The 81-year-old musician settled in the capital for three concerts at the Grand Rex. We were there.
He arrived on foot around 6:30 p.m. Dropped a little too far from the Grand Rex by the driver of his van, Bob Dylan traveled the few meters that separated him from his car at the entrance to the Parisian hall in full view of a whole bunch of fans. But masked, cap on his head, the crowd waiting for him barely recognized him. Last night in Paris, therefore, Paris found Bob Dylan, absent since 2019 for the reasons that everyone knows but with a new album to defend, the sumptuous “Rough and Rowdy Ways”. And his Holiness clearly wants to make it known to the public, since his tour this time bears the name of “Rough and rowdy ways tour 2021-2024”.
Exit the Never Ending Tour (the purists know that it never really existed), so make way for an 81-year-old gentleman who takes care to prohibit telephones at his performances. Each spectator must place their portable cell phone in a sealed pocket so as not to disturb the high mass. And at 8:30 p.m. sharp, the dark is done in a full Grand Rex, giving the evening star a standing ovation. Hidden behind his upright piano, Bob Dylan attacks with “Watching the river Flow”, a fabulous story of a disillusioned man who watches the world go by. Five musicians surround him: guitarists Bob Britt and Doug Lancio, drummer Charley Drayton, multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron and bassist Tony Garnier, one of his oldest stage collaborators, present at his side since 1989. It takes a while for the boss’s voice to take on its full potential.
Bob Dylan never does the same version again
“Most likely you go your way (and I’ll go mine)” comes next. This classic “Blonde on Blonde” is transformed into a country ballad, unrecognizable at first glance. Dylan broke the structure of the chorus to give it another look. And that’s what’s marvelous about this man: he never does the same version again, rarely does he stick to the original, the one that was engraved between the four walls of a studio. Bob Dylan evolves the musical material and adapts his phrasing, in a saving form of “who loves me follows me”.
Tonight, unlike previous tours, there will be no songs that have resonated with the general public. No, without concession here he sings “I contain multitudes” first extract from “Rough and Rowdy ways” and first slap. Dylan is a perfect storyteller, a man of words and images. On slow rhythms, he takes you on his space-time journey. His voice is clear, precise, nasal obviously. But terribly touching.
In this musical self-portrait, Dylan lists the facets of the man he was, of the one he is now, quoting in the same sentence, Anne Frank, Indiana Jones and “the British bad boys The Rolling Stones”. Paris is ready to give him an ovation at all costs. But Robert Zimmerman makes no statement to his transfixed audience. Sometimes he moves away from his piano to stand for a few seconds in the middle of the stage. His limping gait is worrying but we feel the man is happy.
So when the public recognizes “When I Paint my masterpiece”, a nugget from the 70’s, it exults. “Black Rider” hits the mark, there too it is difficult not to see another form of self-portrait when Dylan sings “Better seal up your lips if you want to stay in the game” – he who only gave a only interview for ten years. Tonight too, Dylan sings well and better. He puts himself at the service of his recent texts, as if he needed to make his point clearly understood, he who pays homage to Frankenstein in “My own version of you” or takes himself for Jules Cesar in “Crossing the Rubicon”. If “To be alone with you” another enjoyable foray into the back alleys of his 60s repertoire brings a breather it is to better attack “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)” long melancholy ballad, ode to “the place to be if you’re looking for immortality”. Dylan here resonates “Kerouac” with “Railroad track” and it’s a whole America that invites itself in front of passionate spectators. Rarely have we seen a room so attentive to his idol, understanding his message, not challenging him to claim “Like a rolling stone” or “just like a woman”. Does Dylan realize this when he and his band then crank out an abrasive version of “Gotta Serve Somebody”?
A guitar solo that came out of nowhere
The Grand Rex is blown away by the power of the riff, by a guitar solo that came out of nowhere. Spirits calm down with “I’ve made up my mind to give myself to you”, a magnificent mystical ballad. Does Dylan take himself for a woman in this text where he challenges the “Travellin’ Man”?
Once again, everyone is free to imagine what they want, as long as they are rocked by this mischievous ode to love. In the end Dylan will have performed nine excerpts from “Rough and Rowdy ways” unfortunately leaving aside the 17 minutes of “Murder Most Foul”. Rarely had we seen him so involved, sometimes reciting rather than singing, his eyes riveted on his recent texts. At the piano, the singer has fun, plays loud and adapts the guitar melodies to his keyboard. It’s confusing, sometimes awkward, but devilishly enjoyable. After “goodbye Jimmy reed” the artist presents his musicians – we also remember that he thanked the public three times between two titles. “Every grain of sand” closes the evening. The song hidden in the mediocre “Shot of love” has established itself over the years as one of his most beautiful ballads. It’s a nice way for Dylan to pay homage to his own repertoire. Paris is under the spell, would like to hear it again and again. But the man disappeared in the dark, after a brief salute. True to its legend, both totally unpredictable and beautifully exemplary.
Setlist for October 11, Paris, Le Grand Rex
1/ Watching the River Flow
2/ Most likely you go your way and I’ll go mine
3/ I contain multitudes
4/ False prophet
5/ When I paint my masterpiece
6/ Black Rider
7/ My own version of you
8/ I’ll be your baby tonight
9/ Crossing the Rubicon
10/ To be alone with you
11/ Key West (Philosopher Pirate)
12/ Gotta Serve Somebody
13/ I’ve made up my mind to give myself to you
14/ That Old Black Magic
15/ Mother of Muses
16/ Goodbye Jimmy Reed
17/ Every Grain of Sand
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Last night in Paris…. Bob Dylan
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