Had the eagerly assembled Hyde Park crowd noticed Bob Dylan was singing Like A Rolling Stone, you’d have heard a pin drop. As it was, the level of idle chatter (“What time’s Ocado coming?”… “Federer beat Nadal!”) almost drowned out an unrecognisable version of the Bobster’s timeless anthem. It was a missed opportunity, for crowd and fabled performer alike.
Crouched behind a gleaming baby grand, peering beneath the low rim of a jet black cowboy hat, resplendent in diamante dinner jacket and white striped trousers slightly too long for his diminutive frame, Dylan kicked off his biggest UK concert for decades with a reworked version of Ballad Of A Thin Man, from his 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited.
It set the tone for a surreal evening of Name That Tune as, one by one, the 78-year-old and his four-piece band reworked the classics from top to bottom. Familiar turned obscure; old friends now strangers.
Some fans were forced to rely on Shazam.
The 65,000-strong crowd, many of whom had waited hours under a blazing sun and, indeed, all their lives for this moment, was denied the nostalgic sing-along they’d hoped for. Even Like a Rolling Stone was like a complete unknown.
Dylan’s immortal Scooby Doo meet Chewbacca drawl still hits the spot, chills the spine and takes the listener back 50 years, when the great man made writing the soundtrack of a generation seem as simple as writing a shopping list.
But over the course of 500 songs, more than 50 albums and 100 million record sales, he’s resolutely replaced the old mantra ‘Give ‘em what they want’ with, ‘They’ll get what I give ‘em’.
So while we were treated to many of the most hallowed songs from his singular back catalogue – Simple Twist of Fate, Girl from the North Country, To Make You Feel My Love, You Gotta Serve Somebody, It It Ain’t Me and A Simple Twist of Fate – first time listeners would be forgiven for thinking they were all the same song, each delivered in the same ‘decipher one word in five’ careworn style.
Lord knows how the signer for the deaf on the big screen besides the stage managed to do his job.
There was no audience engagement “(One more time!”’ was the extent of his chat) and he didn’t touch a guitar.
In short, a magical night in the presence of an immortal. I just wish he’d played some Bob Dylan songs.