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Emma Swift on Seeing Dylan's Sydney Opera House Debut
2014-09-07, Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
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Bob Dylan fans might know Emma Swift best from her terrific 2020 covers album Blonde on the Tracks. Less than a year after its release, Rolling Stone ranked her version of “Queen Jane Approximately” among the 20 best Dylan covers ever! And today, she was kind enough to pen an Expert Recommendation for us, recalling a show she saw at the Sydney Opera House in 2014.
Coincidentally, it’s back-to-back Expert Recommendations, as today’s show took place eight days (plus 45 years) after the Isle of Wight show Robyn Hitchcock wrote about last week. Here’s Emma:
The night was crisp and lovely, Sydney in the early spring with a cool breeze in the air. Just enough of a bite in the wind to make me wish I’d brought a jacket. I don’t keep a catalogue of regrets, but if I did, I should have brought a jacket would be listed on it over and over again, alongside other harmless personal failings at adulthood that are mostly too small to pay attention to. What do you need to know about me? I almost never bring the jacket. I also almost never write things down. Oh, and I have a bloody terrible memory. Anyhow, where was I? September 7, 2014. I’d tell you the date was etched in my mind, but, alas, it wasn’t.
We caught the 423 bus from Newtown, my love and I, making our journey to Circular Quay in stops and starts and arrived at the terminal with nervous excitement, our clammy hands clasped together tight, fingers interlaced, our feet moving fast, too fast to take in the beauty of it all: the ferry lights on the blue-black harbour, the magnificent bridge under the stars, the salt in the air, the steel-eyed seagulls, the gentle falling rain. The world could wait, but with just a few minutes to showtime, would Mr Dylan wait for us?
It was Bob Dylan’s second last show on this Australian tour, after a string of dates in theatres around the country, and his first ever gig at the Sydney Opera House. First opened in 1973, after a long and difficult construction process, the iconic shell shaped venue had seen many wonderful musicians grace the Concert Hall, but not many could be considered as legendary or divisive or majestic as the venue itself. Enter: Prospero Zimmerman, how good of you to bring the band.
The set was tight but not uptight, heavy on songs from Tempest, a small dose of Blood on the Tracks and closing with “Blowin’ in the Wind”. I didn’t know the set-list beforehand, and later learned he’d been playing these songs in the same order around the country. The die-hards knew this of course, but I wouldn’t have called myself a die-hard then and I don’t now, at least not as far as details go. I couldn’t tell you what he’d played at all were it not for Google, except perhaps for “Simple Twist of Fate”. Embedded in the heart of the set like an arrow, I remember it left me feeling quietly devastated I had not seen the earlier shows, and when I think of it now it leaves me quietly devastated I have not seen Dylan and the band play since.
I don’t keep a catalogue of regrets. Perhaps today I’ll start.
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