Bob Dylan checked his most acerbic protest songs at the door for his mainland Chinese debut at the Workers’ Gymnasium in Beijing last week.
Dylan turns 70 in May, but he rocked the harmonica and the organ hard as he went through a mix of new material and classics such as “Like a Rolling Stone,” “All Along the Watchtower” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” during the April 6 concert.
“Hard Rain” — an antiwar anthem that’s often interpreted as referring to nuclear fallout — seemed especially timely.
Dylan did not perform “The Times They Are a-Changin.”
The show was played amid tight security and against a backdrop of political tension after controversial artist Ai Weiwei was taken into police custody at the weekend.
There were reports that the culture ministry snapped up 2,000 of the venue’s 18,000 seats to monitor the setlist, which it had strictly vetted beforehand, and to make sure there were no songs that could be interpreted as a message to Ai.
“Bob Dylan has a far more influential status than other foreign performers in China, and the social and cultural impact is greater,” said Wei Ming, manager of promoting company, Gehua LiveNation.
The folk legend was supposed to come to China last year but cancelled the Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean legs of his Asian tour, reportedly after the culture ministry refused him permission to play in China. Wei denied there were political reasons for the cancellation.
But finally, last week, Dylan’s music rained live in China.