4th Time Around

Prior to his 1984 appearance at Slane, Bob Dylan‘s only other Irish performances both came in 1966, when he visited Dublin and Belfast. He made two more trips to Dublin in 1989 and a further eight to the Emerald Isle throughout the nineties. These were split between the North and South of the country and included his only visit to Waterford. He has notched up a further thirteen shows in Ireland over the last decade with only one of those in Belfast and just seven in Dublin. His tours around Ireland in the new millennium have seen him visit Kilkenny (twice), Cork and Galway. I saw him at the latter two gigs and also at The Point Depot in Dublin in 1993. That was my first time seeing Bob and I must admit that I didn’t enjoy it. I guess I had been expecting him to sound like he did on record and to play the same arrangements and even to chat with the crowd. He added Limerick to his Irish itinerary last Sunday and I was a lot more prepared for what to expect from my fourth time seeing Bob live on stage

My sister made the trip up from Co Cork for the day and dragged her husband along with her. John wouldn’t be the biggest Bob Dylan fan in the world, but Úna’s been a big fan since the middle of the eighties and I’m grateful to her for buying many of his albums back then and for getting me into him. The three of us went out to Thomond Park after watching the Limerick footballers narrowly lose to their Kerry counterparts in the Munster football final. We met up with my friend John and his neighbours and arrived after The Last Days of Death Country had finished their opening slot, but in time to see the majority of Alabama 3‘s set. They were in good spirits (but coherent) and did a fine job of warming up the crowd with their particular blend of soul/blues/country/gospel/techno

We edged up closer to the stage to see what Seasick Steve and his drummer could do to warm us up even more. The two of them were smartly attired and, like me, wore cheque shirts, though I’ve got some way to go to catch up with them on the facial hair department. The duo played about ten songs in less than an hour and Seasick Steve was a big hit with his blues songs and banter between songs and collection of homemade guitars. He was ably backed by his drummer who played like Animal from The Muppets as he banged the shit out of his drums throughout. David Gray and his band followed and were a lot more clean-cut and polished, but actually cooled the crowd down with a poor selection of songs that failed to set the night on fire. It seemed like an hour passed between Gray’s departure and Dylan’s entrance and, unusually, we were treated to a recording of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road read by some guy named Grover Gardner using the alias of Tom Parker. Well, I guess it’s a departure from listening to recordings of singers singing songs backed by musical instruments and it may urge one or two members of the audience to actually read this classic of American literature

The man himself took to the stage with his band and they went straight into Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat, one of eight songs on the night that originated in the sixties. He followed that with Lay, Lady, Lay and the first highlight of the show for me, Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues. This was one of four songs he played from Highway 61 Revisited and each one was a treat. Next, the crowd got one of their few chances to sing along on another track from Blonde on Blonde, Just Like a Woman. He changed its melody, as he did on many of these older songs, and let the audience sing the “just like a woman” part before singing it himself! I’m not a big fan of his new arrangement of Tangled Up In Blue, which was sandwiched in between a couple of songs from his two most recent albums. The gig really got going for me after this, beginning with a trio of songs from one of his best albums of recent times, 1997’s Time Out of Mind. The first two of these, Tryin’ To Get To Heaven and Cold Irons Bound were great, before Love Sick preceded another purple patch of four songs that brought us to the encore

This set of four opened and closed with two more from Highway 61 Revisited, the title track and a particularly fine version of Ballad of a Thin Man. These bookended my two favourite songs on what I think is the best album he’s released in the last twenty years, Modern Times. I was delighted to hear the opening bars of Workingman’s Blues #2 and this performance was my own particular highlight of the day. The version of Thunder on the Mountain wasn’t far behind and Ballad of a Thin Man ended the main part of the show on a high. The encore began with the opening track from Highway 61 Revisited and provided the crowd with another chance to sing along. The rest of the gig was a bit of an anti-climax for me as he finished up with two from the latest album and went out on a re-arrangement of Blowin’ in the Wind that the audience didn’t seem to recognise as very few sang along with it

I guess Bob Dylan’s first appearance in Limerick was necessitated by a refurbished Thomond Park that’s able to house a large audience as well as by a desire to bring him to a new Irish market. Aiken Promotions were assisted by the local media and businesses who provided a lot of free publicity for the event. Unfortunately, even the draw of a legendary singer-songwriter and a number of decent support acts were unable to bring a full crowd to Thomond Park. Many of my friends were offered and received free tickets in the days preceding the concert and I guess this helped to fill it out. Many more enjoyed Seasick Steve’s set, but not Dylan’s. I guess, like my first time in 1993, they were expecting Bob and his songs to sound like the original versions. As a relative veteran at my fourth gig, I knew that Bob would remain silent during the songs and that he’d change the melodies and sometimes the words. What I hadn’t been expecting, however, was how good his voice would be and what kind of form he’d be in. As it happened, both he and his voice were in great form and so was the band behind him. It was the best I’ve ever seen him perform and I really enjoyed the gig. Even the clouds that had been threatening to pour down all day had the decency not to empty their contents. Here’s Bob singing a couple of oldies. Boogie Woogie Country Girl was written by Doc Pomus and Reg Ashby and first released by Big Joe Turner in 1956. This Old Man is a children’s song that goes back even further

Boogie Woogie Country Girl (Big Joe Turner cover) – Bob Dylan

This Old Man (trad.) – Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan Setlist, Thomond Park, July 4th, 2010

Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
Lay, Lady, Lay
Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues
Just Like A Woman
Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
Tangled Up In Blue
Rollin’ And Tumblin’
Tryin’ To Get To Heaven
Cold Irons Bound
Love Sick
Highway 61 Revisited
Workingman’s Blues #2
Thunder On The Mountain
Ballad Of A Thin Man

Encore

Like A Rolling Stone
I Feel A Change Comin’ On
Jolene
Blowin’ In The Wind

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