Bob Dylan. The very name can make full grown men weak at the synapses, all negative criticism is banished from the kingdom of the "Bobcat", naysayers dismissed as deluded heretics. On the mighty Internet, websites abound where virtual genuflection is a prerequisite, every gig is reviewed with a Pavlovian slavering, garlanded with superlative overload, each performance ennobled by claims that this is the best ever, every set list analysed like the Dead Sea Scrolls by those looking for the secret sign.
In Birmingham’s NIA — a man-made recreation of Wookey Hole Cavern — the ceremony is about to begin. The pre-concert atmosphere is thick with incense, an intense fevered anticipation that might precede a resurrection or an eclipse is more than tangible. As the intro-tape fades the band burst into "Cats in the Well", the four guitars chew over the riff from Little Richard’s "The Girl Can’t Help It", with little regard for each other, sounding no more impressive than a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band, the acoustics making the archly appropriate lyrics, "The world's being slaughtered and it's such a bloody disgrace" discernable only to the most adroit lip reader.
By the third song, the mix has brought the arid husk of Dylan’s voice into focus, and the band kicks off the 12-bar intro to "Watching the River Flow"; however Dylan starts singing the swirling skipping reels of rhyme that is "Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues". Neither band nor singer seem to acknowledge this disparity, both continuing on their path, seemingly oblivious of each other. And the grim realization sets in that the band are not even capable of maintaining the status quo, only of imitating them. Guitarists Freeman and Kimball toss out every wizened rock cliché there is, and every one of Dylan’s sublime songs that bestrides the great "American Song Book" like the Pillars of Hercules, is leveled like a landfill, the Sistine Chapel of popular culture is bulldozed into a bingo hall by the newest members of the superhuman crew.