Bob Dylan croaked and banged away mercilessly on piano with his band through a 15-song set for a one-third-full house at Van Andel Arena, after a bracing opening set by Mark Knopfler. But he’s still Bob Dylan, isn’t he?
I’m Bob Dylan and you’re not.
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And that, ladies and gentlemen, is precisely the point.
There may be times during a concert – like the one launched with a twisting, ragged “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” at Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena on Monday night – when you may question what song I’m singing, what melody has gone awry amid my hoarsely barked lyrics, what business I have clanging away awkwardly at a grand piano, but that doesn’t change that simple fact or alter my standing as America’s mystical poet laureate of folk, rock and blues.
It’s the reason I rarely stop touring even at 71, ceaselessly unleashing varying sets of bafflingly reworked classics from a boundless song inventory, often frustrating some sad-eyed fans who flee my shows early while shaking their heads – as many did on Monday – because they’re simply unable to grasp the raw and feral power of an artist at work.
That’s fine, really, because true art often gets misunderstood. Even playing in front of one-third-full houses like the 4,000 or so in Grand Rapids doesn’t add to the torment but fuels my passion to croak out almost unfathomable renditions of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” (which I’ve used as my encore on this tour).
The clueless media certainly doesn’t understand, so I’ve long ignored their requests for access and prohibit anyone from taking photos during my concerts, even though that might be a fruitless effort anyway considering the artsy, shadowy lighting on stage that makes it nearly impossible for fans to even see me let alone capture my craggy features on film or video.
Consequently, it doesn’t faze me to see reviews such as this one by MLive’s John Serba who assailed me for my “incomprehensible grumble” and “bizarre rhythmic affectations.” He’s probably the sort of fellow who gets all his artistic education from an iPhone, provided the klutz doesn’t drop the device into the arena seating abyss while tweeting drivel during the show.
But I’m convinced there are those who seek to understand, who cheer every squawk from my harmonica, every gawky soft-shoe shuffle I attempt, every ruthlessly pounded note and rhythmically stilted attack on the grand piano, even when I make glaring mistakes as I did on “Tangled Up in Blue” and elsewhere throughout the evening, perhaps even frustrating my talented, longtime bandmates at times with my unpredictable dynamics and blasts of volume.
Hey, I’m no Linda McCartney, but I think I can hold my own on keyboards, deriving a certain perverse pleasure out of hammering at a grand piano (as I have since the summer) compared with the small electronic keyboard I’ve sat behind for years. Of course, I rarely play guitar anymore and folks can speculate all they want about the reasons for that.
Look, I’m savvy enough to pair up on tour with top-notch, highly respected musicians who can give crowds a more “normal” concert experience, and guitarist Mark Knopfler is no exception.
If you were there, you saw Knopfler and his seven-piece band uncork a commanding, instrumentally compelling, 79-minute performance, focusing mostly on his latest double album, “Privateering,” but also dusting off two old Dire Straits tunes: “Brothers in Arms” and “So Far Away.”
Knopfler’s distinctive, masterful guitar tones and tasteful playing enhanced his rootsy, Americana- and Celtic-inflected set, not to mention four tunes early in my own 15-song set when I had him sit in: “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “Things Have Changed,” “Tangled Up in Blue” and “High Water (For Charley Patton).”
The bottom line, if there is a bottom line, is that I relish being the enigmatic ghost of the heralded artist who was but 25 when he released “Highway 61 Revisited,” an enduring masterpiece I revisited more than 45 years later with a fair amount of band-driven fervor on Monday.
“Forever Young” I’m not.
Have I become the “Ballad of a Thin Man,” which I somehow rattled through on vocals and harmonica? Perhaps.
Always “Like A Rolling Stone,” keeping this never-ending tour on the road for better or worse? Absolutely.
After all, I’m Bob Dylan and you’re not.
(Of course, I’m really not, but I’m sure you figured that out. And in typical Dylan fashion, the very next night, he staged a much different show at Detroit’s more intimate Fox Theatre, according to reviewer Gary Graff.)
Dylan is like Alice Cooper as far as I’m concerned. I’ve seen ’em both more than enough. I don’t need to go again.
