respecting fan will readily recognise.  When I Paint My Masterpiece is given a Tex-Mex flavour thanks largely to Donnie Herron’s violin.  I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight rolls with a barrel house swing.  To be Alone With You emerges from a newly-darkened stage as the band conjure up a swampy soup in which I think I can detect strains of the traditional song, Shenandoah which Dylan recorded on his Down In The Groove album; but then again, maybe I imagined it.  One thing I could never have imagined though is the surf guitar direction that the song takes halfway through.  Gotta Serve Somebody from Dylan’s born-again period is given a secular makeover, after all, he is already preaching to the converted.

The Rough And Rowdy Ways songs may be less familiar but they are greeted with enthusiasm.  Dylan is still doing what he does best, juxtaposing cultural references and building new mythologies, ever the master storyteller. In a nod to that other great American songbook, Bob throws in a terrific cover of That Old Black Magic.  Somewhere in a parallel universe, Sinatra is crooning Subterranean Homesick Blues.

Every Grain Of Sand, a brand new song  in 1981 that didn’t make it to the setlist back then is, however, one of Bob’s best; a cry for redemption and an acceptance of mortality. The familiar sound of Dylan’s harmonica brings the song and the evening to a close and so we go our separate ways.  Thanks, Bob; it was good to see you one last time.


Watching the River Flow

Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine

I Contain Multitudes

False Prophet

When I Paint My Masterpiece

Black Rider

My Own Version of You

I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight

Crossing the Rubicon

To Be Alone With You

Key West (Philosopher Pirate)

Gotta Serve Somebody

I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You

That Old Black Magic

Mother of Muses

Goodbye Jimmy Reed

Every Grain of Sand






John Scott.

No photography was allowed in the venue.

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