I saw Bob Dylan Friday night.
I'd always been intrigued by the legendary iconic godhead blah blah blah, though his music never knocked my socks off. Granted, I didn't know much more than his radio fodder (I've always hated both the cheesy "Lay Lady Lay" and the dumb novelty hit "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35," a song about as worthy of him as "My Ding-a-Ling" is to Chuck Berry). Regardless, I owned a token Greatest Hits
CD, and later his Essential
collection. Unlike his original folkie fanbase, I strongly preferred the electric, "commercial" Dylan to the acoustic protest singer with the shrill harmonica. Those hippy-dippy "Blowin' in the Wind"-type sentiments weren't for my tastes, but neither was his being all cryptic and weird.
But last year's awesome, three-plus-hour Martin Scorsese documentary No Direction Home
finally made a fan outta me. This was the first time I heard him speak clearly and directly, describing his life from his Minnesota boyhood to his confrontational mid-'60s concerts in an articulate, plainspoken style. The film was demystifying and illuminating -- I finally found Bob Dylan accessible. Oh, and the music was great.
So I delved deeper. I loaded up my iPod with a 123-song Bob Dylan playlist (including his latest album, Modern Times
, which I like a lot), read his 2004 memoir Chronicles Volume One
(I especially dug reading about his early days in New York), and watched the 1967 documentary Dont Look Back
(in which he was an arrogant dick). Through all this I came to fully appreciate his perpetual outsider status, and that his lifelong defiance wasn't just a provocative pose, as I'd always suspected.
Of course, I was fully aware that his refusal to pander could make for a lousy concert, but I was pleasantly surprised. Going in, I knew a few other basics: he no longer played guitar in concert, having switched to the organ he stooped over throughout the show (I was glad to see the 65-year-old still actually stood
at the organ; I'd assumed he'd be seated). Also, I knew he keeps his moldy oldies fresh by performing them in different styles and arrangements each time. That's fine by me, though I'd often still be guessing what number was actually playing until well into it, until I could pick out a familiar lyric. F'rinstance, I thought the show's opener was a cover of Neil Diamond's corny "America" ("They're coming to America -- today!"), until I identified it as "Maggie's Farm."
For having never seen Bob Dylan before, he seemed to enjoy himself throughout the 16-song, two-hour set
. He shimmied around to the more upbeat tunes and pointed out cues to his solidly rocking band. At times the music was a lot louder and heavier than I anticipated, especially on "Highway 61 Revisited," my favorite song of the night. His newer tunes were the only ones he played like their studio counterparts, like the boogie-woogie "Thunder on the Mountain" and the bittersweet ballad "Workingman's Blues #2." The evening's penultimate number, "Like a Rolling Stone," didn't do much for me, if only because I've heard it so many times that it's lost all punch, though the finale, "All Along the Watchtower," was pretty killer.
As for the crowd, my two thirty-something-something friends and I were probably about the median age, which surprised me -- I thought there'd be way more boomer Folklife
folks. Kris, a veteran of eight Dylan concerts, kept me updated on the show's finer points ("Whoa, he really switched the lyrics around on that one!"); Jennie bought a T-shirt.
Below is a photo I snapped from our seats, like 100 yards out from the Key Arena stage (thankfully, we had a pair of binoculars to share). Dylan is the third speck from the right. He spit hot fire.
Labels: Rock 'n' Roll