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Review: Dylan shows legends never die

By CNN's Gordon Isfeld

Dylan rarely moved far from his keyboard during the concert.


Bob Dylan

LONDON, England (CNN) -- It's a year that could be called "Bob Dylan Revisited."

We have seen his wildly anticipated (and well-received) autobiography "Chronicles Volume One" notch up huge sales and go to paperback. There was also "The Bob Dylan Scrapbook: 1956-1966" -- a collection of visual bits and bobs from his career. Add to this Martin Scorsese's superb two-part television documentary "No Direction Home," which was broadcast (again, well received) on the same dates on both sides of the Atlantic. A soundtrack has also been released.

Yes, nearly 45 years since his arrival on the New York folk scene, and four decades after he cranked up the volume and sparked outrage among acoustic-spoiled fans, the boy from Minnesota continues to fascinate, frustrate and challenge his audience.

And he has managed to keep that audience (though it's unlikely he would be bothered one way or the other) despite notoriously uneven recordings and performances (often his body was there even when he was not). Shifts in musical styles and religious motivations have also made such devotion a hard road to hoe.

Now Dylan is riding his new wave of notoriety across Europe -- the latest stop on his tour being London's Brixton Academy, which he has sold out for five straight nights.

On Tuesday, Dylan showed why he remains an enigma. For almost two hours, he rarely moved far from his keyboard. He and his band -- dressed in black (hats, boots and all), with pencil-thin mustaches to match -- appeared as some dark Vaudeville/Nashville hybrid. The songs themselves rendered in a mix of blues, rock and Western Swing.

The set began with "Maggie's Farm" followed by more than two dozen others including "Lonesome Day Blues," "Positively 4th Street," "Girl Of The North Country" and "Highway 61 Revisited." Often Dylan's voice and words slipped into a murky musical sludge, only to be plucked and separated and revitalized in a glint of his eye.

The Brixton dates are the semi-climax to Dylan's Europe tour. He began in Sweden in October and has since rolled through Denmark, Switzerland, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, the Czech Republic and onto the UK -- all to thunderous reviews.

Along with stops in Glasgow, Nottingham and Birmingham, Dylan returned to his former nemesis of Manchester -- where he avoided any new "Judas" jibes, at least none recorded (a far cry from his 1966 appearance toting an electric guitar). His final two concerts are in Dublin in the Republic of Ireland.

Dylan's caravan of followers appears to be growing, with older devotees planting and cultivating new interest in the artist. Still others cling to what greatness remains.

As one frequent traveler in the audience said, "You might as well keep seeing these guys while they're still alive." A point not to be taken lightly when referring to the endangered species of 60s and 70s icons.

The first time I heard "All Along the Watchtower" (off Dylan's "John Wesley Harding" album) performed live was during an unexpected tribute to Dylan by Jimi Hendrix (who had just recorded the song for his yet-to-be-released "Electric Ladyland"). The impact was, ahem, electrifying.

And so it was again in Brixton. His legion would have it no other way. All these years on, electric is what they have come to expect from the Jester. Returning for a two-song encore (the first being a raunchy, full-out "Like a Rolling Stone"), Dylan -- as he often does -- repaid the Hendrix compliment by ripping into "Watchtower," Jimi's electric version of course.

Which just goes to show that legends never die.

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