Friday, January 28, 2011

2002: Yet Another Dylan Show

It was a pretty good show. The folksinger did some interesting covers, one by Neil Young and one by the Stones and one by the soon-to-be-late Warren Zevon (who lies dying with good humor in his beloved Los Angeles). But mostly he did a lot of Bob Dylan songs, and they were tastefully chosen, not just the obvious ones but great little obscure gems like the opening combo of "Seeing the Real You at Last" and I Remember You." Later he did one of my very favorite Dylan songs, "Watching the River Flow," and my jaw dropped open and I said omigawd and when it was over I screamed like a banshee along with 20,000 other Dylan fans because it was in fact the man himself.

He was in fine form, with a crack band, and he gave us sixteen great songs, including his slightly mangled take on "Brown Sugar" which very nearly turned into a train wreck as the second verse collided with the third. But as the saying goes, it was like a dog playing chess: just the fact that he does it at all renders it moot how well it is done. And to be fair, the band was crackling with energy and Bob's vocal had a wonderfully lascivious mumble to it, a tribute perhaps to his African-American second wife.

Since he was in Arizona, he also pulled out "Tombstone Blues," another rarity (I took the liberty of checking out his recent setlists online, which robbed me of a few surprises but allowed me to do some homework researching the lyrics of a few songs not well known to me). Tombstone was dark and ominous and River was bright and rollicking and then he did "Just Like a Woman" with his latest vocal affectation, which is to end every line with a question mark, like this:

Feels any pain?
Tonight as I stand inside the rain?
Everybody knows?
That baby's got new clothes?

It was not the most appealing technique I have heard him employ, and it would have been irritating if it wasn't so amusing and I guess he has to do something to keep it interesting for himself. And while it did recur sporadically throughout the night, for the next number, "It's Alright Ma I'm Only Bleeding," he switched into his parody-of-myself voice, kinda of like his famous version of "Masters of War" at the 1991 Grammys. If you didn't know the words it was just one long sneering nasal whine punctuated by odd shouted phrases like "stand naked!" Personally, I loved it.

As always, he tinkered with the arrangements and key signatures and lyrics and vocals of all his songs, just to keep it interesting for himself. And the whiny voice or the question mark voice were no more consistent than the wizened croak employed on his latest effort Love and Theft. That voice is no more his true one than the Hassidic cowboy of Nashville Skyline or the sequined crooner of Dylan at Budokon. And just to prove the point, he enunciated every word of "Masters of War" (which for obvious reasons he has performed nearly every night this year) in a clear understated tone that could have come from the Bob half his age. And just to underscore that, he followed up with Neil's "Old Man."

To close the set the band kicked the hell out of his new rockabilly raveup "Summer Days," and every time you thought they couldn't possibly rock any harder, well, they did. The encores were predictible if you couldn't resist the urge to go over all his setlists beforehand. Every single night he closes with "Like a Rolling Stone" and/or "All Along the Watchtower," with either "Blowing in the Wind" or "Knocking on Heaven's Door" in between. For the past few weeks it's been Wind/Watchtower every night, so I was pleased when he came out with LARS first and then the other two. Even more pleased when he dropped the question marks halfway through and started biting off the key lines with enthusiasm. And then Wind had a lovely new vocal arrangement and then Watchtower howled appropriately, with the first verse repeated at the end, and we were left with a maelstrom amid a final shout of "what any of it is WORRRRTH!"

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