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Last Night in London…Again
2022-10-24, London Palladium, London, England
My second show in London, and the final night of his four-night run there. Same setlist (it hasn’t changed all tour), but plenty of other differences.
Like I did yesterday, here are some quick next-day notes, with audio clips by way of example and a full tape at the end.
Ordinarily I wouldn’t tell you where my seats were, because who cares, but I had lucked into a private box on the side of the stage. The unique vantage point offered an extremely close-up side view of Bob (hence the photo I got up top). Great way to watch guitarist Doug Lancio and multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron too. And the three on the left side of the stage, Tony, Charley, and Bob Britt? Forget about ‘em. Fully blocked. I’m taking it on faith that they were even there last night.
The most interesting aspect of this particular view is that I could see behind Bob’s piano. And there’s a lot of action back there. Like a conductor, Dylan regularly thrusts a hand out behind him, gesturing to the band to wrap up a song, or take the volume down a notch. He would also periodically point to someone to take a brief solo for a bar or two, usually Herron. You can see why the entire band watches him like a hawk all night; you never know when that hand will dart out, and that’s all the direction he’s likely to give ya.
Another funny thing I could see easily: Bob’s piano bench. He places it perpendicular to the piano, where it juts out behind him like a long tail. Why bother lugging around a full bench if you’re only going to sit on the very tip? Just get a stool! You can see it in this photo:
The show got going faster than the last one, with fewer songs early on sounding rough (not rowdy). This gives this show the slight nod over the last one for me. They were equally good at their peak, but sitting through only two shaky songs last night beats five the night before. Though god help anyone whose favorite Dylan song is one of the openers, “Watching the River Flow” and “Most Likely You Go Your Way.” They almost never seem to sound that good.
One of those openers, “Watching the River Flow,” got off to an especially odd start with a long instrumental intro. However long you are imagining — it was longer. To the point where I wondered if something was wrong. Is he never going to start singing?
“My Own Version of You” remains my favorite Rough and Rowdy Ways song, and while it didn’t jump out at me the night before, last night it featured that minimal-band, maximum-Bob thing I wrote about yesterday. It’s not an insult to this great band to say that, oftentimes, the less they play, the better it sounds. Here’s a verse:
Like I noted with “I’ve Made Up My Mind…” yesterday, another extremely quiet song with an extremely loud interlude is “Crossing the Rubicon.” After softly singing with the band gently swaying behind him for a while, after a certain verse Bob starts bashing the holy hell out of the piano while the band rages. It only lasts a few bars before suddenly evaporating like it never happened. It is extremely effective, a sudden jolt of energy when you least expect it.
One joy of listening to shows from around the world, and occasionally seeing them in person, is hearing the audience react to local references. The big London cheer line of both nights came in “I Contain Multitudes,” when he shouted out “those British bad boys the Rolling Stones.”
A rowdy contingent of the audience also gave big whoops to non-local references like Jack Kerouac, “winter of my discontent,” and, for whatever reason, the moment he started “Black Rider” (sure, why not? “Black Rider” rules). One woman lost her damn mind for “To Be Alone with You,” hollering out after every single line. “Woo!” “Yeah!” And, repeatedly and confusingly, “Tonight!” It’s pretty amusing; take a listen:
Occasional Flagging Down contributor Tim Edgeworth pointed out after that it sounded like Dylan played a bit of “Shenandoah” before “Mother of Muses.” I didn’t pick it out at the time, but listening to the recording, I think I can hear it. See if you can too:
It’s been much remarked upon that Dylan emerged from the pandemic looking frailer than he went in. When he occasionally ventures center stage to pose, he leans onto the microphone stand there (its only use, apparently, as he never sings into it). He sat down at the piano more than the night before, and leaned a hand on it more too when he was singing.
And, in a change from the shows I saw last fall, he only sings from behind the piano. Last fall, the game was alway seeing how long he’d manage to sing a song center stage before retreating to the comfort of the lyric sheets sitting in a binder on the piano. He no longer even bothers to try.
As he began “Every Grain of Sand,” he recited the first couple lines of “Friend of the Devil,” a song he had covered a couple times in the spring. Then without missing a beat he segued into “Every Grain.” Not sure what to make of it - and I can’t say I even caught it in the moment; someone pointed it out after - but a cool little flourish for a version I’m dubbing “Every Grain of the Devil.”
At the end of every show for years now, the light stay down an inordinate amount of time. Many in the crowd assume another encore is coming, but really it gives Bob cover to get on the bus before fans start spilling out to the streets. When the lights eventually come up, everyone lets out an “awww” in collective disappointment.
Having seen this play out many times, I was packing up my stuff and putting on my coat as people cheered. Then, suddenly, the cheer got louder. For the first time certainly since the pandemic, and maybe for some years before that, Bob was back onstage! No more music, but he and that band returned to stand and pose some more.
Then — here’s the craziest part — it happened again! He leaves, the crowd cheers for a few minutes, and now he’s back soaking it all in for a third time (while also gently patting his hands towards the ground like, okay, take it easy).
Bob unexpectedly returning twice to bask in the adulation was the talk of the pub afterward. As on outsider, I simply assumed it was him just saying, thanks for a great four shows (or that the bus door was locked). But a number of Brits I spoke to who’d been seeing him there for years took something deeper from the gesture. He wasn’t just saying thank for you for the past week; he was saying thank you for everything. In case, god forbid, this was it. His last time in London, the city where he soaked up the folk scene so early in his career and has returned dozens of times since. During my few days in England, I could feel the special bond that country has with him. Clearly Bob feels it too.