The splendid decor of the Grand Rex venue in Paris, with its gothic and arabesque adornments recalling an Edgar Allan Poe interior, provided a fitting setting on 11 October 2022 for the first of three Parisian shows on the European leg of Bob Dylan’s Rough and Rowdy Ways tour – named after his most recent album from 2020 and scheduled to stretch from 2021 to 2024. This gig was actually my first opportunity to sample this tour, and before considering the concert I will make some general comments on the setlist, which has scarcely changed since the tour began.

The setlist is appended to this review as it was on 11 October, though my comments here will concern the entire tour so far. It is far from being arbitrary: indeed, it has obviously been very consciously constructed. It consists throughout of seventeen songs and currently features nine (originally eight) of the ‘new’ album’s ten tracks, the only one left out being ‘Murder Most Foul’, the sixteen-minute epic about the Kennedy assassination, presumably on grounds of length. These nine songs are complemented by seven (at first eight and later briefly six) older Dylan songs and one cover version (briefly two and later changed). The two classes of song (from the ‘new’ album/not from it) are carefully interspersed so that no more than two of the Rough and Rowdy Ways songs or two of the ‘old’ songs are performed sequentially: alternance rules, and the message is surely that the old complements the new and vice versa. There have been very few changes since the tour began. Over time so far, we have had ‘Early Roman Kings’ from 2012’s Tempest edged out by the new album’s ‘Crossing the Rubicon’; the Sinatra cover ‘Melancholy Mood’ substituted by ‘That Old Black Magic’ from the same stable; and, very briefly in California, for three shows, ‘Every Grain of Sand’ surprisingly replaced as closing number by a cover of the Grateful Dead’s ‘Friend of the Devil’. For the rest, the keyword is continuity: the setlist is a work of art.

The selection of ‘old’ songs might have appeared eccentric to some. This is no greatest hits selection, far from it – as commentators have inevitably observed, no ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, no ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. Nor is any particular album privileged, with the only two songs from the same album – ‘Watching the River Flow’ and ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’ – being from a compilation (More Bob Dylan Greatest Hits, 1971). Of the remaining Dylan compositions retained, the oldest is ‘Most Likely You Go Away (and I’ll Go Mine)’ (from Blonde on Blonde, 1966); the best-known ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’ (from John Wesley Harding, 1967); the most controversial ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’, from Dylan’s religious period (Slow Train Coming, 1979); and the best ‘Every Grain of Sand’, also from that period (Shot of Love, 1981), but on a whole other poetic level. This leaves the particular case of ‘To Be Alone With You’, from Dylan’s ‘country period’ (Nashville Skyline, 1969), rewritten to the point where it comes over as virtually a different and more complex song. Virtually all the ‘old’ songs have undergone, to a greater or lesser degree, lyric changes which are not necessarily improvements, the outstanding and fortunate exception being an effectively unchanged ‘Every Grain of Sand’.

To return to Paris, it is gratifying to signal that the collective atmosphere in the packed-to-capacity concert hall was extremely warm, convivial and sympathetic to a Dylan who was visibly in a good mood and obviously relishing the songs. His delivery tended to separate the songs’ lines and phrases into fragments, a technique which may be related to his age but which has the virtue of capturing phrases for reflection. This technique arguably did not take too well in his delivery on the opener, ‘Watching the River Flow’, where the phrases seemed more like bleeding chunks, but was better integrated in the immediately following numbers and allowed some precious deliveries of key phrases like ‘The city of God is there on the hill’ (‘False Prophet’) or the Shakespearean ‘winter of my discontent’ (‘My Own Version of You’). At the end, ‘Every Grain of Sand’ – in itself one of the best songs he has ever written – was performed with a declamatory energy that provided a remarkable culmination to the evening. The song which received the strongest ovation of recognition was the familiar ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’, but ‘new’ numbers including ‘I Contain Multitudes’ and ‘Key West’ were also greeted with strong applause, indicating that those present also knew and valued the recent material and saw Dylan as no museum-piece.

As the evening unfolded, the musicians’ performance was invariably superb, and Bob Dylan’s, though variable, at its best plumbed uncanny depths. After ‘Every Grain of Sand’, sections of the public cried out for an encore – a wish not granted, but nonetheless it was clear that artist and audience had enjoyed the spectacle to a similar degree. The Grand Rex had witnessed a fine and moving evening, and of which – for time passes – we, Bob Dylan’s audience, may not see the like again.

SETLIST (same for all this tour so far; songs from Rough and Rowdy Ways (2020) in italics)

Watching the River Flow (More Bob Dylan Greatest Hits, 1971)

Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I’ll Go Mine) (Blonde on Blonde, 1966)

I Contain Multitudes

False Prophet

When I Paint My Masterpiece (More Bob Dylan Greatest Hits, 1971)

Black Rider

My Own Version of You

I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight (John Wesley Harding, 1967)

Crossing the Rubicon

To Be Alone With You (Nashville Skyline, 1969; rewritten)

Key West (Philosopher Pirate)

Gotta Serve Somebody (Slow Train Coming, 1979)

I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You

That Old Black Magic (Fallen Angels, 2016; Sinatra cover)

Mother of Muses

Goodbye Jimmy Reed

Every Grain of Sand (Shot of Love, 1981)


One response to this post.

  1. Nice review Chris. The next night was even better!


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