Bob Dylan @ Roskilde Festival, 3 July

Bob Dylan has never compromised and at Roskilde he proves he's not about to start now, delivering a set heavy on gnarly reinterpretations of his back catalogue

Live Review by Max Sefton | 09 Jul 2019
  • Bob Dylan @ Roskilde Festival, Denmark, 3 Jul

As enthusiastic Danes chant his name to the tune of Bob the Builder, 2016 Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan stomps out on to the giant orange main stage at Roskilde. The sun dipping behind the stage lends a warm glow to a set heavy on gnarly, and at times disconcerting, reinterpretations of a series of Dylan classics.

His long time opposition to big screens appears to have abated, because the field is so packed that many of those in attendance would have no chance of seeing the Minnesota-born songwriter and his loose band of song and dance men otherwise. Clad in a white neckerchief and a spotted shirt, Dylan pounds the piano for an opening Things Have Changed before a splendidly grizzled backwoods version of It Ain’t Me Babe, which serves as a manifesto of what is to come. If you were expecting Bob Dylan to kick back and play the hits, you’ve got another thing coming.

Though he seems keen to play fast and loose with his own songbook, even Dylan can’t obscure the brilliance that runs through many of these songs. Simple Twist of Fate is stunning, while a soulful Make You Feel My Love reclaims his song from saccharine balladry and proves that even in his later years, he’s a songwriter like few others.

It takes the gruesomely bitter Pay in Blood – sample lyric: 'I pay in blood, but not my own' – to elicit a grin but even with his best known material there's a sense that Dylan is still having fun twisting them into new shapes and playing tricks on his audience.

It doesn’t always work though. Like a Rolling Stone is the kind of track that towers over every act that releases a great debut and a rapidly written follow-up about the downsides of fame; here it takes 30 seconds for the audience to even twig what track he's playing. What’s more, the pace sags notably in a lengthy Early Roman Kings and a nasal Girl from the North Country that suggests even Dylan is not quite sure what to do with his more conventionally sincere moments.

A stripped-back band of hard-drilled industry vets adapt on the fly to the singer’s asymmetrical approach to his back catalogue, ripping up a storm on Gotta Serve Somebody, a rare slice of brilliance salvaged from Dylan’s mostly atrocious born again Christian phase. 

For a famous man of words, he has little to say to the audience, content with a brief thank you and an awkward bow that leaves the audience unsure if he’s returning for an encore. Thankfully he must be feeling munificent after all, delivering two of his oldest and most recognisable tracks including a fiddle-propelled Blowin’ in the Wind delivered in a ragged croak Tom Waits would be proud of.

And with that Bob Dylan is off into the night. He’s never compromised before and he’s sure as hell not about to start now.