Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bob Dylan at the State Theater, Cleveland, Ohio, November 12, 2014

Signs in the lobby of the State Theater reminded patrons that Bob Dylan and his band would take the stage promptly at 8:00 p.m., and they did with a predictable reaction. Once the house lights were dimmed and we could see several shadowy figures move to their positions on stage, the applause, mixed with shouts of “I love you, Bobby,” were almost deafening. Dylan is in what I call the “later Elvis” period of his career. Like Elvis, Dylan merely has to make an entrance to bring the crowd to its feet, and while Elvis could bring the house down with nothing more than a sluggish shake of a leg, Dylan does it blowing on his signature harmonica. It did not matter that all but a handful of songs were unrecognizable to anyone but fans of his most recent albums. It did not matter that he talks his songs more than he sings. He’s still the best show in town.

Wearing a white hat, a long white scarf, and a dark duster that might have come from the wardrobe department of an Italian western, Dylan opened the show standing at center stage, blasting out “Things Have Changed,” his Oscar winning song from the 2000 film, Wonder Boys. The rest of the night found him alternating between that position and the piano. The band crackled and, unlike the last Dylan show I attended at Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall, the stage was well-lit. You could see the guy as well as hear him. He even spoke for a change, not to introduce the musicians (he never did), but to alert the audience that there would be a 15-minute intermission.

Although the highlights were when Dylan performed the undisputed classics in his vast catalogue (“She Belongs to Me,” “Tangled Up in Blue,” “Simple Twist of Fate,” and the first encore, “Blowin’ in the Wind”), my ears gained a greater appreciation for some of those newer, less familiar songs thanks to his impassioned delivery. This was no aging legend giving a perfunctory reading of his “hits” for the benefit of an undiscriminating audience, but an artist who is still inspired or can sure make you feel that he is. “Long and Wasted Years,” with its distinctive guitar riff, was especially impressive. And the closer, a cover of an old Sinatra ballad called “Stay with Me,” gave the audience a preview of his upcoming album of standards, Shadows in the Night. If the album is anything like his performance of this song, it will be worth the wait.

Then, cloaked in those shadows, Dylan and his band headed for another joint. It was a memorable night, one that will stay with me until my own long and wasted years are complete.

Brian W. Fairbanks


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