I’d never seen Bob Dylan in concert, but that changed last weekend. He had been here a few weeks previously to play our enormo-dome, but since every report I’d read about the place includes some mention of the execrable sound quality (yes, Vector Arena management, I’m talking about your hall), we didn’t want to lose our Bob virginity, so to speak, at a terrible venue.
Joy was unconfined when the hardest working man in show business (now that James has gone) booked two additional dates at our fine 2000-seat Civic Theatre.. on Sunday, twenty rows back, nestled in to one side of the mixing desk, we settled in to enjoy the show.
I’d read about how there’s not much communication going on on stage and how Bob plays the songs the way he wants to, not the way you want him to. Let me take a pot shot those two particular points of view right here..
One: Bob’s current band knows what it is doing, and so does Bob. He might throw an extra bar into a blues now and again but, hey, it’s the blues. I’m reminded at this juncture of a story of Texas bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins, delivering a withering stare at the bunch of white boys backing him who dared to suggest a twelve bar blues should be exactly that, and reminding them, fearsomely, that “Lightnin’ change when Lightnin’ want to”. Bob does that too. And the band changed with him.
Two: They’re Bob’s songs. He’s 66. He knows them inside out and he can play them however he likes. If you want some kind of Greatest Hits show, go watch the Chili Peppers or the Stones or someone. Or better still, stay at home out of our way and put a CD on for that perfect ‘pipe and slippers’ evening you so obviously crave.. half the fun of seeing a great artist like Bob is the surprise of a reworked song.
A couple of jaw-dropping moments on Sunday had me grinning like an village idiot: ‘I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)’ played with a ‘Cindy Incidentally’ styled swagger, and the sheer surprise value of “Is this.. no.. he can’t possibly play it like this?” moments on favourites like ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’ and ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’.
Of course, ‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’ is the blues and always will be.. and that’s the territory Bob marks out in concert and on CD these days. A generous helping of songs from his two most recent waxings slotted right in alongside the classics, but the bar band feel persisted throughout. And a great band it is, especially the rhythm section.. fantastic drumming from George Recile, I have to say. I could be picky and wish for one of Bob’s old cohorts to be filling the lead guitar spot, but that would be doing Denny Freeman a disservice. Bob spends most of his time behind the keys and wheezes some harp every now and again, which adds to the overall sound just fine.
So what else did they play? Well, the Bob-heads out there had the set list up almost before the show finished. Here it is. ‘Summer Days’ swung like a madman.. Tony Garnier on the bull fiddle really getting into it. An honest and affecting ‘Workingman’s Blues #2’, a dramatic ‘Thin Man’ was definitely a highlight .. great great music.