November 9, 2014
Review by Sam Strajack
I sat forward in my seat, smiling wide, and wiping a strange wetness from
my eyes, listening to Dylan pay homage to his most prolific song. “How
many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?”, he sat
growling into his microphone. I’m 21 now, the same age Dylan was when he
wrote Blowin’ in The Wind, more than fifty years ago, and I’m proud to
say it’s something I’ve seen the man himself deliver in person now. It
was the only song of the night that I felt was bigger than Dylan himself,
as if he was merely a delivery method, for a song that not only defines
him to so many people, but at least in my mind, is the thesis of his
entire body of work.
I drove five hours from my humble midwest apartment, to take the
pilgrimage and finally see Dylan play live after being a fan for about
five years at this point. An hour of driving per year of being a fan…I
wish I would have seen him sooner! I heard My Back Pages when I was in
high school, and it was strange hearing someone voicing opinions, and
feelings that I thought were unique to me at that point. I’ve been a fan
ever since, and his music has never stopped surprising me, and making me
question myself. Some of it I’m sure is the foggy connection I feel to
the misfit kid from Hibbing, Minnesota. Funny nose, curly brown hair, slim
build. You remember that Onion article from a few years ago about Dylan
shutting down his songwriting factory? It was a joke about MY hometown. To
take the man’s words as my own, “It felt like destiny was staring at
me, and nobody else”
I headed to the concert alone, walking about fifteen minutes from a local
pizza joint where my friends sat talking and catching up, and I was
usually quiet. It was chilly, but I zipped up coat and re-tied my
bootlaces and went on my way, toward the beautiful Cadillac Palace
I eventually found my way there, got my tickets sorted out, found my seat,
and got settled in. The lights dimmed, the “eye” came up. A booming
gong hit filled the auditorium, and the man in the wide brimmed white hat
walked out from behind the curtains.
I’m going to run through the setlist, but I’m only going to talk about
the songs that I remember, or really took something away from. I consider
myself a big fan, but there were still songs that I wasn’t familiar
with, and as much as I consider myself a fan of Dylan’s voice, if
you’re not familiar with the song BEFORE the concert, you’re not going
to understand much of what the man says. It’s just an impossibility at
this point. The band was solid all night, but the cliche definitely stands
that the man’s live delivery style makes it tough to understand songs
you’re unfamiliar with. That being said, let’s jump in. q "Things Have
Changed” is the perfect opening tune. Fantastic song, and it has that
feel of “latter day Bob” that I’m becoming a big fan of as I get
older. There are lines in here that I would stack up against his best work
from the 60s. “I’ve been walking forty miles of bad road, if the Bible
is right, the world will explode”. Love it. Standing Ovation from the
entire crowd afterwards.
"She Belongs To Me” One of two songs from the 60s that is in the current
setlist. Great to hear him play harmonica live. I couldn’t help but tear
up a little when that happened. I’ve never been a huge fan of this song,
and I know I’m in the minority on this one. Still it was a standout song
of the night.
Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ - Not a big fan of this song, and unfamiliar
with it. The first lull of the night for me personally. I’m definitely
not one of those guys who regards everything the man has ever done as
Workingman’s Blues - Recently got into this song, and I love the slight
political slant to it. It’s these softer songs of his that always affect
me the most. He is standing at the microphone, pouring his heart out for
all of us, and we get to be witness to it.
Waiting For You - Unfamiliar.
Duquesne Whistle - I actually really like this song, and Tempest in
general. The video is violent and exciting, and sets the tone for an album
full of blood. It sets the tone for a concert that is generally filled
with songs about violence, heartbreak, loss, political rage, and brushes
with mortality. Dylan’s own mortality is hit on in almost every song,
and it’s really the most profound thing about seeing him at this point.
That leads me into the next song.
Pay In Blood - “The more I take, the more I give. The more I die, the
more I live”. This is totally what sums up the songs selected for this
particular tour. Like I was saying a second ago, most of these songs are
centered around the man being somewhat focused on and scared about leaving
us. Not now, but before too long. It’s completely beautiful to watch,
and it’s Dylan doing what he’s always done best, wearing his heart on
his sleeve. Not through his interviews, or straight-talk, but through his
Tangled Up In Blue - Blood on The Tracks is my favorite Dylan album, and
it was hugely important to me that I hear at least a couple songs from it.