Indeed, there never will be another Dylan and I appreciate that he tries to continually make his art new. Not easy when you do 100 shows a year for 50 years. Those people who left early were likely there primarily for Knofler and would have been completely satisfied by that stellar performance. Personally, I enjoyed both.
I grew up with Bob Dylan’s music. Songs of his shaped my musical tastes when a teen.
How many studio albums has he produced? 35 or something close. Many of which are masterworks.
YES. He’s an American musical icon. I admire and greatly respect him.
I attended the concert last night. And I admit to leaving early. I couldn’t bear to listen to him gargling with liquid bleach. His harmonica [the only high point to me aside from a fantastic backup band] was lackluster and lazy.
I could barely see who was who on stage from my seat. I had to ask where he was on stage during the first song. Oh, there he is. The lighting was moody and intimate but hardly works in a large venue. It would have been wonderful at Billy’s Lounge.
Many songs remained a mystery to me until I audibly understood one out of every 20 lyrics.
I began to get bored and I’m a not a kid with a short attention span.
I got up out of my seat, walked around. Looked at framed pics of all the acts that have performed at Devos over the years and left.
Sorry Bob. I’ll listen to you on my turntable.
such a big fan that you’ve clearly lost touch with what he’s been doing over the last twenty-or-so years …….
david winick says:
November 13, 2012 at 11:57 am
I grew up with Bob Dylan’s music. Songs of his shaped my musical tastes when a teen.
I could barely see who was who on stage from my seat.
Where was your seat? It matters. Having sat in almost every seating place in Van Andel, this time I made sure to have the best. We sat in the first tier up on the close right to see the whole stage and every musician. Both Dylan and Knopler came through clear and we could hear every word and instrument.
I left during Tangled Up in Blue…I’ve seen Bob several times and I just couldn’t do it this time. I get the whole artist at work thing and I totally get that he’s Bob and I am just a guy, but even so, I just felt that he has lost his sparkle. Truthfully, the only sparkle that is worth mentioning was that of Mark’s National guitar…
Wow, Bob, you’re even crankier when you write about your own performances!
Aw, come on, John – while I’m not trying to be an old-fart apologist, I think legends DO deserve to be legends, and Dylan was never very traditional anyway. Even if the straight entertainment value has begun to disappear into the widening gaps between fame and performance capabilities. I’ll bet everyone (perhaps with the exception of Serba) who wanted to hear Dylan once in their lives were satisfied to check that box on the list.
Out of town as I am, I couldn’t get there, but would have liked to. Your expert performance appraisal is certainly appreciated and probably fair. I’m sure it was more memory than music, at least from Bob himself. That’s okay – he IS Bob Dylan and you’re not! And I doubt anyone buying a ticket expected him to be in 1960’s form.
I have to defend all timeless performers against the popcorn-brain modern mentality of less mature folks than us who diss someone like Paul McCartney a few years back as a Super Bowl halftime act, wishing for someone more, uh, worthy. There IS no one more worthy, and the list of those who are NOT starts with every Super Bowl act SINCE.
I like David Winnick’s comments above – a good blend of honesty and respect. Maybe it IS time Bob hung it up. But if he’s happy playing to partially-full arenas in the likes of GR, God bless him. He’s earned it. I saw Michael Jordan play for the Wizards, and he wasn’t as good. But you know what? I saw Michael Jordan play.
Hi, John. And for all the rest of you – hey, get off my lawn! 🙂
“Zink”, I enjoyed myself immensely. There was no other place I wanted to be. You seem to understand the Poet Extraordinaire. It is a “seeking to understand” thing.”
I wouldn’t miss a Dylan show for the world. As I told my pal afterward, it was still an exceedingly entertaining evening because you really never know what Dylan has up his sleeve. He is as intriguing and as important as any American artist of the past half-century, and I’m ceaselessly interested in his fable and his foibles.
GREAT article/review John…………Bonnie and I loved the show!! as did our 22 year old son Caleb and his 21 year old companion Terra. Having been a longtime Dylan fan, I just turned 60 (first time I’ve seen that number in print! Ha!) Zimmy, in my opinion, is better than ever………….I think he has finally become what he has always been striving to be, a”71 year old black blues man”!!
A wonderful and creative review, John. Bravo!
I could play harmonica better than Dylan by eating a can of beans and strapping a harmonica to my butt.
