Sunday, August 7, 2011
Bob Dylan at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica (Saturday August 6, 2011)
It was pretty exciting to catch a glimpse of that hat Bob Dylan wears as he climbed the stairs in back of the stage of Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica where he performed Saturday night. You suddenly realize that he's really here, and then . . . HE'S THERE, in front of you, at the organ and singing "Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35," the boozy kickoff to his classic Blonde on Blonde album. The audience let out a roar, and they cheered again when, after "To Ramona," he moved to center stage, stood before the microphone, and sang "Things Have Changed," his Oscar winning song from the 2000 film, Wonder Boys. He followed that with an even more famous song, "Tangled Up In Blue," from 1975's Blood on the Tracks, but with a radically different arrangement than the original. Occasionally, he'd strap on a guitar, and he thrilled the audience every time he blew on the harmonica. For the most part, though, he was behind the organ, leading his incredible band through a diverse sampling of his massive songbook..
"The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" was given a dramatic reworking, and he also hauled out "The Ballad of Hollis Brown." There were a couple of songs that I couldn't identify, probably from Modern Times and Together Through Life, which are not as implanted in my brain as securely as the others, but there was "Mississippi," "Highway 61 Revisited," "Simple Twist of Fate," and the climactic "Ballad of a Thin Man" whose ominous intro, now powered by Charlie Sexton's guitar, elicited another roar from the crowd. After addressing the clueless Mr. Jones for a final time, Dylan and his band left the stage to a thunderous ovation. The ovation continued until he returned and ripped into "Like a Rolling Stone" before concluding with "All Along the Watchtower."
In between his final two numbers, Dylan introduced the band, the only time during the 90 minute show that he spoke. He's often criticized for his refusal to chit-chat. "What the hell is there to say?" he told Rolling Stone in 2009. "That's not the reason an artist is in front of people." His message is in those songs, so take it or leave it. Dylan isn't known for his stage movements either. He did, however, dance a little, kicking his feet in time to the music. He seems pretty spry for a 70-year-old man, but I never think of Dylan in terms of his age. Even when he was young, he seemed to be a thousand years old, a time traveler who has inhabited many periods of history and whose songs report on the times that never really change at all. It's not hard for me to imagine Bob Dylan strumming his guitar and singing any of his songs at a fairground during the Civil War, or even entertaining an emperor in Ancient Rome with a ballad or two.
Yes, that damn eye was projected on the black curtain behind Dylan and his band during the final numbers. Dylan once said it "don't mean nothin'," and I read somewhere that it was designed by an artist in his employ. Having had kind words to say about Masons on his radio show, he must know that the symbol is tied to that secretive sect. Maybe he dismisses the belief that the symbol, like Freemasonry in general, has its origins in the occult. It's supposedly the all-seeing-eye of God, but which God? The God of the Old Testament in whom Dylan has always professed belief, or the lowercase god of this fallen world?
Leon Russell, riding the wave of his recent comeback, was the opening act. He didn't speak either, but sort of waved to the crowd with a finger as he walked on stage supported by a cane. During his 45 minutes on stage, he ran through a batch of songs without pause, including the Beatles' "I've Just Seen a Face," the Temptations' "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," and a pair of classics from the songbook of the Rolling Stones: a funky "Wild Horses" and a rocking "Jumping Jack Flash." In a mellower vein, he offered "A Song for You," the ballad that was once covered by The Carpenters.
Dylan's set list from bobdylan.com:
1. Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35 (Blonde on Blonde)
2. To Ramona (Another Side of Bob Dylan)
3. Things Have Changed (The Essential Bob Dylan)
4. Tangled Up in Blue (Blood on the Tracks)
5. Beyond Here Lies Nothin' (Together Through Life)
6. Mississippi (Love and Theft)
7. Ballad of Hollis Brown (The Times They Are A-Changin')
8. The Levee's Gonna Break (Modern Times)
9. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (The Times They Are A-Changin')
10. Highway 61 Revisited (Highway 61 Revisited)
11. Simple Twist of Fate (Blood on the Tracks)
12. Thunder on the Mountain (Modern Times)
13. Ballad of a Thin Man (Highway 61 Revisited)
14. Like a Rolling Stone (Highway 61 Revisited)
15. All Along the Watchtower (John Wesley Harding)
I'm really not much of a concertgoer. I prefer to listen to music the same way I would read a book - alone, without distraction, where I can really "listen," which I think one must do to fully appreciate Bob Dylan. Of course, those whose tastes run more to American Idol, KC and the Sunshine Band, Aerosmith, or (insert the name of almost any "pop" or "rock" group that you'd like) might be mystified by that approach. So, this was my first Dylan concert, and, yes, I was there more to see the "LEGEND" than to hear the songs. Observing the behavior of some of the audience was a reminder why "concerts" are really not my thing, and why it takes an artist of Dylan's stature to bring me out for one. Some of the audience struck me as unworthy of being in his presence. They included the folks who left early, before the encore, and even before "Ballad of a Thin Man." They were probably in a rush to get to their cars and beat the traffic on the way home. It's a little rude, I think, but I guess fairly typical of Joe Average who goes to the movies and chats throughout, and is racing toward the exit before the closing credits. If getting home is your priority, why not stay there?
I had to chuckle, silently, when visiting the men's room before the ride home. A guy made a reference to a drunk woman who was walking around in front of the grandstand, pointing an accusing finger at no one in particular. The guy said something about how ironic such behavior was while the guy on stage was "singing about peace." Hmm. Of course, Bob Dylan will never escape his association with the 1960s, and for many people that era brings to mind flower children and psychedelia, a world of which he was never really a part. He was more likely to sneer at such nonsense. Still, he's the most potent symbol of the "Sixties" that we have, so those who haven't really followed his music through the years don't know that he is more than a symbol, but a living, breathing, still vital artist. And he most definitely does not sing about "peace." "You can reload your rifle," he once said, "and that moment you're reloading it, that's peace." He doesn't need a rifle. He's got those songs. One of the most potent is "Ballad of a Thin Man," and it's appropriate that he still sings it. Many in his audience don't know what's happening any more than Mr. Jones did.
© 2011 Brian W. Fairbanks
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