Bob Dylan is the most prolific songwriter in American music history. The Country, Folk, and Rock and Roll genres have all felt his influence. Over the course of 35 studio albums, several live recordings, and countless compilations, Bob Dylan’s genre jumping and reinventing has been well documented. With such a huge catalog and a career spanning 50 plus years, I feel a little foolish trying to explain who Bob Dylan is to you.
I discovered Bob Dylan much the same way as most people in my generation did; through someone he had influenced. I heard a couple of Dylan tracks, thought he sounded a little like Tom Petty and bought the greatest hits CD. I enjoyed his more popular songs and began to dig a little deeper, picking up Highway 61 revisited and Blood on the Tracks. In 2001, when Bob Dylan and his band brought their show to Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, I was in the front row… Of the third tier.
For many, the first time you hear Bob Dylan live–whether on a recording or in person–can be a tad confusing. In a world where live means “greatest hits, faster” Dylan takes some getting used to. His live renditions seldom have the same phrasing, tempo or meter seen in the studio recordings. Dylan plays fast and loose with every aspect of a song to the degree that it could find you uncertain of which song he is singing. I knew this going into seeing him live, but had no idea how little of his variation is captured on record.
While running between feelings of being ripped off and questioning whether the performer had some type of stroke, I suddenly just fell into his performance. I experienced a moment where Dylan’s delivery and my understanding of the music met head on. It was beautiful. Last week I saw Bob Dylan live for the second time and found a few interesting differences in the performances.
At age 71 Bob Dylan is now using an opening act again: Opening for a legend is a great way to earn a listener-ship and gain an album purchasing fan base. This is very true of Bob Dylan openers. Ryan Adams, Amos Lee and many others have filled this role in recent years and gone on to have their own successes. However in 2001 Dylan had no opener. In 2013 the opener was a group called Dawes whom I highly recommend.
The hits were harder to find: With a such a vast body of work, Bob Dylan could play a show every night for the next year and never sing a song twice. The 2013 performance really hit the deep album cuts and steered clear of most of the hits. His reading of “All Along the Watchtower” was among the best I have ever heard. Pure folk and hard blues edged rock fusion was achieved.
The man is on the move: In 2001 Dylan walked to center stage and stayed put for the entire show. Even during the encore he walked to the same spot. Dylan was never in one place twice during the 2013 show. He moved all around the stage and even sang from behind the band during one number.
The marathon is over: I was spoiled by the 2001 show. The band played for well over 2hrs then gave a 45min encore. I heard nearly every song I had wanted to and learned a few new ones. 2013 Was 16 songs about one hour thirty minutes and a one song encore.
Is anybody out there: It has long been established that Bob Dylan does not like to talk to the crowd between songs. Still, in 2001, he at least took a moment during “Rainy Day Women” to introduce his band. Not so in 2013. No crowd interaction, no introductions.
Bob Dylan’s approach to live performance has been compared to that of a jazz musician in its pure variation and avoidance of repetition. On what is now jokingly called “The End of Life Tour,” he is still playing over 200 dates every year. It makes sense that in some ways the man is bound to slow and settle down. Still in others he is speeding up and delivering every night. I count myself fortunate to have witnessed his genius twice separated by 12 years. He has changed a bit, and so have I.