Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Day After: Dylan Rocks!

First of all - here's the play list from last night's show:

1. Maggie's Farm
2. The Times They Are A-Changin'
3. Lonesome Day Blues
4. Positively 4th Street
5. Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
6. 'Til I Fell In Love With You
7. To Ramona
8. Cold Irons Bound
9. Girl Of The North Country
10. Highway 61 Revisited
11. Sugar Baby
12. Summer Days

13. Like A Rolling Stone
14. All Along The Watchtower

This was my second Dylan concert. What a difference a year makes! This year he has moved his keyboard over to stage left and more to the center. He was far more engaged and rockin' this year then I remember last year. Perhaps it was the sell-out crowd of more than 10,000 on a balmy and storm-cloud threatening that had something to do with it. But he was rockin' - the arrangements of the songs were fresh and expressive and for all intensive purpose - sound very little like the original records, not even the new stuff.

Standouts for BabyBlue? Cold Irons Bound - a real surprise. I was ready to go for it with Highway 61 (which is the one I remembered being blown away about last year), but this year it was Cold Irons Bound - which had an arrangement that just was a cross between bluesy/rock and haunting. It was wild. Other stand-outs for me: Times They Are a-Changing, which reminded me of the arrangement that I've downloaded from iTunes earlier this year by Tom Corwin and Tim Hockenberry, which makes it more like a song of reflection than an anthem for change. The preachy-ness is gone and instead it sounds more like a timeless reminder that life is full of change. What made it stand out was that it was almost ironic because so many twenty-somethings were jammed together in what was nearly a mosh pit on the outfield and they seemed far more stunned then totally knowing what Dylan was doing. It reminded me of the photos from the early 60s as Dylan was transforming from the Guthrie songs to his Beat period and the audiences sitting still watching and listening to him as though spellbound. So for the boomers in the crowd, they were rocking with the man, but for so many - thousands - of the millennials, they did frankly stand there as though spellbound.

Now that I think about it, I think that was me last year.

This was also apparent on the next song, "Lonesome Day Blues," one of the newer songs from his last album, "Love and Theft." He was animated - almost boyish, nearly dancing behind the keyboards. The 20-somethings stopped talking and stood beside me staring at him. This was not U2. I turned to one of them standing next to me and said, "Wow, he's really on tonight," and the guy looked over at me with his eyes very round and then turned back toward the stage - totally mute. It was weird. If it was just this guy, okay. But all around me were all these kids and they were standing there mute, just staring at him.

Perhaps it was awe.

And wouldn't that beat all.

Many of these kids had been very noisily chomping down the hotdogs, the nachos, the popcorn - laughing and carrying on like it was a party. But finally, when Dylan took the stage around 9:00 p.m., they just stood there, staring, not even moving - just staring at the stage.

Then there are these interesting teenage or pre-teen boys - who have let their curly dark hair grow out and look strikingly like the Dylan of 1967. There's not just one or two of them, though. They pepper they crowd, looking slightly dorky, almost cute, like little Mini-Me Dylans. I remember them from last year too.

Another highlight for me came from the crowd and I just couldn't stop laughing. Dylan concerts also include entertainment from the crowd (sometimes on purpose, and often inadvertently). There is a certain "Dead-head" quality to some in the crowd. When you are close to the stage, fellow fans can use some amazing tactics to get themselves even closer to the stage - and many of them employ tactics that are decades in the making. Last night I saw one of the best. This couple comes up behind me, pressing against everybody. They are in their 50s and look like they could have stopped in to see Willie Nelson before dropping by to see Bob. The guy is smiling and looking like an amiable guy who drives a pickup with a gun rack. His companion has blond hair bleached one time too often. She's moving her hands as she talks to the crowd, "he's hearing impaired!" she shouts to all as they jam themselves forward, then moves her hands as though using sign language. Only, she's only waving her fingers and calling it sign language and of course, he gives it away when he nodds to what she's saying. As I moved out of the way (as well all did), I couldn't stop laughing. The sound was no different where I was standing and where the ardent stood by the stage. Did they expect to read Bob's lips? Of course, the biggest laugh is the idea that anyone can completely understand - even with both ears fully functioning - to what Bob is singing. You have to all ready know the songs in order to get it. But off they went, pressing forward, waving fingers, smiling buoyantly.

Another highlight was Girl from the North Country, and I know this has been a favorite of his for years. But when I hear it I think of his duet with Johnny Cash you just have to wonder if he includes it remembering his old friend who gave him his own guitar after Dylan first performed at Newport in the early 60s.

I did like the jamming songs - the arrangements were really innovative. Summer Days was another one that took off - though I think it was Sugar Baby (one that I don't know I've heard before) where Jimmie Vaughn, one of his opening acts, joined him on stage to bring that mercury sound that Bob loves so much. There was more than the guitar that was electric at that moment - it felt fresh, which is simply amazing when you consider that Bob spends hundreds of days on the road every year. How does he do it?

The vast majority of the crowd were upper and lower middle class families and friends, of all political stripes from Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and DC - groups with blankets and mats and comfortable shoes, tailgating in the parking lot or stetched out on the field thinking that next year they might sit in the seats instead, some who bought their first Dylan record in 1965 and some who just saw "No Direction Home," now wanting to see Dylan before he goes home.

Speaking of home, after an excellent All the Along the Watchtower (which overshadowed Rolling Stone - again, different then last year) Bob and his band came out for a final bow (so old-fashioned - like a different era). The lined up at the edge of center stage. Bob was in the middle, but instead of bowing or waving, he tood there was his arms held out horizontally like a cross and his index fingers pointing up. He was again, somewhat awkward, as though uncomfortable being center-stage finally. But this a was a curious gesture - no wave, no bow - just this - well, it looked to me like a sign of the cross.


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