A master of reinvention, Bob Dylan is never content to play a song the same way twice.
Last night at Massey Hall, the self declared song-and-dance man entertained with interpretations of numbers drawn from his own back pages
(with the exception of a Grateful Dead cover and an American Songbook standard) that rendered them virtually unrecognizable. Sometimes this was a thrilling novelty, with a hatted Dylan standing behind a grand piano and belting out a bluesy, saloon-style rendition of “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” like an less frenzied Jerry Lee Lewis.
At other times, it was a frustrating mystery. Trying to identify a song by lyric wasn’t always possible because of Dylan’s chronic case of mumble-itis. Fortunately my son Duncan could spot the song, usually by fourth or fifth note, and whispered titles to me.
Dylan, now 82, was in good form, running through his 18-song set (nine of which were drawn from Rough and Rowdy Ways) with verve and aplomb. His five piece band was highly skilled yet tastefully understated. And the audio mix overall was superb. If only the Nobel Laureate treated his vocal delivery with as much care.
From a local perspective, it was disappointing he chose not to cover a Lightfoot song, as tribute to his old pal, who passed away earlier this year. But, quibbles aside, this was a concert to be remembered: vintage Dylan onstage in one of the world’s best halls.