(pic from Thomond Park, 4 July 2010, with many thanks to the photographer Graham Martin)
So, Bob Dylan's first visit to Limerick, his 2nd visit west of the Shannon and his (I think) 26th show on this small island (24 of which have been since 1989)
As is usual with Irish shows, I was hoping it wouldn't be a disaster, or at best, only a mitigated disaster, fearing the 'repercussions' from disgruntled fellow countrymen. However, my fears were unfounded, as this show not only maintained the high standard of the Dylan live 2010 experience, but was actually the best of the 4 shows I saw on the current tour, and clocking in at 2 hours and 18 songs, was also the longest show of the tour, and with 4 encores, it was looking like he didn't want the show (nor the tour) to end.
But, lets go back to the beginning. A drunken, but fairly good natured crowd, who had enjoyed the adequate but not exactly overwhelming support bands, got straight into the thick of enjoying Bob's rollicking Leopardskin Pillbox Hat opener, and indeed the first 3 songs (all of which were different to the previous night's Hop Farm festival show) were very enjoyable.
Then, he repeated Just Like a Woman from the night before, complete with crowd sing-a-long bit (well, sort of..), prior to giving us many more highlights, such as swampy Together Through Life opener Beyond Here Lies Nothing, complete with trumpet solos, the new arrangement of Tangled up in Blue (which is somewhere between a fascinating 're-imagining' and a train wreck!) and a top notch hat-trick of Time out of Mind songs, Trying to get to Heaven (gorgeous), a scintillating Cold Irons Bound and a spiky version of Lovesick.
Best song of the night for me though was probably Workingmans Blues - my favourite song from the Modern Times album and a song that he had never played in Ireland. Such a poignant song, especially nowadays, and sung with a pathos that could only be conjured up by THAT particular cracked and wheezing voice.
In fact, for the casual Irish Dylan fan, it was a cracking setlist, with Bob treating us not just to that song, but also playing 3 songs (Beyond Here, Change Coming on and Jolene) from the current album Together Through Life, meaning he has now played four of them here in Ireland (and this an album he has yet to play a single song from at any UK concert!)
Another major highlight of the show, was Bob's general demeanor, with an even more animated approach than has been the case thus far in 2010. It's just so good to see him out at the front of the stage again and engaging with the audience, along with his ever more eccentric stage movements, harmonica flourishes and facial expressions. Not to mention some reasonable guitar playing (his organ playing remains as wilful as ever!). All of this animation is any amount of times better than the insincere chat one sees from other artists (yet no doubt, people will still complain that Bob isn't chatty enough).
The best example of just how animated he is now was on the set closing Ballad of a Thin Man. For over 6 months now, this song has been extraordinary every single night, reminding me how unusual it is for Bob to not get sick of a song, and either drop it, or simply start singing it with the most bizarre phrasing he can think of. Ballad of a Thin Man seems to get more majestic every night, and tour to tour, city to city, it leaves the audiences ecstatic as the main set comes to a close.
Anyway, after the end of the main set, we were all set for 2, or perhaps 3 cursory encores, but Bob was having such a good time and it was such an enthusiastic audience (down the front anyway), that he stayed on for 4 songs, with the biggest highlight of all being the Irish debut of the relatively rare recent song - I Feel a Change Coming On. And just in case anyone was in any doubt that he played if for the James Joyce Irish writer connection, on production of the line in question Bob and bass player Tony exchanged huge grins with each other. Like a Rolling Stone of course went down as well as it always does, with the mixed age Irish crowd roaring the chorus as lustily as any Scottish or Italian crowd!
Before I close, some negative points - after all, no concert is perfect; the band did seem to have some on-stage technical problems during one or two songs (didn't really affect anything), and some clown in the crowd pointed a green laser pen light at Bob for the last song or two (other artists have in the past been known to storm off stage for such an offence). Also, the venue was too big really, and with that swirling wind, I imagine the sound (which was perfect down the front) can't have been great in that big stand down the back.
But, to finish on a positive note a jaunty Blowin in the Wind with nice closing harmonica solo wrapped up proceedings, leaving most people very happy, and bringing another really good European tour to a close.
And I must say Limerick was an enjoyable experience overall for this Leinster rugby fan, even despite hearing the news that Bob had requested four (count 'em, four!) Munster rugby jerseys for himself! (Thomond Park is the home of the Munster rugby team)
Finally, a brief note on the previous day's show, at the Hop Farm music festival in Kent. A very enjoyable and scorchingly hot day out, met lots of people I hadn't seen in years, and found it a pleasant adult oriented rock/folk festival which was (mostly) fairly well organised. I wasn't massively impressed by the earlier artists, but Mumford & Sons certainly drew a crowd, and a grumpier than normal Ray Davies still managed to give us enjoyable set. Bob played a disappointingly short set, but it was very well performed, and had some amazing highlights, not least of which was that pink shirt!
See everybody next time..