The Drifter’s Return – Bob Dylan at the Liceu Theatre, Barcelona, June 23, 2023 - The TU Institute for Bob Dylan Studies
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The Drifter’s Return – Bob Dylan at the Liceu Theatre, Barcelona, June 23, 2023

Read a review of Dylan’s Barcelona show this past June, written by conference panelist at World of Dylan 2023, Jim O’Brien.


Things have changed. As I sat in the Café L’Opera on a hot, sticky June evening in Barcelona, there were few visible signs that Bob Dylan, the last of the troubadours, was about to go on stage in just over an hour’s time in the historic Liceu Theatre on the other side of La Rambla. I simply felt that tingle in my bones, a raising of the senses, as I prepared to complete a trilogy of his Rough and Rowdy Ways tour, as this enigmatic, eternal mystery nears the end of his Spanish road. Yes, things have changed since the brilliance of his youth, the packed stadiums and the snaking queues in entranced anticipation of a Bob Dylan concert. The world may turn and burn in indifference these days, but if Paris and London from October 2022 are anything to go by, those entering the hushed sanctum of the Liceu tonight are about to witness a special evening of music, poetry and song. For me, it was to be a fitting culmination, the symbolic symmetry marking the end of my Road Maps for the Soul journey, which had taken me to Hibbing, Tulsa, Nashville and New Orleans in the last month. My own travelling is done for now. Bob Dylan is still on the road, heading for another joint.

‘Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand’. With this haunting couplet, Dylan brought a spine-chilling conclusion to his return to the Liceu since his last performance here, some five years ago. The richly deserved standing ovation which followed saw him emerge from behind his piano to briefly move centre stage and take his bow. Then he was gone, a shooting star into the night sky. For almost two hours he had mesmerised, enraptured and entertained his fans. The mood echoed ‘Shadow Kingdom’, his voice recalled his covers of the great American Songbook, fused with an honest, impassioned delivery of those wonderful songs from his ‘Rough and Rowdy Ways’ album. A cluster of reworked versions from his back catalogue, and a heartfelt rendition of the Grateful Dead’s ‘Stella Blue’, made up his set.

Despite remaining behind his baby grand piano for all of the concert, he was still able to reveal his past glories as bluesman, rock star, country and rockabilly singer, as well as more recent incarnations as confessional poet and crooner. Dylan was still able to weave the tapestry of his work, to let his songs unfold, as he has done for the best part of sixty years on the road as a performing artist. His band was tighter and sharper than it had been earlier in the Rough and Rowdy Ways tour, striking a balance between structure and improvisation, so that the melodies driving the songs could flow more freely. ‘False Prophet’ and ‘Dark Rider’ were delivered with a fresh directness and urgency, as Dylan’s interpretation of the wonderful collection from the ‘Rough and Rowdy Ways’ album showed subtle shifts in mood and timing as he explored his own mortality and legacy in his confessional evocation of the magnificent ‘Key West’ and the stomping blues of ‘Crossing the Rubicon’. A dramatic, rocked up version of ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ seemed to be his only grasp of certainty as he mused on his paradoxes and vulnerabilities in ‘I contain multitudes’ and’ Mother of Muses’. A rasping rendition of ‘Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum’ from ‘Love and Theft’ displayed Dylan as the wise old soothsayer and prophet. It is a song that has certainly matured with age, put across with a finger- pointing apocalyptic vengeance.

As in Paris and London during the autumn of 2022, the Rough and Rowdy Ways songs were complimented by a cluster of reworked versions from Dylan’s back catalogue. The highlight at the Liceu tonight was his harmonica solo on ‘When I paint my masterpiece’ when he effortlessly rolled back the years to breath new energy into a rockabilly reading of the song. As he looked at the world through the wisdom of an old man’s eyes, it was still possible to glimpse the many chameleon faces of Bob Dylan: the still tousled hair, the gestures when he introduced his band, the Song and Dance Man in the bubble of his piano. Tonight, at the Liceu time stood still for these two hours. It was a pleasure to be in your presence. You are still there Bobby, in all your raging glory.

– Jim O’Brien, Barcelona, June 23, 2023 –