What follows are a few random observations and notes about Bob Dylan’s set at the Hollywood Bowl on Friday night.
--As a 15-song display of his work, Bob Dylan’s show was unimpeachable. Few of his fans could complain about one that began, for example, with his saucy “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and ended with a frolic through “Blowin’ in the Wind.” In between he played “Tangled Up in Blue,” “Love Sick,” “Make You Feel My Love,” “All Along the Watchtower,” and “Desolation Row,” among others.
--In August 1966, Duke Ellington performed at the Hollywood Bowl. He was then 67, four years younger than Dylan is now. That night, Ellington and his big band didn’t replicate the songs as he recorded them four decades earlier. He adapted them. In a document of that concert, few seemed upset about this.
--Way up in the Hollywood Bowl’s cheap seats on Friday, it was hard to tell whether the guy with the gutter-nasal voice was actually Dylan or a monster with indigestion. The artist ignored one of the basic requirements of a 2012 concert: a camera crew relaying every moment of action onto the big screens above. In fact, on Friday the jumbo screens featured a continual long-distance shot of the band onstage. It defeated the whole purpose of a video telecast by making the performance seem even farther away.
--A father with his teenage son, both equally excited. Three college-age girls, sitting tightly together and swaying back and forth to “Love Sick.” A mother walking with her adolescent daughter, who was wearing her new Dylan shirt. A lovely grandma and grandpa, snuggling beneath a blanket and trying to sing along to “Like a Rolling Stone.” Two Frenchmen eying the three college girls. A drunken diehard fan, attempting a duet during “All Along the Watchtower.” If you’ve seen Dylan in the last three decades, you know the futility of “singing along” with him.
--According to Bob Dylan’s official website he has headlined the Bowl three other times. The first was on Sept. 3, 1965, when he was 25. He’d gone electric at the Newport Folk Festival a month earlier. After opening with “She Belongs to Me” that night, he followed with an acoustic version of “To Ramona.” (Recordings of that show reveal that he had trouble tuning his guitar, but once he locked it in, he delivered the song gently.)
On Friday he also performed “To Ramona” as the second song of the night. He did so sitting at the piano doing it with his five piece band; he seldom plays the guitar onstage any more. He voice, ahem, has changed in the interim.
--We need Bob Dylan in 2012 more than he needs us. At least that’s what it seems like he wants us to think.
--In theory, Dylan was touring behind his recent album “Tempest,” one of the better efforts of his 21st century work. Not that you could tell. Far removed from the constraints of album release cycles, the artist no longer pushes new music on his fans. Dylan didn’t play a single song from “Tempest.” He should have played “Soon After Midnight.”
--A superb harmonica player, these days Dylan the blower delivers more nuance through that instrument than through his voice. “Tangled Up in Blue” proved this on Friday; his harmonica solo was gorgeous. His solo during “Make You Feel My Love,” though, was lazy.
--Dylan has performed nearly 70 shows this year. His self-described “Never Ending Tour” just may be accurate. Therefore, he needs us as much as we need him.
--Those who complain that Dylan doesn’t perform his music like it sounds on record should understand that he didn’t do this in 1965, either. Though he didn’t play “Tombstone Blues” on Friday, even 47 years ago it was already morphing. He did, however, offer “Ballad of a Thin Man” on Friday, and sang it as though he were trying to clear his throat for the duration. It will never be clear again.
--The last time Dylan played the Bowl was in 1999, as part of his co-headlining tour with Paul Simon. Thirteen years later, guitarist Mark Knopfler and his band opened. They offered a beautiful set. Knopfler’s guitar tone is an exquisite, instantly recognizable creation. Knopfler was once called “the new Bob Dylan,” and he survived it.
--When Dylan was at the Bowl in 1965, he called out to the crowd in search of a harmonica before “Like a Rolling Stone.” He had one at the ready on Friday.
Looks like this guy’s finally getting it together.
(With apologies to Greil Marcus.)
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit
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