Bob Dylan, ‘Chicago 2021’ (Crystal Cat CC 1133/34)

Bob Dylan, ‘Chicago 2021’ (Crystal Cat CC 1133/34)

Disk 1; Intro (Rites Of Spring) / Watching The River Flow / Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine) / I Contain Multitudes / False Prophet / When I Paint My Masterpiece / My Own Version Of You / I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight / Black Rider / To Be Alone With You / Mother Of Muses / Gotta Serve Somebody (56:19)

Disk 2; Key West (Philosopher Pirate) / Early Roman Kings / Melancholy Mind / I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You / Goodbye Jimmy Reed / band introduction / Love Sick / It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry / Simple Twist Of Fate (2/11-21) / Soon After Midnight (2/11-21) / band introduction (7/11-21) / Every Grain Of Sand (7/11-21) (

After the 2020 leg of the NET was cut short with the then impending global pandemic looming close, Bob Dylan fans were still afforded a little bit of company as soon after various countries began to close their borders, their inhabitants ordered to say indoors, by display or design, Bob quietly slipped ‘Murder Most Foul’ on to the internet to a flurry of excitement. This 16 minute filibuster, his first original works since the  ‘Tempest’ album in 2012 was widely trawled through for meaning, the star of so many articles in the press – Music, literary or serious.  This was swiftly followed by another lockdown present and the news that there was a new album in the making – Dylan’s first for a long time – though who knows how long it had lain brewing for as the artwork may have alluded to Bob’s politics but the references were largely appropriate to the 20th-21st century. There was also the matter of various other actions in Dylan’s calendar but for the sake of this being a review rather than repotagé .. 

Having been holed up himself for at least 18 months – Apparently he was at the easel as opposed to the music stand – Dylan dropped news of his first tour and public appearance since the end of the last. The NET was dead, the Rough and Rowdy Ways tour was on. This 21 date tour through the US was one of the most hotly anticipated tickets in town – Besides the Stones, none of the bigger bands had yet signed off their touring schedules, this was of benefit to Dylan who never lugs around a huge set anyway, preferring the look of a modest antique store to light his stage. The world-spanning tour was announced to be running over the next four years. This surprisingly lengthy rota surprising some fans who assumed that Dylan might like to spend his autumn years tinkering with the Christmas lights in his garden as opposed to shipping guitar cases around the world, however, as has been speculated before, perhaps Bob would prefer to pass over with his boots on and, despite nonchalantly paying the audience no mind, actually lives for the gust of applause from the auditorium. 

The second night of the tour is the night that the Crystal Cat label have chosen to go with – A beautiful sounding audience recording, right in the middle of the action but with a great stereo picture and retention for the crowd around. The sound is afforded a little more urgency as the Rites Of Spring, the now expected introduction to the band, is forcefully pushed aside by the band entering to strike up for ‘Watching The River Flow’, the hollering and breezing from the crowd as Dylan sneaks on to the stage though is glorious. 

Dylan plays a heavy 19 song set, 8 of these tracks being from ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’, while it’s clear that the break has also done him good. Bob’s voice is, granted, as raspy and as Dylanesque as previous, there’s less garbling of words though, less slouch, a little more vigour to the presentation – Regardless of the age of the song, there are, once again, subtle differences in performance that Dylan sprinkles in like sugar dust. 
Standouts from the show are an incredible, ‘You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)’ with incredible acapella breakdown in the middle, a luscious, ‘I Contain Multitudes’, a forceful and funny ‘False Prophet’ which I’d also put alongside, ‘My Own Version Of You’ – One of the most ludicrous and yet charming Dylan songs in his ouvre, showing that Dylan is having fun with writing again. The audience certainly lap it up. 
A motoring version of ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’, which, in text, shouldn’t work but in the pliable hands of the bard, shakes it’s elements and turns itself in to an unimaginable groover – Replete with a joyous harp solo and and twist in the second half that’ll stop you in your seat. ‘To Be Alone With You’, another track from the same era, also gets a spin but this time with more mixed results. ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ has the same treatment that Dylan unveiled in 2019 – Rocky, rattleshot, right-on – It fits like a glove. 

The second half of the set is possibly even moed ‘Rough and Rowdy’ heavy, it begins with possibly the best rendition of the night in ‘Key West (Philosopher Pirate)’ – Slow and glomming, the bands instrumentation merely part of the air, it’s Dylan’s performance that stands out over and above everything else. I lost myself for the duration of the song, luxuriant in a drift of warmth and bathed in a subtle feeling. I’m pleased it’s the longest rendition of the night and the smattering of considered applause towards the end of the track thinks so too. 
The mood shifts a little for a slouchy, ‘Early Roman Kings’ which is confident, nonchalant and scowling. Nowhere near as sweet as ‘I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You’, Dylan sings more on this song that he will do the rest of the night – His range obviously nowhere near what he’d like it to be these days – his crisply lilting croon more authenticity touching than any auto tuned breathless wheeze that any of the new line could manage. 

The tempo lifts a little for ‘Goodbye Jimmy Reed’, though unfortunately someone in the crowd seems to have heard this all before and the chatter from a few seats down manages to melt in to the tapers hard work – Thankfully, it’s a brief discussion before he fades away. 
Interestingly enough the band introductions precedes the bands exit before the first encore – Dylan gently enthuses over Chicago briefly – A faint hope that Dylan might just turn a little more vocal again on his performances at this stage but there for the grace of trying – The break is followed by a light, unstructured ‘Love Sick’, Dylan’s piano sticking out at points between the guitars. It looses a little of it’s ruefulness for apathy where as a crawling ‘It Takes A Lot To Laugh’, feels warm and friendly – The band given a little space to trade a few licks and let the leash slacken a little while keeping a close eye upon the boss. 

Bonus tracks come from night one of the tour and also the fifth night – a modern conversational tone leads ‘Simple Twisf Of Fate’, Dylan flips out lines like a NY socialite, all easy charm and flippant sass. ‘Soon After Midnight’, from a different source, shares the same kind of feel. The fifth night starts with a band introduction that’s slightly longer than Dylan has managed in a short while before a typically beautiful, ‘Every Grain Of Sand’, the most perfect way to wrap up the set. 

The packaging, because I know that that’s what you’ve come for too, is one of the Cat’s beautiful tri-fold digipack using the tour promo on the front and back. Inside is decorated with a couple of show photos alongside an image of one of Dylan’s latest paintings from his ‘Deep Focus’ collection (Currently being shown at the Frost Museum in Miami). The glossy booklet features images from the show, during and before, the merch stall, some of Dylan’s whiskey and a time when Bob signed a fans guitar on a chance meeting. The text involves the lyrics for the songs on ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’ and a write up for the show by Tom Siebert, taken from Tom’s Tumblr page. 

It’s great to finally hear the premier of new Dylan music played out live. The set, for me, slows towards the middle and never really picks up speed again – That’s not to say it’s a bad show, far from it – but it seems an odd choice not to displace some of the rockers towards the other side. Another class affair from the Cat though and an excellent souvenir from the very beginning of this tour. 

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