Smile Politely

Cursed by great expectations

From the moment Bob Dylan got on the stage with his life-support of guitarists it was evident that what the world once knew as Bob Dylan has been diminished to a fairly well-priced museum exhibit.

The people who went to the show last Friday went there to see what can be regarded as the “legend” of Bob Dylan — expecting anything more than a great piece of folk mythology would have seemed utterly unrealistic. The man is old, period. He may “still have it” as I’ve heard a lot of people comment later, but let’s not fool ourselves, his abilities have clearly deteriorate with age.

From the start of the show I felt like a kid again, waiting to see one of those mechanized dinosaurs they have at museums do a roar or something, I don’t know. It all began with a brief introduction: “Ladies and gentleman, the rock and roll legend [blah, blah, blah,]…Bob Dylan…etc., etc. [abridged summary of his history], etc.” which sounded more like a speech at a funeral than a stand-alone preface to a show. It was as though the show itself did not matter, the man was fading away, and what was left of him was a commercial caricature or mainstream blues with auxiliary band members.

As the “Greatest Hits Vol. 1 and 2” concert was in motion all I saw from my B–9 seat was Dylan, slowly rocking on stage like so much tumble weed, accompanied by a group of young musicians who kept his music running. The drummer for Dylan’s band was the only member of the group who kept the entire affair from collapsing into a whirlpool of inaudible and off-time singing. I really have to commend the drummer for putting on an amazing performance. His rolls were precise, he never skipped a beat, and he established a solid foundation for the other musicians to build upon. The bass player was also on top of his game. For the less rock-driven songs he was able to provide what I felt was a wonderful musical atmosphere with his modest bow-play.

Then there were, like, four guitarists who stood there just to correct all of the mistakes Dylan was making throughout the show. They were something similar to musical wet nurses who rescued Dylan in his time of trouble. One guitarist, and I think that he was the lead, took his role way too seriously. He was trying to always creep to the center of the stage, jumping like an 18 year old on stage at the Warped Tour. The common consensus among some of my friends went something like, “dude, you play for Bob Dylan, not Blink 182 — stop frolicking around like an idiot.”

When was Bob Dylan or the Band or Bob Dylan and the Band known for their virtuoso guitar play? Never. It was obvious that Dylan has gone commercial and was in need of those young, energetic guitar players who could play clean, calculated rhythms.

Structurally speaking, Dylan opened up with some Blonde on Blonde tracks like “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” and Blood on the Tracks‘ “Shelter from the Storm,” but these were “altered,” sounding nothing like the original. I don’t want to sound puritanical or anything, for I am a great admirer of the man’s music, but I simply found it distasteful to hear these rock-Dylan renditions. I understand that being as old as Dylan you become sick and tired of playing the same song over and over again, but changing your songs just so that they can sound “alternative” and “new” was just not doing it for me. For example, the complexity of the original “Shelter from the Storm” was reduced to a simple five bar blues that deprived the song not only of its lyrical intricacy, but also of its unique mood.

Overall, I have to say that in the light of Dylan’s current country-based musical direction, he played his folk songs better than his rock ones. It was as though he was trying to apply his current musical orientation to his older stuff and it was just not working out.

I went to the concert thinking that I will be able to sing some of his songs in my head, you know, because we all knew we couldn’t understand him. But I wasn’t even able to do that. It would have been helpful to see some subtitles on that big overhead screen instead of images of bright light shining through what looked like Church stained glass windows.

At the end of the show, to keep up with tradition of slow songs, the audience pulled out their cell phones instead of lighters, for I believe that’s now a fire hazard. Suddenly, the entire Assembly Hall was lighted with blue, yellow and red LCD screens. It was kind of fun, but soon the people realized that there will be no slow song and that Dylan would finish up on his “Like a Rolling Stone,” so everybody stood up instead.

Then after the song finished, everybody went home.

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