“Tangled” was delivered well, but I think he either missed a few
verses, or intentionally left them out. It didn’t seem nearly as long as
the album version. I’m all for the man updating and constantly
interpreting his own work, but it was a little disappointing to see it
reduced (or maybe condensed) down to 4 verses. Mixed feelings on this one.
Love Sick - Slightly unfamiliar, but I like the message of the song, and I
love the turn around at the end. The mental image of him dismissing all
feelings of love and lust, only to have a beautiful woman walk by, and him
going after her, is very funny. I think of the “Things Have Changed”
video, with Katie Holmes.
High Water for Charley Patton - Unfamiliar
Simple Twist of Fate - My favorite Dylan song, and the biography of my
last major relationship. I was glued to him the entire time, and the last
phrase made me tear up again. “I still believe she was my twin”. It
was perfect. As close to transcendent as the night got.
Early Roman Kings - Not much to say about this one, "I’m not dead yet.
My bell still rings”, got a huge WOOO!! from the audience, but that’s
Forgetful Heart - Unfamiliar, but I believe it’s not an original song? I
remember liking a lot of the lines from it, and Dylan was fairly
intelligible on this track. Enjoyable even for someone who didn’t know
Spirit on The Water - My favorite track from Modern Times. It’s been
said to death, but the “You think I’m over the hill, you think I’m
past my prime” is lovely to hear in person, from the aging master. He
knows. The language and softer piano of this track always get me.
“You’ve never seen a ghost, you’ve only heard of them”, makes me
think of Dylan’s aloofness during the evening. He came out, played his
songs, and disappeared as quickly as he came.
Scarlett Town - A song with great imagery, and a biting violence and
haunting to it, but not a personal favorite of mine. Not for me.
Soon After Midnight - Hey it’s my favorite Dylan song post-Blood on The
Tracks. Teared up like a baby for what seemed like the fortieth time.
“It’s now or never, more than ever”. Reminds me of a girl I used to
know. Great to hear a modern classic delivered so well.
Long & Wasted Years - All night I was surrounded by middle aged men who
were complaining about him not playing any familiar hits, in the familiar
key. When he “ended’ on this cut from Tempest, they almost lost it,
and I loved watching it. I won’t lie :) I felt like I was part of an
elite club, that really understood what was going on. Personally I have no
huge hard-on for this song, like so many of the Dylan hardcore do, but it
was enjoyable to watch. A memorable track.
For the encore, we had ;
Blowing’ In The Wind - Just as I said in the intro, it’s his most
prolific song, it will be around the longest of all his masterpieces, and
it’s the closest he ever got to encapsulating everything he’s about as
a artist. It was a treat to see him play it in person, but the song is
being channelled through him, and he is purely the delivery medium. It’s
the only song I can think of that transcends the artist who wrote it. The
closest I could think of would be “This Land is Your Land” It was
beautiful to see in person. I’ll never forget this moment. The highlight
of the night, I think was still to come though.
Stay With Me - And for his final piece of the night, the Frank Sinatra
classic, “Stay with Me”, where he stands and pleads to us, to Stay
with Him. Once again, I can’t emphasis how surreal and strangely
beautiful it is to see an artist come to terms with his own mortality, and
express those fears and that kind of darkness in his art, live in front of
you. It felt like a comma, rather than a period on the evening. There is
more to come. We haven’t seen the last of him, and there are
masterpieces yet to come. As Buckets of Rain is to Blood on The Tracks,
Stay With Me is the perfect ellipsis to a Dylan concert filled with death,
loss and profound pessimism.
Overall, A Bob Dylan concert feels a lot like his career, consistently
solid art, with brief moments of profoundness, and fleeting moments of
dullness. I came away, not with a sense of joy vs disappointment, but only
with a deep sense of respect and admiration for someone who has dedicated
his life to his art. I didn’t come away saying, “Wow I had so much
fun”, but if the man’s purpose is to put art into rock music, I came
away feeling exactly that. I had just seen someone who was wholely and
totally dedicated to putting art before all else.
