Perhaps it was the Vietnamese dry season air, but Bob Dylan in an outdoor Ho Chi Minh City concert on Sunday exhibited none of the cracked, growling vocal character complained of by some recent critics. Instead, he was riding high, grinning happily and producing what is still an immensely distinctive and energising sound.
Wearing narrow-fitting black trousers, black shoes, red shirt, brass-buttoned jacket and a white hat, Dylan, 69, looked like a Napoleonic-era sea captain on his day off. He didn’t address the audience directly other than to introduce his band members. Some of the crowd – about 70 per cent expatriates – were eager to relive old memories and called out for famous 1960s numbers. Instead Dylan offered more recent music, with only a token “Like a Rolling Stone” – still sounding as fresh as the day it was written – thrown in towards the end.
His declamatory conversational style, in which few words have specific notes to go with them, found perfect accord with his band. The five-piece, dressed in fawn suits and black hats, delivered a stylish set of numbers with enormous professionalism, energy and concision. When the harmonica came out it was as incisive and shrill as ever. There was no diminished force here.
The band played for an hour and 20 minutes, left the stage, came back for a final three numbers, and then disappeared without a wave or a goodbye. Some may have been disappointed at the insouciance, but there was no need for crowd-pleasing antics – the audience was immensely pleased already.
Dylan’s music once helped stop a war in this country, but there was no reference to that. Instead, here was a man living in, and glorying in, the present.