On the day when the Supreme Court ruled all marriages are created equal, one couldn't help but to wonder what Bob Dylan would have to say about the matter.
His songs, after all, were the anthems of a hundred thousand civil rights protests. "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are A-Changin'" were the soundtrack of the march toward equality. But the most political the evening got at the Bob Dylan headlined Americanarama Festival on Wednesday night, was a request to enjoy the show without recording and photographing with your cell phones.
The show started promptly at 5:30 with Bob Weir. In case you'd forgotten the name, the high presence of people wearing tie-dye shirts with dancing bears served to remind that Weir was a founding member of the Grateful Dead. Much to the dismay of the Deadheads, his solo acoustic set only included six songs highlighted by "Not Fade Away."
Next came My Morning Jacket, this Kentucky rock band's tight sound did not fit the wide expanses of a vast amphitheater. More appropriate for a drunken late night in a small club than an enormous venue like Cruzan Amphitheatre while the sun was still out, My Morning Jacket's acoustics carried to the farthest reaches of the grassy hill, but were met with indifference. Perhaps it was because of the early time of their set.
Their renditions of "I'm Amazed" and "One Big Holiday" seemed like they should have the grandeur to fill a stadium, but except for a couple of hippie chicks shaking around (and we're not entirely certain they weren't just doing a rain dance) the crowd had a disconnect with the hard working band. They chose instead to lay back on their beach chairs, watching the clouds hover above.
It is a thankless job being an opening act, but someone forgot to tell Wilco this. Their singer Jeff Tweedy wears a large hat both, literally on stage and figuratively, as Bob Dylan's heir as the poet laureate of rock 'n' roll. His plain spoken Midwestern lyricism was in full effect as he presented some of his band's most heart-baring songs like "Spiders," "I Might," and "Impossible Germany."
This was all performed to the backdrop of purple lights and smoke. A mighty guitar riff caught the attention of most in attendance. Some were still tossing a Frisbee, missing the song's deft hopes for a relationship under the guise of being a tune about post-World War II foreign policy, but the Frisbees stopped mid-air when Tweedy announced he'd like to bring Bob Weir on to the stage.
They went into a rendition of The Grateful Dead's "Ripple" that put Jane's Addiction's cover of the song to shame. Even Jeff Tweedy, the master of humility couldn't help but to state, "That's such a beautiful song." But the competitor in him couldn't resist asking Weir if he could stay on stage for one more song to help present Wilco's chance to play the song that could bring the most stoic person to tears, "California Stars." The only complaint about their set was that it only lasted an hour. But when you have a catalog that stretches almost twenty years, it is impossible to play all the favorites.
So then how heavy might the expectations be for the former Robert Zimmerman? Fifty years almost to the day that he was the Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, he's undoubtedly forgotten more songs than Wilco has ever written. It was more impossible than Germany to play them all. The way Dylan defied expectations was through transformation. He was not playing cover versions of songs he wrote a lifetime earlier. He played versions of songs under a new persona, different from the Bob Dylan we thought we knew.
Now a Southwestern rockabilly Lothario playing between two bright flames, there was a sinister drawl to his performance. Sounding more like Tom Waits than Bob Dylan, it made sense why he was not commenting on the change in the wind.
It took five songs into the set before there was a recognition by the audience of familiar lyrics. "Tangled Up In Blue" brought out cheers of familiarity, but the arrangement was completely different. Now, it was less a song you would hear at an open mic night at a coffeehouse and more an accompaniment of a striptease at a Juarez bordello. "She Belongs to Me" and "A Simple Twist of Fate" also were unrecognizable, save their enduring words. Even his rendition of "All Along The Watchtower" burned whatever claim Jimi Hendrix had to the song.
It made sense now that there was no mention of Supreme Court decisions and the march toward equality, Bob Dylan was no longer a man with real perspective, but a travelling bard telling stories from the dark side.