Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler, MEN arena, Manchester, review

Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler, MEN arena, Manchester, review

Bob Dylan at the Bluesfest music festival.

There was a kinetic buzz to Bob Dylan’s show, while it’s clear Mark Knopfler is still capable of delivering a kick at their gig at Manchester MEN arena writes Rob Hughes.

This wasn’t merely some convenient double-header:Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler have history. The former Dire Straits leader provided the lowdown guitar licks on 1979’s Slow Train Coming, returning to the Dylan camp four years later as co-producer of the equally impressive Infidels. Both still clearly have a mutual admiration thing going.

Knopfler and his seven-piece band were on first, delivering the kind of highly crafted, murmury blues-rock that seems to have been his forte for ever. The spirit of JJ Cale stalked the easy shuffle of tunes such as Sailing to Philadelphia and “Song for Sonny Liston”, Knopfler’s voice barely rising above a mumble.

It was all rendered with a modicum of fuss or sweat. Even the forays into Celtic folk fell into the same category, despite the best efforts of fiddler John McCusker and piper Mike McGoldrick to make them jump.

Still, the faithful appeared to be lapping it all up. And the outbreak of near delirium that greeted an encore of Brothers in Arms and “So Far Away” was as unexpected as it was unfathomable. Best of the bunch by far was Marbletown, which proved that Knopfler is at least capable of delivering a kick.

No disrespect to the Knopfler, but Bob was clearly the main event. He entered stage right, silently took up residence behind an organ and began leading his five-piece troupe through an animated version of Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat. Well into his 75 year, Dylan makes an odd spectacle. He looks great in black suit and brimmed hat, but the passage of time has gradually chipped his voice from that trademark elastic whine into a sharp rasp. The lyrics to “Don’t Think Twice”, “It’s All Right” and “Tangled Up In Blue”, for instance, snapped out like some old curmudgeon chasing kids off the lawn.

That’s not to say it’s a bad thing. Far from it, in fact. There was a kinetic buzz to this show that invested the likes of Highway 61 Revisited and the rousing Thunder on the Mountain with a primitive charge. Dylan barely touched a guitar, save for the crying chords of Simple Twist of Fate, preferring instead to either hunker down behind the keyboard or stand free at the mike between blasts of harmonica. Hell of a band he has, too, most notably Texan guitarist Charlie Sexton, whose nervy energy set the tone for the entire set.

They finished with crushing takes on Like a Rolling Stone and All Along the Watchtower, before Dylan and the band took a quick bow and slipped off with a wave. He remains a mysteriously aloof figure, a legend forever at arm’s length, but then that’s always been part of the allure.

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