Last Night in Nottingham (by Tim Edgeworth)
2022-10-28, Motorpoint Arena, Nottingham, England
Tim Edgeworth saw the same two London shows I did, and he’s continued onward. Last night he saw Bob in Nottingham, which featured the first setlist change in months — and what a change it was! Over to Tim…
Bob Dylan has played in every kind of concert venue imaginable: theatres, ballparks, stadiums, bullrings, ancient Roman public baths, and, on one occasion, a zoo. But there’s one type of venue he’s played more than any other: cold, corporate arenas. Bob is a big enough name to draw an arena sized crowd, but the problem is that his show has not been a typical ‘arena show’ for some time, being much more suited to intimate concert halls than large barns. Having never seen Bob in such a venue, I went into yesterday’s show at Nottingham’s Motorpoint Arena with some trepidation. Would the quiet, meditative Rough and Rowdy Ways material – the core of the current setlist – work in this setting?
Nottingham had turned out en masse to see Bob Dylan. Surveying the audience from my seat in Block 15, I was happy to see a wide range of ages represented in the crowd. Teenagers who had come with their parents, groups of twenty-and-thirtysomethings, middle-aged couples, and older people – some probably the same age as Bob – carefully navigating the stairs to their seats.
Just a few minutes before showtime and unnoticed by the crowd, a crew member walked onstage and slipped an extra sheet of paper into the binder of lyrics on top of Dylan’s piano. This would prove to be very important later.
Bob and the band arrived promptly at 8pm and launched into “Watching the River Flow”, this tour’s standard opener. At this point my fears were allayed somewhat: the sound inside the Motorpoint Arena was excellent, with Bob’s voice crystal clear atop the sharply defined instruments. The two previous shows I had attended on this leg (the last two concerts at the London Palladium at the beginning of this week) had featured a very intense Dylan, but here he seemed relaxed and loose. The evening really kicked off with a gorgeous “I Contain Multitudes” sung a purring voice, a “False Prophet” that featured some great interplay between Bob and guitarist Doug Lancio, and a mostly acoustic “When I Paint My Masterpiece” straight from the Appalachian Mountains.
As well as the great sound, the other surprise was the unexpectedly reverent and attentive crowd. After a reportedly extremely rough and rowdy crowd in Hull the night before (one woman dumped ashes onstage), ushers informed us on the way in that “the artist doesn’t want anyone leaving their seats during the songs” and as far as I could see everyone complied. There was barely any yelling out, and when there was it added to the show. A voice from the back of the arena screamed “You’ve still got it Bobby!” after “To Be Alone With You”, and – in a fantastically timed interjection – someone yelled “God bless you Bob!” immediately before Dylan sang the opening line of “Gotta Serve Somebody”. The audience went wild every time Bob took one of his occasional walks to centre stage, and Bob reciprocated with several “thank you”s throughout the show.
I needn’t have worried about the Rough and Rowdy Ways material not coming across in a venue this size. Weirdly, the songs themselves seemed to expand to fill the space. “Crossing the Rubicon” and “Key West”, for example, felt bigger somehow than the versions I had seen at the Palladium, and held the audience’s attention despite their extended runtimes.
The show reached its traditional conclusion of Bob blowing a heartfelt harmonica solo at the end of “Every Grain of Sand”, then disappearing into the darkness. At the last several concerts he has returned to take a final bow (sometimes more than one), but this time he came back on stage and made a beeline for the piano before speaking into the microphone. He mentioned Jerry Lee Lewis’ passing (this was the first I had heard of it), and – after assuring us that “Jerry Lee will live forever” – announced that he and the band were going to play one of The Killer’s songs.
That song turned out to be “I Can’t Seem to Say Goodbye”, delivered with all the care and emotion you would expect from someone who cares about early rock ‘n’ roll music as much as Bob Dylan does. What was even more moving was what happened next: Bob blew a little kiss to the crowd, and then almost ran from the stage, like a child who doesn’t want anyone to see them cry. Jerry Lee Lewis, the last of the original rock ‘n’ roll pioneers, is gone.
‘Pledging My Time: Conversations with Bob Dylan Band Members’ by Ray Padgett is available for preorder now!