IN SEVERAL of the career summaries published to coincide with Bob Dylan's recent 60th birthday, writers mused over why he is endlessly on the road. Is it because he is depressed, lonely, a legend with no particular place to go?
But the quality most apparent to 4,000 people gathered in a big top on the banks of the Mersey for Dylan's only English appearance this year was one of sheer glee, a man revelling in his high-flown reputation and mythology.
"Somebody in this town has been telling lies on me," he smirked on an opening acoustic number plucked from his seemingly bottomless bag of folk cover-versions. With his redoubtable compadres Charlie Sexton and Larry Campbell, he immediately transformed the hall into a Midwest ballroom or a mountainside road shack.
The three-part guitar interplay is one of several features that makes the show so vibrant. But mostly, of course, it's Dylan himself. Now unbounded after a near-fatal respiratory condition in 1998 he simply revels in songs such as "To Ramona", a dark faltering lovers' prayer gilded by Campbell's coiled mandolin. The line "I cannot explain it in rhyme" was given clownish emphasis by a man who remains rock's greatest lyricist.
Proof follows in "Desolation Row". The words and delivery unfurl here like a corkscrew through the heart. He still has the careless abandon that relishes the song's ability to merge rock 'n' roll drive with a carnival of freaks and grotesques. …