I could probably draw more than 4000 people to watch me do it, too.
when you achieve this feat, let me know – I bet you get no more than twenty spectators and that you are nowhere near as good as Bob.
Don;t bother, dude. No one cares….unless you’re opening for Bob Dylan.
It was a GREAT show if you’ve kept in touch with his music. If you expected Blolnde on Blonde or his Lay, Lady, Lay voice….you should stay home and listen to your turntable.
See him while you can, as much as you can, when he’s gone, he’s gone.
wow, john this is really cool stuff. i can’t imagine how i missed the fact that dylan and knopfler were playing together in my backyard this week (maybe it’s that i had a new baby last week?), but i’m pleased as i could be to read this bit. dylan is an artist and can do whatever the hell he wants. and so are you! i love this approach. now that you have your own medium you can be boundless, and that must feel great!!
Great art isn’t always pretty or presented in the way you want or expect. I think your review indicated Dylan’s music goes outside the boundaries of what you like, but I think you are the one with the limited imagination and idea of what the truly original and creative artist does. I think your deeply cynical idea of Dylan’s motivations and intentions are way off, he’s exploring new territory, and the results aren’t always pretty or good, but he is moving his music forward, he’s not repeating his past. I have been listening to Dylan since 1965 and have followed the ups and downs of his career over the years, and I thought his version of “Visions of Johanna” from 1966 was a real highlight. I think there was a lot of creativity to be appreciated Monday night, but I think you already had your mind made up and were not open to it and missed it.
@ Mark……….”Visions” was excellent! The power of “Ballad of a Thin Man” was amazing as well. Your opinion of John’s review is a bit off though (I think?)……..What I take away from the review, is nothing short of his love for Dylan. peace………
John, do you always get this much feedback? Or did Dylan hit a chord that rings more than most?
Great review by John Sinkevics, and a great illustration of the type of concerts that I relish. I go to a show to see an artist do their thing. I’m not interested in hearing a performance that “Sounded just like the CD!” as I have heard many other concert goers exclaim as if it were the greatest endorsement possible. I am there to see and hear something that I can’t buy somewhere else, that may never happen again. I am there to experience a moment in time where I may bear witness to amazing brilliance, or stunning failure, but I am there to see an artist, not a jukebox.
Bob is inimitable. Knopfler sounds like a Chieftans cover band– a very good one.
You need to be into the output from the last 5 years to appreciate his concerts. If you’re expecting old Bob, you’re out of luck. You should already know this. Maybe listening to one or two of his records from the last 15 would have clued you in.
Your recap of the GR concert is accurate, but stop talking to that empty easy chair.
Came from Memphis to see the show, primarily because Knopfler opened. The tour comes nowhere close to home. The review and the linked review by John Serba are certainly fair, but I fit with those who understand what to expect and usually find something great to enjoy. All in all, I prefer Dylan out front on guitar rather than on the keyboards; his vocals seem to get lost and he is more self indulgent on keyboards. I have now seen him in both formats several times now and there seems to be a pattern. Knopfler, as expected, was a great craftsman with a crack band. Completely worth the trip just to see him.
Mark Knopfler is, indeed, a stellar craftsman. I’d love to see him and his band at an intimate venue or a special place such as Meijer Gardens.
Bob Dylan, as ever, fooled all the pundits with the GR Press! John Serber completely fell for it! but not John Sincovics
Mr. D has fooled and put on the media all along the way, giving his last interview to a Time magazine reporter in 1965. Find it on youTube.
Of course he put on the media. Look what they did to Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry lee Lewis and others before him.
Serber is what Shakespeare called, “A fool of time.”
if you recognize bob’s quote in my email site you know this former trumpet playing triumph riding genius!!! my brother is bob dillon…. i play as corey steele on reverbnation…at 67 i still tour….i am the dive bar grand master of tours….let’s face it….the tall trees get the breeze and bob is usually in hurricane force winds….thanks Bob ps i played trumpet and own a 1970 triumph motorcycle but the comparison stops there check out my reverbnation.com/corey steele originals m dillon,m.d.
they love it when i do a tour as bob dylan’s brother!!!( just cause i can’t spell shouldn’t make them cancel the show!!!