Blackpool Opera House
Bob Dylan in Blackpool has a certain strange ring to it. Normally the big acts motor their way through the big cities and ignore the towns, even the towns that were once the showbiz capitals of the UK.
We have a special interest here because Blackpool is also LTW boss John Robb’s hometown but he was away on tour so couldn’t make the shows but we had a reporter there to see what was blowing in the eternal Blackpool wind…
Bob comes to Blackpool- a moment of rock n roll perfection in its intriguing oddness.
As the lights go down and there is a sharp intake of breath there is a tangible sense of excitement as Dylan takes the stage in a gig that has an air of fantasy about it- an air of fantasy that is ALWAYS lacking at the normal venue for such gigs as this- the arena in Manchester.
There is something quite perfect about Dylan playing Blackpool and the Opera House itself. Framing the gig with its beautiful Victoriana the venue and indeed the town itself lends a perfect backdrop to events like this and hopefully Dylan may have opened up a rich new seam for Blackpool itself- after all this was the town that saw the Stone Roses go overground and has many more key moments in UK music history attached to its name.
There was a time decades ago when a music superstar playing Blackpool would have been no big deal. The town was the main port of call outside London for people to play in its showbiz heyday with the likes of the Beatles playing there 14 times and Frank Sinatra gigging there. That was normal then but with the takeover of the cities like Manchester of the pop industry outside the big smoke Blackpool has become an entertainment backwater with the likes of Roy Chubby Brown being the best you’re going to get.
Dylan raised eyebrows with his current tour dates of Glasgow, 3 nights in Blackpool and London but his policy of trying to play places he had never played before hit a bulls eye here with the perfectly formed Opera House framing his croaking and brilliant anthems from the early sixties onwards.
It was one of those nights were the word ‘legend’ was muttered regularly by an audience of ageing disciples in awe of Dylan arriving with teenage music fans coming to check out a name they had heard of in music college but were not as immersed in the back catalogue as their elders. Don’t be put off the the Dylanoligists who nag you with their pumping up of the man’s legend- Dylan transcends this faux academic bullshit by being great. Of course he expanded the lexicon of pop beyond kiss me quick (ha!) and soda streams and sang of death and dissolutionment in his songs that mixed trad Americana with a modern sneer (a bit like Blackpool itself!) but the snobbishness of the Dylan experts almost suffocate his genius with the their pompous proclamations.
As Dylan took the stage you could feel the electricity of the sold out venue crackle with expectation and there was a hushed awe as his oddly attractively croaking voice worked its way through his immense back pages, singing songs that have become staples and guide posts to rock n roll itself.
The 72 year old legend may be in the twilight of his career but he shows no sign of slowing down and his never ending tour of at least three gigs a week round the world is an unrelenting schedule even for a five star lifestyle.
Like Blackpool, Dylan may have seen better times but unlike Blackpool he also released one of his best albums last year and even if it doesn’t feature much on the set list it is a hint at the feline power that he still maintains with some of his best material for years.
The two hour show consisted of a set list he has been sticking to throughout his whole European tour and was slick and tight. The band were on top form and Dylan’s famed habit of throwing curveballs and key changes into the set to keep things fresh and lively was swerved for the sake of getting the job done well.
Oddly the set kicked off with Things Have Changed, from the soundtrack from Wonder Boys- an Oscar winning track and the Oscar itself was sat on an amp side stage (apparently). This was followed by sprightly classic She Belongs to Me and things were now in gear.
Still looking iconic under the mop of curly hair, Dylan showed little signs of ageing and is another example of the sixties generation that refuses to dilute or go away. Like jagger he seems to get better with age and if this is the twilight of the gods it’s going to be a long twilight!
There were endless highlights, like a rasping Waiting For You, a potent Tangled Up in Blue before he sat at the piano to scratch out killer versions of High Water and Simple Twist of Fate.
The atmosphere was electric and he received the first of many standing ovations for relative obscurity, Forgetful Heart, which was stripped down to something delicate and emotional and brought the audience to its feet.
It was an amazing example of how Dylan can still coax such beauty from such a bewitching and battered larynx.
The encores of All Along the Watchtower and Blowin’ In The Wind must have been the biggest songs to ever be played in Blackpool- dwarfing even he genius of Gary Barlow (ho! ho!) and the more regular visitors to the ‘tatty seaside town’.
God knows what Dylan made of the town, perhaps like may American visitors he loved the place for its unashamed honesty and its rusty take on Americana- as I left the venue and looked up at the tower and skyline I too fell back in love with the old town again and hopefully Dylan did as well- there is a certain poetic beauty to these freezing cold nights on the Lancashire coast especially when Bob is in town.