It was his biggest concert in England since the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival, and Bob Dylan, appearing before 72,000 people at London’s open-air Wembley Stadium on the evening of July 7th, turned it into one of the highlights of his performing career.
The show was Dylan’s next-to-last appearance on a twenty-five-date European tour, and as he sat backstage before the concert, he seemed positively relaxed, cheerfully greeting such old friends and musical colleagues as Mick Jagger, Mark Knopfler, Chrissie Hynde, Steve Winwood, Van Morrison and Eric Clapton. But when Dylan bounded out onstage later that evening, wearing a black frock coat and sporting a shock of wild, curly hair, he looked, from a distance, like nothing less than a holy man possessed. And from the moment he and his band (ex-Faces‘ keyboard player Ian McLagan, ex-Stone the Crows drummer Colin Allen, bassist Greg Sutton and ex-Rolling Stone Mick Taylor) broke into an electrifying Chuck Berryish version of “Highway 61,” it was clear that Dylan was once again a devoted rock & roller. Moreover, his voice – full of passionate declamations and dramatic vocal leaps, and displaying an emotional palette that ranged from proud anger to unabashed tenderness – immediately brought his audience back to the days of Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde.
During his two-and-a-half-hour performance, Dylan sang twenty-five songs. The first part of the concert included excellent renditions of three tracks from his recent Infidels album: “Jokerman,” “I and I” and “License to Kill.” But Dylan and the band were most impressive in the way they gave new life to his older songs, turning “Just like a Woman” into a rollicking waltz, “Simple Twist of Fate” into a sensual rock samba, “Every Grain of Sand” into a haunted Basement Tapes meditation and “Maggie’s Farm” – with the rhythmic riff of “Obviously Five Believers” – into a sardonic and fierce protest song (lately the unofficial anthem of “Maggie” Thatcher’s opposition, the British Labour party).
Dylan also performed three acoustic numbers: a gentle version of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” a folk- and bluegrass-tinged rendition of “Tangled Up in Blue” and a searing reinterpretation of “It’s Alright, Ma.” With only his guitar and harmonica, Dylan somehow made the vast spaces of Wembley Stadium shrink into what seemed like an intimate circle around a campfire, as the crowd accompanied him in the refrains to each of these songs.
The audience continued to sing along when Dylan brought the band back to conclude the first part of the concert with an ecstatic version of “Like a Rolling Stone.”
For his encore, Dylan did three more acoustic numbers: “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Girl From the North Country” and “It Ain’t Me Babe.” Then, from out of the wings, the band reemerged, along with Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana and Chrissie Hynde, and the entire entourage proceeded to give an amazing performance of “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.” As if that weren’t enough, Van Morrison joined everyone onstage and sang a soulful, unsurpassable version of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” with Chrissie Hynde and Dylan providing backup vocals. After receiving a tremendous ovation, Morrison left the stage, and the remaining musicians launched into high-powered performances of “Tombstone Blues,” “Senor,” “The Times They are A-Changin’ ” and, finally, “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
Thousands of people danced, and matches were lit. A half moon appeared, then one nearby star.
This story is from the August 16th, 1984 issue of Rolling Stone.