Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler

 

O2, Dublin

His Bobness resumed work on his legend at the O2 in Dublin on Thursday night looking and sounding all the better after his summer break. Though not exactly cracking jokes, aside from the flip “Thanks, fans” at the close, there was a pep in his spats-clad step as he and his dexterous band went through a 14-song set that drew heavily on core classics but also included five tracks from his most recent albums.

The irony in the standard introduction of Dylan as “poet laureate of rock” was heightened given the Nobel committee’s decision that day on the literature prize, but, 50 years on, Dylan needs no baubles of recognition to mark his importance as a cultural figure.

Much has been made of the fact that he is now 70. Yet there remain real vigour and creativity in his writing and his stage shows. While other veteran rock stars seem doomed to play their classics until they drop, Dylan challenges his adoring audience to join him in his deconstruction of songs such as Thursday night’s mangled version of Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right.Sure he’ll play the hits, but on his terms.

Some nights this can be painful, if ever fascinating. This, happily, was not one of those. Equally, it was not a great gig; first shows on long tours such as this are looseners as people get back in the groove and iron out problems. That said, his cracked voice was noticeably clearer on a set that had no shortage of bluesy muscle coloured by Charlie Sexton’s inventive guitar fills and Dylan’s harmonica and organ.

Highlights of the show, which opened with a steaming Leopard-skin Pill-box Hat,included Tangled Up in Blue, Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ (from 2009’s Together Through Life)and a riveting version of The Levee’s Gonna Break(from 2006’s Modern Times). He closed on a high with a rumbling Thunder on the Mountain( Modern Times) and a relatively unreconstructed Ballad of a Thin Man. The encore of Like a Rolling Stoneand All Along the Watchtowersated the full house but lacked intensity.

Earlier, Mark Knopfler and his very large band opened the evening with a good if modestly presented set. It seems bizarre to find an act of his importance playing support, and his understated performance hinted that he found it equally so. Judging by the audience reaction they were there to see Dylan, but they could recognise the excellence in songs such as the historical narrative of Marbletown, set in a rich Celtic instrumental mix, which was a highlight of the night.