I felt like what Dylan must have felt like seeing Buddy Holly up close, as
a young man so many years ago. I felt.
Review by John Haas
At some point during this concert, my mind went back to what a reporter
asked him ahead of his 1994 tour (that featuring "the animal," Winston
Watson, bashing away like it was World War III on the drums). The
reporter was taken aback at the ferocity of the music, and Dylan
explained, "These are not shows anyone's going to sleep through."
I didn't see anyone sleeping--far from it--but if you had been so inclined
(or reclined, I suppose), the show wouldn't have stopped you. It wasn't
especially loud, and while there was lots of intricate playing that at
moments was exciting and always was interesting and musically satisfying,
this was not the kind of aggressive rock n' roll that Dylan was doing from
the early Never-Ending Tour days through Freddy Koella's tenure, and
I think it was about 2005 that I realized that Bob seemed, to my ears, to
be going for a sound similar to that you hear in Merle Haggard's band.
Much more low-key in some ways than the sound he had earlier, but in it's
own way, quite powerful. Just not, exactly, rock n' roll. I'm not sure
what to call the genre. It seems to have its center in the popular music
of the 1940s, somewhat country, lots of swing, a (very) little rhythm n'
bluesy, some Tin Pan Alley--I don't know--does it matter? He's not making
a statement--he's making music. And there was nothing to distract you
from the music--no introduction for him, not even the minimal banter he
sometimes gives, no band introduction, no "thank you," just the music. He
clearly thinks that's enough, and assumes people who come to these
concerts know him by now, and agree.
It wasn't for your casual fan. Two songs from the glory days of the
1960s, two from the 1970s, thirteen (of nineteen) from the 21st century.
The audience seemed to like that just fine--there were no calls for any
hits that I could hear, no yelling at all, and folk responded to the song
choices, the playing, the lyrical changes, and etc. with evident
appreciation. I wrote before the concert, "The hardest thing for many
people about Dylan in concert is the same as the hardest across the years
of his career: To jettison all expectations, demands and even wishes, to
leave the past behind (let the dead bury the dead), and trust him that
this different future he's exploring has some undiscovered gems in it."
I've seen him more than thirty times across forty years now, and even
though I know this, I'm still not 100% convinced in my gut until I
actually hear it.
Different people want different things. I miss the harmonies of 1999, the
soaring guitar solos from Charlie and Larry, Freddy's unhinged
explorations, the sonic blast of "Silvio" or "Summer Days," or those "God
Knows" from 1994. But we're further away now from 1994 than the Gospel
Period was from "Highway 61 Revisited," and it's insane, and
self-defeating, to expect Bob to freeze himself in amber. He never has,
and we're all the richer for it.
But you have to see and hear it for yourself. If, before the concert, Bob
had asked me for a list of the songs I wanted to hear, "Forgetful Heart"
would have probably been very far down on the list. And guess what? It
was magic. Slow, tenderly and carefully sung, beautiful arrangement and
instrumentation. I loved it, and it touched me more deeply than any of
the other songs, maybe more because it came from so far out of left field,
from where I was sitting expectations-wise. It seemed to me the audience
basically had the same open-minded, "show me what you got now," attitude.
Years ago, back in 1991 I think, some writer mused on what these tours are
about. Dylan defies the marketing logic of Rock Inc. He tours whether
there's a "new record" or not. Back when "Together Through Life" or
"Tempest" were brand new records, he ignored them on stage, and played
what he wanted to play. Now, neither is new, and he packs the show with
songs from them.
Cliches about "relevance" or "reinvention" or whatever, seem, when you're
inside that hall, as far from mattering as anything could be. You're
transported to a place where Dylan's words and music confront your world,
whatever world you may have, and you like it or you don't.
One thing does stay the same: Every time I've seen Bob in concert, for
those 90 minutes, there's nowhere else I've wanted to be. That rule held
on Sunday night in Chicago. Bob looked as if he felt the same. I hope
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