Review: Bob Dylan at Zepp DiverCity, Tokyo

by Andrew Kershaw

Special To The Japan Times

Just 123 days after tumultuous applause engulfed the waning strains of “Blowin’ In The Wind” to bring Bob Dylan’s last concert to an end at the Royal Albert Hall in London on Nov. 28, a similar cacophony awaited him at Tokyo’s Zepp DiverCity on Monday at the start of his 17-show “cherry blossom” tour of Japan.

To rapturous acclaim — and with his long-standing touring band of Tony Garnier, George Recile, Stu Kimball, Charlie Sexton and Donnie Herron already cookin’ — the self-styled “song and dance man” appeared on stage for the first time in four years in Japan and launched into his foreboding, Oscar-winning “Things Have Changed” from 2000.

From there, with barely a pause, this 72-year-old who has likely clocked up more air miles than the 2,500-capacity audience put together, wound back the years to 1965′s poignant “She Belongs To Me” — though, like that song’s adored subject who “don’t look back,” this was no legacy version, but a moving classic clothed in a tender new embrace.

From love, next came loss and doubt, with “Beyond Here Lies Nothing” followed by “What Good Am I?” as the maestro worked his way, with one interval, through a set list of 19 numbers, including several from his latest, 2012 album “Tempest.”

To date, though, there has never been a live performance of that majestic work’s 14-minute title track, a dark, 45-verse epic about the supposedly unsinkable Titanic that hit an iceberg in the Atlantic in 1912 and went down with the loss of some 1,500 lives. Now wouldn’t that be a treat for his huge number of Japanese fans . . .

Nonetheless, it will have been obvious to even newbie fans at Zepp (and there were plenty of teens there, too), why the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes this creator of 500-plus officially released songs as “the pre-eminent singer/songwriter of modern times,” and why it also hails him as “the uncontested poet laureate of the rock and roll era.”

Whether it’s blues (“Blind Willie McTell”), ballads (“Forgetful Heart”) or anthems (“Tangled Up In Blue”), and whether Dylan’s bent over his grand piano seeming to punch at the keys with his fingers, stood singing/soaring/growling center-stage or coaxing music like no other from a harp, it’s obvious this is an artist still forever pushing the envelope, with one rendition of a song only rarely the same as any other.

One thing, though, did remain the same: The tumultuous applause, and rapturous adulation, that engulfed the waning strains of “Blowin’ In The Wind” as this installment of Bob Dylan’s so-called Never Ending Tour came to a close — just about 2,562 concerts after it started in June 1988.