Thursday, October 26, 2006

Bob's Still Here

by Lex Luthier

Being long past my youth and now traveling through middle age, I had never seen Bob Dylan. When I learned that he would be playing in a relatively intimate setting a mile from my house, I decided this was the time. Now I love Dylan, but the most recent album of his I know well is Blood on the Tracks. I know he's done some great work since, and that he is still amazingly popular, but I just haven't tuned into him for some time. I had also heard his live shows were inconsistent and that he only plays keyboards now. So with all that backstory here's my review:

He was f'in'-A fantastic!

Bob DylanVenue was the Fillmore ballroom in Denver, once owned by Bill Graham, and my guess is it holds 2-3,000 people. Only complaint is that all of us except a couple hundred had to stand. That gets more challenging as we age, and while I am younger than Dylan, he wasn't standing in line for an hour and then in the hall for 90 more minutes before the show started.

Dylan's band was great, especially his lead guitarist. But as to the keyboard... he had it on organ voice the entire time, and it turns out that Bob has become a really excellent rock and roll organist. Maybe he was taking notes from Garth Hudson back when, but I can understand why he's left the rhythm strumming to someone else. He was really good, and he was grooving with it. Had no problem picking up a harmonica in his left hand and playing organ with his right.

I had been told that many of his classic songs can be unrecognizable. Well, he certainly changed them and his singing style has changed (as described in his memoir). I didn't have trouble identifying the oldies, and I liked what he did with them. A particular great arrangement and timely one to bring back was Masters of War. This was the closest to an acoustic performance. For the rest, he really rocked out.

Other favorites of mine included Absolutely Sweet Marie, Stuck Inside of Mobile, Like a Rolling Stone and a version of All Along the Watchtower that owed as much to Hendrix as it did to the original. I liked the sound of more recent material, some of which was vaguely familiar including one of the songs from the current CD, but as is usual in rock concerts, couldn't pick up many of the lyrics.

Near the end, Dylan actually mumbled a few words to the audience, and after the encore he and the group stood at the front of the stage, not exactly bowing, but at least it was some sort of acknowledgement of the audience. I've always heard that Dylan says nothing and is generally uncomfortable with performing. Maybe that started when people were booing him for going electric in the sixties.

It occured to me as I watched Dylan that he doesn't have to do this. While he may not be very personable on stage, I think its his choice to let the music speak for itself. There was fine attention to showmanship -- uniform dress for the band (maroon suits with black shirts and a variety of black hats, Dylan all in black), and a well-paced set with roadies handling the tuning and instrument rotation for the string players.

I'm really glad I went, and maybe I'll give some of the newer stuff a try.

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