20 September 2000

Bob Dylan & his band
Birmingham, UK


What a great show. Arrived at 7.30 and bought a rather fetching T-shirt. No support band. Bob and the boys appeared at 7.45 sharp while a number of people were still arriving. Off we go with 'I Am The Man Thomas' - a nice lively start to a wonderful set. Bob wore the usual black suit with the white stripe down the trouser legs. The jacket fitted where it touched as my mother says. Great shoes - black and white winkle pickers. Then on to 'The Times They Are A'Changin' with a neat guitar solo from Bob. Bob's voice sounded fine to me, but my wife and friends seem to have some difficulty with it! He certainly sounded better than when I saw him in '97 (Cardiff); and much better than on my Japanese 'Love Sick' import.

The lighting was a bit on the fussy side for me, unnecessarily distracting and a bit dated. However, the overall sound quality at this show was superb, beautifully mixed and very clear - the NEC is a good venue.

'It's All Right Ma' followed - Tony picked up his bow at the end and sawed away very dramatically to finish it off. 'One Too Many Mornings' was next - a real surprise to me although I see it had a couple of outings in March. Larry sat down for this one and produced a lovely sound. Then - to great cheers from everyone - Bob picked up a harp for an all-too-short solo. And that was the last we saw of that particular instrument.

The band was magnificent throughout. David's drumming really hits the mark for me, often very subtle and understated, but occasionally pulling out all the stops. Larry looked super cool from start to finish - I often found it difficult to follow what he was doing from my angle. Tony looked completely focussed throughout, how he watches Bob! Charlie really enjoyed himself from start to finish.

On we went with 'Tangled'. I think it's a great arrangement and the band did justice to the driving rhythm of the song. Next was 'Searching for a Soldier's Grave' - very moving - my wife loved this one and Bob was joined by Larry and Charlie.

'Countrieeeeeeeeeeeee Pie' followed as we moved into the electric set - presumably he's still playing this one from Nashville Skyline in memory of his mother. 'Ballad of a Thin Man' - Joe Cliburn has explained this song to me several times but I'm not sure I'll ever really get it. This one really got Tony prowling around the stage. And then another surprise - 'Down in the Flood' - a really loud rocker with a super solo from Charlie.

Two songs from Time Out Of Mind followed. A very different sounding 'Trying to get to Heaven' which my wife and friends really enjoyed. I'm not so sure myself - you could certainly hear all the words clearly though. Cold Irons Bound emerged from a very loud crescendo and remained strong and with a very heavy beat. After Bob had introduced the band - ending with Tony 'Gaaaaaaarnieeeeaaaay' they jumped into an exhilarating 'Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat' - they all enjoyed this one - a real belter.

After what seems to have become the 'lets all stand to attention' line, we were off to the usual stamping and cheering, and back they came for the encores. Between each song there was a bewildering sequence of guitar changing. It was amazing that they all ended up with the right ones. One quick start seemed to catch Tony Garnier out, but he soon recovered.

'Things have Changed' was played very straight, just like the 'Wonderboys' cut - Bob holding his guitar out like a rifle. 'Like a Rolling Stone' was a very fine performance. We saw Bob crouching and flexing his knees, and shuffling about on the stage, really getting into a song he must have performed thousands of times before. How does he do it? This was followed by a quiet and reflective 'It Ain't Me Babe' with Bob coming close to the front of the stage and producing some subtle guitar work.

Highway 61 Revisited had all three guitars trading with each other. This was one of the highlights for me - I've always loved it and it lends itself to this kind of setting. A complete mood change followed. My wife had hoped for 'Forever Young' and here it was, sung with real feeling and great clarity. The band's sound on this one was sublime.

Back to the electric guitars for - wait for it - 'Everything is Broken'. Bob enjoyed this one to the maximum and Tony was on his travels again. This one was delivered with a twanging, driving beat, very unlike the album version.

The show ended - all too quickly it seemed to me - with a very moving 'Blowin in the Wind'. Charlie and Larry joined Bob in the choruses. Exquisite guitar work throughout, especially at the end. And then they all stood to attention again - were they waiting for someone to pin medals on them? And then off without a bow, wave or word.

So that's it - until the next time. I wish I could get to all of the remaining shows - he's clearly mixing up the sets wonderfully and giving great value to his devoted fans. Catch him if you can.