Nostalgia is a word that annoys artists, they avoid it as if it reeks of sulfur. It makes them feel weak and decadent. Bob Dylan doesn't give a damn about all that, not because at 82 years old he doesn't care about everything; On the contrary, the future of the modern world matters so much to him that he has dedicated a poetic and dark album to it, which is a masterpiece as a reflection of reality. Rude and rowdy, this is how Bob Dylan, who titled his latest studio album 'Rough and Rowdy Ways', seems to find life today. That's why he's not afraid to say implicitly (he stopped being explicit in 1964) that the old days were not only good, but better.
"I'm not what I used to be, things aren't what they were," he says yearning in 'I've Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You', one of the songs on that thirty-ninth album that emerged in 2020 as one of the best of the year and that has been transformed into a new endless tour, Or almost: the 'tour' began in 2021 and will end, if the planned plan is maintained, in 2024.
It is one of the songs he has sung this Wednesday in Madrid, in a concert marked by the great storm that has fallen minutes before and that left the floor of the enclosure flooded, the seats wet and the public colder and stiffer than an old carpet. It was the first of the 12 concerts that make up his Spanish tour. After passing through the cycle Nights of the Botanic of the capital will also play in Seville, Granada, Alicante, Huesca, San Sebastián, Logroño and Barcelona. Curious to know what it sounded like? Do not waste time looking for videos on social networks or YouTube, on this tour it is forbidden to enter with mobile phones. Not even professional photographers can enter.
So, what did it sound like? Nostalgia for American music of the 40s and 50s has been the atmosphere of the concert and is, in general, its ethical and aesthetic compass for more than two decades. He has exposed it in radio programs, books and, of course, in his records and tours: in the fall of his days, Bob Dylan only finds the musical truth in electric blues, the most primitive rock and roll, rockabilly and country-folk. He, who was always more artist than craftsman, now only seems to appreciate the craftsmanship of the song and, from it, aspire to art.
Most of the songs on 'Rough and Rowdy Ways' have been played at the concert reconstructed, reinvented. That does not seem very nostalgic, it is true, but his style is, that sound amalgam so American that his group marinates slowly and without stridency. He, against the current, pounded the piano in breathy outbursts while singing unwinding the melody with theatrical spasms. Sometimes he squawked and howled, sometimes he whispered and ululated. He offered his version of the blues howler, the circus presenter and the velvet balladeer, and, although his voice is already shorter than that of a raccoon, his strength has always been how he uses it, the explosive phrasing with which he primes the swing.
The other half of the repertoire, consisting in total of 17 songs, has been fed by another new album, 'Shadow Kingdom', which came out last week and is the soundtrack of a documentary film from two years ago that captured the Nobel Prize for Literature playing old songs in privacy. They are compositions in general of the 70s and his traditionalist stage of country-folk. Not super popular songs, but some that his fans will have recognized quickly, like 'Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I'll Go Mine)' or 'Watching the River Flow'.
But classics, what is called classics, those types of songs that are in the compilations, has not sounded a single one. That is, the first song of his that comes to mind did not play it last night. In that the old skin Dylan offered not a concession to nostalgia. According to data compiled by the setlist.fm website, which stores the repertoires of almost 4,000 of his concerts, tonight he has not played any of the 20 most common songs in his past live shows.
In short, was it a good concert? Well, it hasn't been the best of his life and probably not even the best he could offer at 82, but it was okay. Nostalgia stuff.
- Bob Dylan
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