You gotta know to understand
Bob Dylan played two shows in Hamilton over the weekend. He's off to Australia now and will return to play Christchurch next month. There were plenty of happy Dylan fans, some positive reviews and the usual fair-weather "fans" disappointed they didn't get to see Dylan stooped over an acoustic pretending it was the sixties - folk-crooning. That hasn't happened in the longest time. That's an unfair request, an incorrect expectation.
Some even complained about his voice.
Dylan's Never Ending Tour kicked off in the late 1980s - the focus in the last decade and a half has been the half-dozen albums he has recorded since the late-90s. This is easy information to find, this is something to know before you step inside the venue. If you don't keep up with this fair enough but you have no right to demand the sort of show that you want to see.
It's very similar to what happened with Neil Young & Crazy Horse last year. I saw a stunning show. But there were people leaving because he wasn't "Neil Young" enough. There were people leaving that didn't seem to know what/who Crazy Horse was - or what they did. This despite handing over (a large amount of) cash for a ticket that announced Neil Young and Crazy Horse - wouldn't you Google?
Dylan's setlists are easy to find online - he'll toss in a couple of his famous hits as encores, he'll sprinkle some of the songs from earlier in his career. If you squint you might even recognise them. You don't go to a Dylan show to request your favourites. You don't go to hear a Greatest Hits set.
And this might offend a few not quite with the program but Bob Dylan isn't even putting on the show for you - the paying fan. He's doing it for him. It's a need. It keeps him alive. It keeps him from going crazy perhaps - it's just who he is. He might not even be much of a man, the legend that he is has swallowed him. But he is out there doing the work, his inspiration, his influences the travelling shows from long ago, the bluesmen, the rolling revues. You go to a Dylan show to confirm your fandom as much as anything. You can get a great show - absolutely. You just have to know why you're going and it helps to have a clue around what you're going to be seeing.
I didn't go to the Hamilton shows. I've seen Dylan three times - last time was 2007. In a perfect world I would have gone again, sure. I thought about going to the Christchurch show. I can't make it happen. Not to worry. I have memories of seeing him three times, each show just different enough to have made it worthwhile three separate times. Some highs and some lows. Frustration is all part of it.
But it's weird to me that in this age of far too much information and all the easy access we have to finding out setlists and reading reviews of previous shows there are people that pay good money to attend shows - do no work at all on their own, no research - and expect the set to mirror that budget-priced compilation they bought 25 years ago, coincidentally the last time they stepped out to catch a show; some tribute act perhaps. Some soulless cash-grabber, who, with shining teeth and rudimentary skills ran through choreographed versions of hits from a hero.
Why does that person get to be unhappy that Dylan didn't play a brace of protest songs and didn't even say "we just love New Zealand, it's so beautiful here".
It does my head in.
I shot off a warning email to a couple of friends in Sydney - they're seeing Dylan soon. I told them to get familiar/re-familiar with the new albums. One of them fired back that Dylan could expect some heckling from the back rows. Funny. But like Dylan gives a s**t. If you expect Bob Dylan to (ever) give a s**t you don't know the history of the man. You don't deserve the chance to complain.
Some artists - very few, perhaps - have earned the right to give you what they want on the night. Not what you want. Dylan, of course, is one of them.
Postscript: If you do need a heads-up on Dylan's current show - and of course he'll change the order here and there, slip in a few different ones in each show perhaps, here's the setlist from his first show of the down under tour.
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