Bob Dylan’s Neverending Tour started in 1989. Maybe he knew it then, but we certainly didn’t. The shows have tumbled from stages ever since – a break here and there for Christmas or another holiday, sometimes a new album would be released and its songs wouldn’t even graze the setlist, old songs resurrected, never a guarantee you’d hear the hits, less of a given you’d recognise them. To be on his own, with no direction…
And for some 3000 shows the bafflement and brilliance continued.
And just as none of us knew it was a never ending tour until it started to seem that way it was also cut, er, short, one day out of the blue. Dylan played his last show at the end of 2019. He took a wee break. And then COVID-19 forced him and many others to take a longer break.
So Shadow Kingdom – announced just a month or so ago (and available for some 48 hours in total, at a $25 US price-tag – click that link) was billed as his return to the stage, his first live concert in over a year. Etc.
What it is ain’t exactly clear.
It’s most certainly Bob’s 80th Birthday present – to us. It’s the best his voice has sounded in a while (time off the road sure has helped) and it’s more a video album presentation than it is a live show. It’s not very live. It contains costume changes and a couple of different locations, it’s basically 13 black and white staged video-performance re-imaginings of what is subtitled “The Early Songs of Bob Dylan”.
What is also is…is fucking fantastic.
Bob even picks up his guitar during Forever Young. But mostly he’s just singing. And playing some harmonica. He takes songs like I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight and re-imagines them as early rock’n’roll. He puts Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues and Tomsbstone Blues side by side but neither sounds quite like they ever did previously. He puts Watching The River Flow in there. And Wicked Messenger. He digs up What Was It You Wanted and lays its bones out in front of us for the first time in at about a decade, maybe more. He paints his masterpieces in new, muted colours. He shifts tones, once again.
Already people are writing about how this is most certainly the start of a new thing – there’ll be more of these little 50-minute offerings. Already people are saying this will likely be released as a “live” album – his new version of a fan-souvenir.
But let’s just take it for what it was and what it is – a master at the top of his game. Somehow. And still. And offering all us fan-tragics a complete – and utter – thrill.