The first time I saw Dylan was from the front row of Madison Square Garden on January 30, 1974. My friend Mike O’Mahoney from Columbia Records (see earlier post re Springsteen) had somehow managed to get hold of four front row centre tickets for this opening show of a three-night run with the Band and distributed them to us all separately before we arrived. As it happened I arrived first, just as the lights were dimming and the crowd was roaring in anticipation, and it took me some time to push through to the front, the security all assuming – until they saw my ticket – that I was a frenzied fan intent on getting as close to the stage as possible. When I reached the front there were four empty seats and so, cheekily, I draped myself across all of them, lounging as if on a sofa. Those around me must have wondered who the hell I was, someone who could obtain four front row centre seats for himself, just so he could stretch out lethargically as he might in his living room, right there in front of Bob Dylan.
Talking of whom, the man himself had launched into his opening song, ‘Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)’ by the time I took my seat(s), and he peered down quizzically at me, no doubt also wondering just who the hell was this bloke who seemingly had four seats to himself, right slap bang in the middle of the front row. I think I put him off his stride for a moment or two, and he was well into the second song of the night, ‘Lay Lady Lay’, by the time the other three ticket holders arrived and order was restored.
That night he played many of the songs I wanted to hear and he was effortlessly supported by the Band, then at the peak of their game. Their fluent musicianship, the result of hundreds of hours of ensemble playing during ten years together, made for a terrific contrast with Dylan’s more casual, impromptu style, each supplying the other with exactly what was needed to serve up a perfect feast.
There was an acoustic set within the main set, featuring Dylan alone, during which a roadie nipped down to ask one of my friends to stop taking photographs as it was putting him off. When he put his camera away, Dylan looked down and nodded, acknowledging the gesture. My only complaint was that he failed to sing ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, my favourite Dylan song, but he did do ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, my second favourite, which closed the show. For a final encore he sang ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, by which time the house lights were on and the audience jammed up at the front all around me. Truly a great night.