Bob Dylan Goes Down Under For Rare Club Gig

Legendary folk-rock singer/songwriter begins Australian tour with stirring Melbourne show.

MELBOURNE, Australia -- It was a relaxed and confident-looking Bob Dylan,

dressed in a steel-gray suit and black string-tie, who strolled onstage at the

Mercury Lounge on Wednesday night.

And his demeanor never faltered as he powered into a rousing version of

"Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat," from his classic 1966 album, Blonde on

Blonde.

Laden with explosive guitar-play from the band and replete with a solo by Dylan

himself, the song was an appropriate kickoff to this rare club show by the

legendary singer/songwriter, an event that served as the perfect warm-up for his

Australian tour that started the next day.

The adulation that greeted Dylan when he took the stage actually increased by

the time he reluctantly left -- more than two hours and three encores later.

The first part of the show included "Pretty Peggy-O," "Shelter from the Storm,"

"Tough Mama," "You're A Big Girl Now" and two selections from his recent,

acclaimed Time Out Of Mind album -- "Can't Wait" and "Cold Irons Bound"

(which emerged from a long howl of feedback). The musicians framed the songs

with some exceptionally tight playing, while still allowing Dylan room to move

with his guitar as he delivered the lyrics with new-found passion.

It was definitely not the throwaway delivery that seemed to mark some of his

past shows. It was almost as if Dylan had re-discovered his own songs.

Picking up an acoustic guitar for the next half-hour and seven songs, he proved

that his skills as a troubadour remain undiminished. As he began to sing

"Cocaine Blues," it was clear that his voice has assumed the timbre and

expressiveness that might be compared with some of the great blues singers. With

longtime bassist Tony Garnier on the upright bass and pedal-steel player Bucky

Baxter also using mandolin, the musical setting was varied and rich.

Once again proving his legendary status, Dylan re-fanned the ardor of his

following. "The greatest musical experience of my life," said Warwick Brown,

owner of Greville Records and a longtime Dylan fanatic. "It puts every other

great gig into insignificance. I had two 45-year-olds next to me screaming. It

was like we were all 15 and at a Spice Girls concert!"

After his last tour here five years ago, it might have seemed that only die-hard

fans were keeping the flame alive. At one of those shows, the performance was

lackluster, and the band was hard-pressed to keep up with its leader.

There had been reports over the past year about the high quality of Dylan's most

recent performances, and the crowd at the Mercury Lounge was expectant and

enthusiastic. In fact, this was the hottest ticket in town since Mick Jagger's

legendary set at the Corner Hotel a decade ago.

With Garnier and Baxter joined by guitarist Larry Campbell and drummer David

Kemper, Dylan's band seemed one of his strongest to date, as the folk-rock icon

presided over a set of songs that straddled his career, past to present.

His classic "Mr. Tambourine Man" was given new life with a slightly uptempo

rendering. "Masters of War" was delivered with seriousness, emphasizing that its

message is as relevant as when it was first written. The traditional "Roving

Gambler" (delivered in jaunty style with some superb harmony vocals from

Campbell) and the foreboding "Dark As A Dungeon" recalled Dylan's early folk

years.

"Forever Young," with its ringing pedal-steel guitar, was memorable for its

impassioned delivery, but it also incited the crowd to sing along loudly, much

to Dylan's delight.

"Highway 61 Revisited" jolted the crowd out of its acoustic reverie as Dylan and

Campbell traded guitar lines. This all-too-brief rendition ended the set and

left the crowd screaming for more. Had the gig ended then and there, no one

would have felt short-changed.

However, Dylan and band returned without much persuasion and launched into a

stunning version of

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Dylan,_Bob/Love_Sick.ram">"Love Sick"

(RealAudio excerpt), followed by a rollicking rendition of "Rainy Day Women #12

& 35" with just one verse and one chorus. The latter became an instrumental

showcase for the band and for Dylan's own guitar-playing solo.

A beautiful, acoustic "Blowin' In The Wind" preceded a gravelly, bluesy

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Dylan,_Bob/Til_I_Fell_In_Love_With_You.ram">"

'Til I Fell In Love With You" (RealAudio excerpt), from Time Out Of

Mind. Finally, as if to show how pleased he was with the reception he had

been given, Dylan returned once more to thunderous applause.

A version of "Silvio" featured Dylan on some more long guitar solos. There was

even a hint of several smiles and the suspicion that Dylan was as pleased with

his performance as he was with the reception from his fans.

"I

Shall Be Released" (RealAudio excerpt) closed the show. It was

inspirational in its delivery and also in the way it galvanized the crowd, who

felt compelled to join the chorus.

It is astonishing to think that, nearly 40 years after his career began, Dylan

not only sounds as good as ever, but he is as relevant as ever.

Gerald McNamara, a fortysomething fan, had nothing but praise for Dylan's

performance. "It was fantastic. The only other person who might come close is

Neil Young."