These days Bob Dylan spends a lot of time behind his keyboard when giving live performances.
I saw Bob Dylan and his band perform this weekend at a cavernous gymnasium in Washington DC. One look at the set list and it's easy to think it was an amazing show:
1. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
2. Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power)
3. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
4. Just Like A Woman
5. Rollin' And Tumblin'
6. Tryin' To Get To Heaven
7. Summer Days
8. Desolation Row
9. High Water (For Charley Patton)
10. Simple Twist Of Fate
11. Highway 61 Revisited
12. Ain't Talkin'
13. Thunder On The Mountain
14. Ballad Of A Thin Man
16. Like A Rolling Stone
But truth be told, it just wasn't good. Anyone who sees Bob Dylan live knows that his songs are often barely recognizable from the originals. I usually applaud artists who change their songs and find new ways of breathing life into them, but rarely is that true of Bob Dylan. Usually the melodies are gone, the singing is often staccato, small phrases stripped of their singable signatures. In the gym at George Washington University, it was nearly impossible to make out the words if you didn't already know them.
Dylan looked happy at times, decked out in a great hat and a uniform with a bold stripe on his pant legs. He looked like a Mexican Sheriff, though maybe someone else can tell me if there's any other meaning to the outfit or its origins.
The band was good and nimble, but its playing was just the kind of straight-ahead blues and rock-and-roll riffs that make great songs very ordinary.
About four songs in I found myself wishing Dylan had left his talented band in the bus. I wanted him to step out from behind the keyboard, engage the crowd, strap on an acoustic guitar and sing. But I suppose that would be a bore to him. He seems more interested in keeping himself entertained than the audience, frankly, and who could blame him? Dylan has done over a hundred shows a year for the past 22 years, so I guess the thrill of reinventing his tunes is the primary motivation. But with the exception of "Ballad of a Thin Man," I kept thinking that if any of the classic tunes came out in the form they were performed here, they'd have been long forgotten. I still love Dylan and would give him another try if he comes through town again. But it was a disappointment.
Have you seen Dylan in recent years? Do you walk away feeling satisfied or bewildered?