Review: Bob Dylan
When: Tuesday, Oct 9, 2012.
Where: Rexall Place.
I love Bob Dylan. I love his music, I’ve read his books, I’ve seen the documentaries, the movies, bought the Bootlegs and I defended his show 2008 in Edmonton. But I’m still feeling this weird sinking feeling sitting in my seat up in the emptying section 216, this is not that great. In fact I’m near the point of declaring what happened in Rexall Place Tuesday night a borderline failure on both the performer and audience assembled.
It is 9:45 and we’ve just finished the third song “Things Have Changed.” I notice the first people leaving, maybe they are huge fans of Wonder Boys, I dismiss it. This is followed by an almost indecipherable “Tangled Up in Blue,” complete with Dylan rocking out on a Fender. The sixth song is the slow moving “Mississippi”, complete with the drawling line of “the only thing I did wrong was stay in Mississippi a day too long.” The Love and Theft number is muddy, the delivery indecipherably gravelly from one of the most distinct voices in rock and roll, greeted by a score of cheers and praises from the diehards shouting “we love you Bobby!” and an exodus of more casual fans.
We as an audience really aren’t paying for the show delivered, we’re putting our money down to just be in the room, to say we had the experience, to share some common moments in time with arguably one of the most important songwriters of the last sixty years and then we wander home. Dylan knows this, we know this, and that is why we let him get away with a performance level that would be considered terrible for the majority of touring acts working today. You will find many (bad music writers mostly) declare Dylan’s presence as “ferocious”, “unpredictable”, daring” or “unconventional”. Translating to ‘we aren’t sure how to take this but the guy wrote Blonde on Blonde, we’ll give him a free pass.’ Not that I can criticize him, Dylan is free to do how he feels, the fact alone that he has been given the chance to manage and preserve his own hagiography surely should be commended. I just wonder what must go through his head each night on stage. Would the man himself pay to see someone perform this way?
Then, near the end of the set, something happens. Dylan leaves his grand piano and shuffles to the front of the stage in boogie style, like only Dylan can do. Shrouded in darkness and delivers an intense rendition of “Ballad of a Thin Man.” Nearly akin to the live versions preserved on the Bootleg recordings. “Like a Rolling Stone” sounds fresh and the phrasing similar to the one that has played in my headphones and speakers, numerous times over. The man two seats behind me, who I’m pretty sure has been asleep for half an hour has risen from his slumber and is now hollering along to guitarist Charlie Sexton’s solo on the final song of the main set “All Along the Watchtower”. Okay Bobby, you have been redeemed.
“Well, that sucked” says the man behind me at the train station, who I’m attempting not to eavesdrop on “I only knew four songs and he butchered all of them.” His wife agrees and I’m left to wonder why both seem surprised. Bob Dylan has always been an abrasive performer, diction has never been his strong suit. His method of standing to the side of the stage playing piano has been going on for roughly ten years, matched with strange set lists comprised of songs barely resembling their recorded counterparts. Well, that has been going on his whole career. Why are people surprised? Few of us rarely go to major productions of movies, plays, or other cultural events without at least some superficial knowledge of what were getting into. Why put down large sums of money for a well-documented rock concert and then express disbelief as to how it unfolded? Or leave three songs in? Perhaps both audience and performer should consider why these questions come up.
But then again why bother? I’m sure if he comes around town again in a few years, I will probably be there.
“People are crazy and times are strange, I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range, I used to care but things have changed”, and some things never do.