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William C. Altreuter
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Saturday, April 06, 2013

To Bob Dylan last night at UB's Alumni Arena. Set list first:

Things Have Changed
Love Sick (Time Out Of Mind)
High Water (For Charley Patton) (Love and Theft)
Soon After Midnight(Tempest)
Early Roman Kings (Tempest)
Tangled Up In Blue (Blood on the Tracks)
Pay In Blood (Tempest)
Visions of Johanna (Blonde on Blonde)
Spirit On The Water (Modern Times)
Blind Willie McTell
Beyond Here Lies Nothin' (Together Through Life)
What Good Am I (Oh Mercy)
Thunder On The Mountain (Modern Times)
Scarlet Town (Tempest)
Highway 61 Revisited (Highway 61 Revisited)
(encore)
Ballad of A Thin Man (Highway 61 Revisited)

I was hoping that he would concentrate on more recent material, and was not disappointed: four songs from Tempest, two from Modern Times, one each from Together Through Life and Love and Theft. For the older fans, songs from Blood on the Tracks, Highway 61 (two songs! Stop complaining hippies!) and one from Blonde on Blonde. With a catalog like Dylan's that's a reasonable retrospective. 

Dylan looked great, and seemed to be enjoying himself. When he broke out the harmonica for the first time on Spirit On The Water a cheer went up from the crowd, he looked out, and almost, I think, smiled. You could say he was in good voice-- certainly he sounded strong. The band was excellent, and were allowed to stretch out some, particularly on Thunder On The Mountain and Highway 61. 

This was A's first time seeing Dylan. She enjoyed it, but also said that it felt impersonal. Bob doesn't talk between songs, even to introduce the band, and of course she's right-- it is nice when there is some banter. I am less fazed by this: Dylan has said that he is there to play, and that's what he does. He is not there to see us-- we are there to see him. As President Obama noted:
Here’s what I love about Dylan: He was exactly as you’d expect he would be. He wouldn’t come to the rehearsal; usually, all these guys are practicing before the set in the evening. He didn’t want to take a picture with me; usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn’t show up to that. He came in and played “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” A beautiful rendition. The guy is so steeped in this stuff that he can just come up with some new arrangement, and the song sounds completely different. Finishes the song, steps off the stage… comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves… That was our only interaction with him. And I thought: That’s how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don’t want him to be all cheesin’ and grinnin’ with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about the whole enterprise.
On the other hand, A's thoughts on the subject certainly make a kind of personal sense. When Theme
Time Radio was airing regularly she used to say, "There are days when Bob Dylan's voice is the sound I hear the most." Theme Time Radio was, as they say, Another Side of Bob Dylan-- personal, smart, funny-- the Bob Dylan that you'd want to take a road trip with. He opened up on his show in a unique way, and gave us a glimpse of what he might be like to talk to. I have to imagine that being Bob Dylan is a complicated thing, and a taxing thing. In a way he's a good example of why one should be careful about wishing for things: he came to New York to become famous, and did he ever. I don't doubt for a minute that he never asked to be the Voice of a Generation, and over the years he has struggled with his celebrity. In the past he'd simply disappear for long stretches. He says that he made Self Portrait terrible on purpose, so that people would leave him alone. (I don't believe that, because I think Dylan is the embodiment of the unreliable narrator-- he's always either joking or flat-out lying, but there is always a germ of truth in everything he says.) His current compromise with icon status is to work consistently, and tour incessantly. Performance has become his shield. I hope it keeps working for him, because on the strength of this show I'll make a point of seeing him again.

We were on the floor in front of the stage, with a good view. I'm not one for concerts in venues like this as a rule, but I can't complain about the sound or the sightlines. I can, however, bitch about the cattle-car treatment at the gate: a gigantic, slow moving line that led to metal detectors. That's messed up. We missed the opening act, Dawes, who I'd have liked to have seen.
The first leg of this tour runs through May 5. If he is coming near, go.

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