Laura leans over, ‘This sounds more like Bob Mortimer, than Bob Dylan.’
The guy dressed as a chocolate lime hunched over an electric organ would certainly pass as a pub imitation.
But I reckon they’d struggle to win over Matthew Kelly on Stars In Their Eyes.
Indeed, we’re three minutes in and amid top heavy bass trumping and the husky gargling of a wounded alsation, a guy two rows in front whispers sheepishly, ‘Which one’s Bob, lad?‘
That’ll be the one stage left emitting dog-in-death-throes-noises.
It’s ironic, then that this genius of the modern era should begin his set with Watching The River Flow, a track which begins, ‘What’s the matter with me, I don’t have much to say.‘
Just as well really, as for the best part of two hours you can barely discern a word Zimmerman rasps out of those 67-year-old pipes. He makes Shaun Ryder seem gifted in the vocal range department.
Such is his incomprehensible rattle it’s left to the crowd to bring a sense of melody to proceedings.
Not that Dylan seems remotely arsed. For his part he stands superglued side on to the stage throughout, save for brief spot on the guitar and a closing bow with his saggy-bottom backing band before the curtain call.
But let’s not give a false impression. Tonight is fun.
It feels like a rather bizarre pantomime – there’s even a fleeting villain dressed as a beery scallywag that evades security, jumps on stage and rushes straight passed Bob to hug the guitarist.
Like seeing any icon, there’s a tangible sense of event. Albeit in a cartoon-like, fantastical way.
There’s the adoring fanbase, who’d be happy to see him piss into his fedora. Like Bagpuss with less of a sense of urgency, when he goes for his harmonica it’s like he’s turning water into wine, such is the rapturous response.
And when he picks up his guitar for a lifeless rendition of Boots Of Spanish Leather you’d truly think he was Jesus incarnate – there’s people blessing themselves in the aisles – despite vehemouth protestations of ‘sit down, will ya love,’ from the feeble Arena security.
There’s comedy aplenty too – none more so than when he delivers a go-Grease-Lightin’ version of Something.
Annihilating any subtlety or weighty romance his friend George Harrison injected into the original, here it’s gruffed out in short, sharp coughs and barks as the crowd unites in a ‘he’s one of us‘ show of appreciation to The Beatles standard.
But it’s not just tonight’s sole surprise inclusion that’s murdered. His back catalogue classics are also given the honky treatment; Just Like A Woman is spluttered out in five long minutes, there’s the asthmatic wheeze of All Along The Watchtower and closer Blowin In The Wind is reworked to such an extent that it takes three verses before the vast majority realise which song it is.
Only Like A Rolling Stone really gets the pulse quickening, and that’s thanks to the spiralling organ drones which sound fantastic bouncing around the Arena’s acoustics.
The rest is a mere sideshow for the droves of Dylan disciples, content to bask in his presence as sludgy swamp rock and bar-room hoedown is stretched to breaking point.
It’s hard not to compare tonight’s Liverpool show to two memorable gigs by similarly ageing icons steadfast in their refusal to break with tradition: Neil Young and James Brown.
The former at Manchester Apollo ripped the roof off, the latter at Glastonbury was a sad imitation of a legend content with going through the motions.
Sadly, tonight, Dylan falls firmly in the latter camp.
1. Watching The River Flow (Bob on keyboard)
2. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (Bob on keyboard)
3. Things Have Changed (Bob on keyboard)
4. Boots Of Spanish Leather (Bob on guitar)
5. The Levee’s Gonna Break (Bob on keyboard)
6. Sugar Baby (Bob on keyboard)
7. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum (Bob on keyboard)
8. Po’ Boy (Bob on keyboard)
9. It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) (Bob on keyboard)
10. Just Like A Woman (Bob on keyboard)
11. Highway 61 Revisited (Bob on keyboard)
12. Something (Bob on keyboard)
13. Thunder On The Mountain (Bob on keyboard)
14. Like A Rolling Stone (Bob on keyboard)
15. All Along The Watchtower (Bob on keyboard)
16. Spirit On The Water (Bob on keyboard)
17. Blowin’ In The Wind (Bob on keyboard)
*Pictures courtesy of SimonN user on http://www.iorr.org