by Danilo Nardoni
A musician who better than others represents the history of popular music of the last sixty years. The pioneer of folk rock. One of the first true contemporary songwriters. And if that weren’t enough, a Nobel Prize for literature, currently the first and only musician to get it. Mr. Bob Dylan, with a curriculum that speaks for itself and at the age of 82, opened the 2023 edition of Umbria Jazz in Perugia on Friday evening. A great initial blow for the festival which will continue to celebrate its 50th anniversary until July 16th.
No cell phones, no cameras and camcorders. Smartphone inserted before the concert in a special case. No big screens, in short, no technology, just like a concert back in 1973, the year in which the festival kicked off.
An imposition which, as a bargaining chip for a Dylan concert, turns into a good renunciation. At the request of the artist, in fact, like the others on the tour, the one in Perugia was a “phone free show”. Can you leave nowadays while attending a worldwide concert outside an arena? Dylan can afford to do this to force you to listen only to his songs. The senses thus find new impetus without the crutch of technology and the public is enchanted in front of the artist’s brushstrokes made of music and poetry as always.
The attention is quinti entirely for him and his piano, at the center of the scene. Few fixed lights, white and soft. No scenography, just a large red velvet curtain behind Dylan and the granite 5-piece band. Dylan himself underlines their skill with the only interaction he has with the audience, after an hour and a quarter of the concert, and after a “thank you, thank you very much” in Italian addressed to the 5 thousand present at the Santa Giuliana Arena, sold out for a few months.
It seems to be in a theater, instead we are in a large open space. And in the Santa Giuliana Arena which takes its name from the concert that Dylan himself held in Perugia on the now distant July 25, 2001. Perugia, therefore, which in some way is linked to the singer-songwriter. Also for other things. In fact, in the city, at the University for Foreigners, Susan Elisabeth Rotolo studied, the “Suze” who is close to him on the historic cover of ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ and who was the inspiring muse of the most famous lyrics by the American folksinger. With stories and testimonies that also speak of when he came to look for her in Perugia.
But that is perhaps another story. Instead, what was certainly staged on the stage of Umbria Jazz is made up of songs in which life and death are narrated in a unique way, from a folk beginning to a more bluesy ending, with a voice that hasn’t lost its single scratch.
More than half the lineup is dedicated to the latest album “Rough and Rowdy ways” released in 2020 in full pandemic. Even live, the songs are confirmed as the best written in recent years by the Nobel Prize-winning singer-songwriter. Peaks of intensity arrive with “Black rider” and “My own version of you”.
At the beginning Dylan immediately gets behind that piano which he will never leave again for about an hour and forty minutes of concert. Face in dim light that he lights up a bit only when he stands up several times during the evening without however ever detaching from the instrument.
No concessions to the glorious past. A past that however returns in episodes such as “Most likely you go your way” from the album “Blonde on blonde”, or with “I’ll be your baby tonight”, “To be alone with you” and “When I paint my masterpiece ”. When the notes of the final “Every grain of sand” arrive, the public knows well that it is the last pearl of the evening. People get up to throw themselves under the stage, just long enough to listen to the last notes and above all the final harmonica solo given by the artist. No encore, as scheduled, but no sign of nostalgia either. In the end, what magically emerges is the topicality of an artist who still knows how to speak to the public today, exploring the deep meanderings of the contemporary man’s soul and launching social denunciations. The young Duluth minstrel is now an octogenarian who can celebrate, always in his unique way, ballads and verses shared with multiple generations of fans. Finally standing almost center stage, Dylan leaves the piano to greet the audience. It ends with applause and he, spreading his arms a little, thanks him in his own way. The Italian tour, which therefore also brought him back to our country after five years of absence, will close tomorrow in Rome after the previous stops also in Milan and Lucca.