Bob Dylan and His Band
The Arena at Dan Tuft University Center, Davie
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
If there's any consistency at all to Bob Dylan's live performances, it's the fact that there's never any consistency at all. As anyone who's seen him will generally attest, Dylan's not much of a showman, rarely interacting with his audience and often bringing an indifferent attitude that suggests he's simply not all that interested. His appearance at the rarely utilized Arena at Dan Taft
University Center was noteworthy simply for the fact that he and his
five-piece backup band broke from his usual deadpan routine and
actually injected some enthusiasm into what often seems a rather dour
For the most part, the Dylan on display Wednesday night was an artist who opted to flaunt his material's anthemic ambitions rather than downplaying them merely to service his set. On "Just Like a Woman" and "Like a Rolling Stone" (the final number of his two-song encore), he milked every dramatic nuance and built on the familiarity factor, allowing the audience to shout out the choruses while Dylan fired up the refrains. In fact, it was a strategy that seemed duly designed to reward the faithful, with a good portion of the show built on classic content -- "Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35," "It Ain't Me, Babe," "I'll Be Your baby Tonight," and "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again" opening the concert with a rapid roll call of unabashed standards. Even those straining to hear what the loose intros would ultimately render were rewarded by a faithful replay of melodies that were given fairly straightforward treatment.
Of course, Dylan did take liberties. His voice bore his trademark slur, but it took the form of the coarse gravelly croak that's characterized his recent records. Choruses were compacted and often rushed, negating the impact of those once indelible hooks. Other times, he seemed to take delight in spinning the words into a rhythmic cadence that made the melodies more punchy and pop-primed. As is his custom lately, his guitar playing was confined only to the first four songs, with keyboards and only occasional harp being his prime instruments of choice. He took center stage reluctantly, although he seemed determined to offer up a formidable presence and give himself the authority that the audience anticipated. Indeed, every song was enthusiastically received, with several standing ovations peppering the performance.
Likewise, the set was consistently upbeat, rocking and rollicking in a bluesy roots-rock groove. "The Levee's Gonna Break," "Honest With Me," "High Water (for Charlie Patton)," "Highway 61 Revisited," and "Desolation Row" kept the energy level at a peak, with the latter rendered as a veritable tour de force. The band -- Charlie Sexton and Stu Kimball (guitars), Tony Garnier (bass), George Recile (drums), and Donnie Herron (practically everything else) -- did an admirable job of keeping the melodies within their original confines, loosely building up the momentum from ramshackle beginnings and then upping the ante with maximum thrust. They only wavered from that tack once, on a stirring rendition of "Workingman's Blues #2" from the album Modern Times that proved both soothing and sobering. A few more offerings like that would have been welcome.
As far as Dylan's affinity for his audience, it was, as always, negligible. He briefly nodded toward those who had seen only his back while he was seated at the keyboard throughout much of the show, their connection further diminished by the white wide-brimmed hat he wore during the entire concert. He offered a perfunctory "Thank you, friends" just prior to the end of the regular set, quickly introducing the other players before they disappeared offstage prior to the audience's coaxing them back for the encore.
Such is the power of this poet and pundit that no one begrudges Dylan his aloof persona. So while it was hardly a show for the ages, it was a memorable occasion nevertheless.
Personal bias: Although the inclusion of such durable standbys as "Just Like a Woman" and "Like a Rolling Stone" seemed a concession to the casual fan, there were endless possibilities for more incisive offerings as well. For example, it's a shame not to have heard anything from Blood on the Tracks or a track like "Forever Young," which would have brought emotion and meaning to his aging audience.
Random detail: While Bob was outfitted in the aforementioned wide-brimmed hat and a smartly tailored black suit with a wide stripe going up the leg, his band wore matching gray suits that affirmed their appearance as a well-choreographed backing band.
By the way: As he closes in on age 70 next May, Dylan still looks as spry as ever. The fact that he chose to play a relatively small university, and drew quite a few students along with middle-aged attendees and senior citizens, affirms the fact that his youthful connections remain intact.
1. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
2. It Ain't Me, Babe
3. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight
4. Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again
5. The Levee's Gonna Break
6. Just Like a Woman
7. Honest With Me
8. Tryin' to Get to Heaven
9. High Water (for Charley Patton)
10. Desolation Row
11. Highway 61 Revisited
12. Workingman's Blues #2
13. Thunder On the Mountain
14. Ballad of a Thin Man
16. Like a Rolling Stone