Impeccable performance by Bob Dylan and his Band at the Terme di Caracalla

Bob Dylan and his Band at the Terme di Caracalla
I’ve lived in Rome for over a decade and yet for some reason I had never visited the Terme di Caracalla, the spectacular ruins of the Roman public baths. During the summer months the Rome Opera House presents an outdoor programme of opera, dance, and contemporary music events at the Terme, so last night I finally got to see them as the most extraordinary setting for Bob Dylan and his Band in concert. There is always a palpable air of excitement before any Dylan show, but wandering slowly through the grounds of the Terme before the show, and waiting patiently for showtime as dusk slowly descended into darkness, was a magical experience. And then, right on time, the man himself appeared on stage, dapper in dark suit and white hat, and was met by an immediate standing ovation by the entire audience. As he launched into Things Have Changed it was clear that Dylan was in fine voice, and the band were as tight and rhythmic as ever. The sound was perfectly balanced - the venue was not only beautiful, but also possessed remarkably good acoustics. This was going to be a wonderful evening!

When Bob Dylan last played in Rome in 2013 he confounded pundits by performing a totally mixed bag of songs from his long career, instead of presenting the carefully honed and mostly unchanging setlist of more recent material that has been the staple of recent tours. I was lucky enough to attend the first of those two Rome shows and was thrilled and totally surprised by the evening. When I heard that His Bobness was returning to Rome, however, my secret wish was that I would finally get to hear “The Set”. With last night’s concert my wish came true with no less than six songs taken from his 2012 album Tempest, including very powerful performances of Scarlet Town and Pay in Blood. In fact, the setlist was an absolute joy from start to finish. I loved Forget Heart (from Together Through Life), while the new arrangement of Workingman's Blues #2 – always a favourite track of mine from Modern Times – was another highpoint. There were few concessions to the casual fan, but the only older tracks were absolutely stunning. It was a thrill to hear Tangled Up In Blue and Simple Twist Of Fate from his 1975 classic Blood on the Tracks sung with such impeccable vocals and with gorgeous harmonica breaks. Both halves of the concert were closed with exquisite showstoppers from his latest album of Sinatra covers Shadows in the Night. Even the heavens seemed to be in league with Bob yesterday, as the (not quite full) moon rose in time for Full Moon And Empty Arms at the end of the first half of the show, a performance only matched in its melancholy longing by the final song of the second set Autumn Leaves.

Security was exceptionally tight throughout the show with strictly no photos or standing allowed, in fact an early attempt to rush the stage during Long And Wasted Years was immediately blocked. The first encore of Blowin' in the Wind, however, saw the entire audience on its feet and a mass rebellion – there was huge a surge towards the stage and a sea of cameras and smartphones suddenly lit up the arena! This was followed by a blistering rendition of Love Sick to close an unforgettable concert.

Full setlist:

1. Things Have Changed
2. She Belongs To Me
3. Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
4. Workingman's Blues #2
5. Duquesne Whistle
6. Waiting For You
7. Pay In Blood
8. Tangled Up In Blue
9. Full Moon And Empty Arms
10. High Water (For Charley Patton)
11. Simple Twist Of Fate
12. Early Roman Kings
13. Forgetful Heart
14. Spirit On The Water
15. Scarlet Town
16. Soon After Midnight
17. Long And Wasted Years
18. Autumn Leaves
19. Blowin' In The Wind
20. Love Sick

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