Bob Dylan covered five decades of his music during a nearly two-hour set at Shanghai Grand Stage last Friday night. The concert was attended by an international audience, with many languages peppering through the hall. Dylan began the show with “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking,” a lesser known song from his neo-Christian years before moving onto “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” a breakup folk song off the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album that he often plays in concert.
For the third song, with perhaps a nod toward his critics, Dylan performed “Things Have Changed,” a sly song from Wonder Boys that won Dylan an Oscar. “People are crazy and times are strange/ I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range/ I used to care, but things have changed/ This place ain’t doing me any good/ I’m in the wrong town, I should be in Hollywood.”
The stage set was pretty spare with emphasis on the shadow Dylan against the back curtain rising up above the actual singer. The audience was quiet at first but grew more animated as the show went on, offering particularly loud cheers for “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “Like A Rolling Stone.”
As is usual, the songs were reworked and the arrangements sounded quite different from the recorded versions. Still, it would have been hard not to immediate recognize the distinctive chords of classics like “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Highway 61 Revisited.”
My personal favorite from the evening was a power rock version of “Desolation Row.”
Dylan alternated between playing keyboards (with organ sound), harmonica and guitar. His band was solid; I’ve seen a few of the guys in the band play with him many times. Tony Garnier, the bassist, has been with Dylan for more than 20 years and lead guitarist Charlie Sexton has come and gone but has been a Dylan compatriot since the mid-80’s (when Sexton was a teenage prodigy).
A fair number of tracks were from the Love & Theft and Modern Times albums and some audience members may not have been as familiar with them. There was loud cheering after “Forever Young,” the second encore song and it was a bit of a sad surprise when Dylan did not return to the stage (though I don’t think he often returns after the initial encore).
Security from my observation was pretty relaxed, I didn’t see anything resembling the Orwellian stories that came from the Beijing show. Dylan seemed pretty charged up to be there, drifting his vocals off into new tunes, not always on key but with a certain amount of charm. “Blind Willie McTell” was also a pretty powerful song.
Some critics have lamented that he didn’t play as many of his folk ballads from the 60’s like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changin.’” These songs would have been recognized by more members of the audience, but I also enjoyed seeing Dylan work through his newer material, some of which I’d never seen him perform live before (having been in China for a number of years now).
It’s taken 50 years of performing for Dylan to make it to Shanghai but hopefully this won’t be the last time he makes it to these shores.
By Jeremy Breningstall
According to our prior post about Bob Dylan coming to Shanghai we got some good news:
He has apparently gotten clearance for his China tour because tickets are now being distributed by mypiao.com. He will play at Shanghai Grand Stage on April 8.
Tickets can be reserved online.
This might be your only chance to see him in China so hurry and get your tickets.
Rumor has it that Bob Dylan will be playing several venues in China, including Shanghai, this April. Of course the same rumor came around this time last year so we'll see if it comes true this time. The rumor would conform to Dylan's published tour dates, which include a concert in Singapore on April 15. If Dylan plays in China, it will have been long overdue... the Bobster has been a regular guest in Japan and all over the world. Btw, most of his catalog can be downloaded for free in China at www.google.cn/music. His newer releases (Including the mono recordings) can be easily found on the streets, my wife just picked me up a mono highlight CD for 25 RMB.
Stay tuned for updates!