“I can’t believe we just walked away from Dylan.” Those were the words of a fellow Hop Farm goer on Saturday night. But we had done exactly that. One of the most influential living figures of the 20th century (and certainly the most influential singer/songwriter of all time) was stood in front of us and yet we’d turned our backs and chosen the burger van over, ‘Lay Lady Lay’.
It’s not easy to describe the nature of Dylan’s performance on Saturday night without descending into a pointless tirade of meaningless negative hyperbole but perhaps the most simple way to look at it is this: Had I, or any of the other thousands of fans that witnessed Dylan’s performance, stumbled across a pub open mic night and heard that din we’d have left immediately lambasting the performance as unlistenable. Pathetically guilt dictated, I returned to the main stage as if to check that the awful sound that we had heard and frail old man which we had been seen earlier was just a cruel trick of the imagination (I hoped that was the effect that over-priced, warm cider had had on the cerebral cortex!) but alas, our initial conclusions were resoundingly confirmed as ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ was tunelessly growled out into the Kent evening.
Before I go further it is important to clarify my own, personal position. Bob Dylan was perhaps the single major reason as to why, at the age 14, I saved up eight months pocket money to buy myself a hideous, laminate, mass-produced “acoustic” guitar. Bob Dylan allowed me to realise the versatility that one could get out of a guitar and, perhaps now, Bob Dylan has made me realise that part of being a genius is knowing when to roll the credits. Admittedly this superfluous detail is unnecessary but I’m eager to dismiss the notion that I simply have no respect for, or have an axe to grind. against Dylan - I don’t.
One of the most underrated and oft over-looked aspects to Dylan’s genius has always been his sense of timing. Whether that be tapping into the America psyche’s insecurity and disillusionment about Vietnam in the early 60s by writing ‘Blowing in the Wind’, introducing the Beatles to dope a few years later, or right up to 2006’s triumphant return to mercurial form with ‘Modern Times’, Dylan is obviously not only master of pen, paper and guitar but years, minutes and time. Or so I thought until Saturday night’s performance at Hop Farm Festival. For now, judging by the Hop Farm debacle, would be a good time for to hang up the guitar and harmonica and for Zimmerman to get a Zimmer frame. Dylan has nothing to prove; his legacy is assured through the timeless quality and idiosyncratic nature of his back catalogue so why tarnish the reputation with these sub-standard live performance?
Dylan will be 70 next year so it would be ridiculous to expect a performance from a man of that age to match the ferocity and fervour that the 24 year-old Dylan demonstrated in the “1966 Royal Albert Hall” performance (the “judas” gig) but nonetheless it didn’t seem unreasonable to expect some sort of performance. Furthermore, considering the standard of performance of contemporaries Ray Davies and Van Morrison who appeared on the same bill (not to mention Stevie Wonder, Springsteen and Neil Young’s breathtaking Glastonbury headline performances over the last couple of years) the situation was primed for Dylan restore his position the world’s most intriguing live performer.
The performance didn’t come as a total surprise but I, like so many others, had chosen to ignore the accusations that he could no longer hold a tune (or indeed a note), that he was all filler no killer and that every minute on stage was diluting his untouchable reputation. I simply labelled such accusations as misinformed and ignorant. There will no doubt be a backlash from those were disagree with my assertions but I genuinely believe that if Dylan’s performance on Saturday is viewed objectively, disregarding his iconic status, then the abysmal lack of quality is impossible to ignore.
In short the message is this; if you are considering seeing Dylan live think twice, it’s not all right.
Disagree? Agree? Let me know. Has anyone else been magnificently disappointed by a hero?
Hop Farm Photo Festival Highlights:
Hop Farm Festival 2010 - Day One With Blondie And Van Morrison
Hop Farm Festival 2010: Day Two With Bob Dylan, Pete Doherty And Ray Davies