Bob Dylan thrills at the Atlantico, Rome – 6 November, 2013

Guessing the setlist ahead of shows at a Bob Dylan concert is a popular and somewhat obsessive sport amongst fans, and I confess that in the run up to Dylan's show at the Atlantico in Rome's EUR district last night, I too had spent hours online cross-checking the song lists and watching concert “spoilers” on YouTube. I arrived at the concert convinced, therefore, that we would be hearing a selection of songs taken predominately from his latest studio album Tempest. When his band took to the stage (with Charlie Sexton back on lead guitar), followed by Bob Dylan who positioned himself immediately behind the grand piano, and they launched into 1960s classics Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat, followed by a gorgeous Don't Think Twice, It's All Right, I quickly realised that my predictions couldn't have been more wrong! As it turned out, the evening would focus almost entirely on his 1960s output, with Tempest completely absent. Trying to second-guess such an unpredictable figure as Bob Dylan is impossible – as he huddled together with the band between songs, the song choices yesterday evening really did feel utterly spontaneous.

The shows during this autumn 2013 European tour are all in surprisingly small venues, rather than stadiums. Arriving early at the standing-only Atlantico I was able to quickly find a spot only a few rows back from the stage, but even those at the very back were easily able to see the singer. This closeness to the audience made for an intimate evening. It's rare for there to be much interaction between Dylan and his public, but after a blisteringly bluesy Highway 61 Revisited brought the first set to a close, he walked centre stage, smiled, laughed, and then thanked us in Italian - “Grazie amici!” The mixed crowd of all ages cheered enthusiastically throughout, applauding stand-out moments mid-song, with cries of “Thank you Bob!”

The performance was close to perfection - Dylan was in fine voice, enunciating every word so that the lyrics were crystal clear, and his revisitations of old songs were beautifully phrased and instantly recognisable. There were so many moments when I found myself gasping with delight - Blind Willie McTell with Bob's exquisite harp playing, Queen Jane Approximately was a dream come true, Ain't Talkin' (one of the few songs recorded this side of the millennium on offer last night) was a mesmerising show stopper, whilst Make You Feel My Love, Boots of Spanish Leather and Every Grain of Sand were sung with vocal precision and real tenderness. Like a Rolling Stone, which closed the second set, inspired a mass stadium volume sing-along during the chorus, with Bob even skipping a line now and again and leaving it to the crowd to sing. Back on stage for one final encore – an exhilarating All Along the Watchtower – and it was time for final bows...and then the roadies were out unplugging the stage gear, the lights were up and we were left blinking and stunned by the brilliance of the performance we'd just seen.

Bob Dylan is back at the Atlantico again this evening. And there's only one man who knows what songs he'll be singing!

Full setlist:
  1. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
  2. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right
  3. Watching The River Flow
  4. Blind Willie McTell
  5. Honest With Me
  6. Make You Feel My Love
  7. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
  8. Queen Jane Approximately
  9. Highway 61 Revisited
  10. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
  11. Ain't Talkin'
  12. Most Likely You Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine
  13. Boots Of Spanish Leather
  14. The Levee's Gonna Break
  15. Every Grain Of Sand
  16. Like A Rolling Stone
  17. Encore
  18. All Along The Watchtower

Full band

Bob Dylan - piano, harp
Tony Garnier - bass
George Recile - drums
Stu Kimball - rhythm guitar
Charlie Sexton - lead guitar
Donnie Herron - banjo, electric mandolin, pedal steel, lap steel