I love seeing a live music performance, but I hate concerts.
There are always too many damn people to ruin the whole experience. Once at a Smashing Pumpkins show, a giant woman in red greasepaint wearing plastic devil horns kept screaming “Billy” into my ear every two seconds. As if Corgan was going to levitate over the audience, swoop her up and whisk her away to some gothic temple in Prague for a midnight mass and wedding ceremony.
I was sure the crowd at a Dylan show would be a piece of cake. It was my hope that the Event Center would be filled with stoned, aging Hippies. I looked around the line, it almost formed a complete loop around the building and was comprised of a motley gallery of youth and aged – predominantly baby boomers. I breathed a little sigh of relief. The average age must have been above 35. So far, so good.
When the doors opened, we had to pass through the security pat down. Some of my lady friends smuggled contraband in their bras. One had managed to completely hide a single-serving bottle of Peach Stoli in her cleavage. It went undetected. I had to be impressed. My cadre of friends staked out a place on the floor and we fended off interlopers as we waited for the concert to begin. The crowd would occasionally ebb toward the stage and applaud prematurely for a roadie as they made final adjustments to the equipment. You had to forgive them; many were clearly myopic.
I love seeing a live music performance, but I hate waiting.
When the house lights finally went down and the band took the stage in darkness amid the roar of the crowd, I could hear the scratches of lighter flints as joints were sparked nearby. As THC clouds billowed above the audience, the aroma mixed in the air with the trails of smoke flowing from the incense burning on the stage. It seemed as though Dylan was running cover for his fans. The sweet, sickly smog in the auditorium grew thicker by the minute and the crowd shuffled forward for a better look as Dylan opened with the acoustic “Wait For the Light to Shine.”
Immediately, I was impressed by the tight musicianship of his band and the three-part harmonies that pulled off the blue grass tune. Two guitarists trading off leads, a bass player and a drummer took their orders with aplomb, and Dylan commanded the troop like the veteran general of rock. He gave subtle cues to the band about when to come in hard and when to hold back on a particular chord.
For the first five minutes of the show, there was nothing short of frenzied, consistent applause that only died down after the completion of “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” The crowd desperately wanted to get a foothold on the song but kept slipping up on this live version. As Dylan reinterpreted the material with broken phrasing, he painted a new masterpiece with one trick left in his bag – he splashed in high notes to bookend monotone d lines.
It would prove to be a trend for this night of ballads and manifestos, as he took his classic songs and adapted them to new tempos. Dylan dusted off classics “Girl of the North Country,” a personal favorite of mine, and “Masters of War,” which I was pleasantly surprised to hear. The purpose of a live show is not to hear the studio version of a song, but to hear it the way the artist conceives of it on that particular night: it is as much a part of Dylan’s virtuosity as his guitar or harmonica playing.
Besides, it’s Dylan’s poetry that draws a fan in the first place, and that is undoubtedly intact.
Unfamiliarity with the new versions didn’t bother me. For god sakes, this is Bob Dylan. This is the guy that made me feel as if I were born a generation too late and nostalgic for a time in my life that was beyond my years. A songwriter who I discovered when I was a proto-adult, flipping through the LPs my father kept in a cardboard box by his desk.
Honestly, I felt a bit unworthy of the experience. My father, a huge Dylan fan, had never seen him perform live, even when he was a law student in the bay area during the height of the counter-cultural revolution. And here I was – his punk-ass son – at a Dylan show, with him wailing like a banshee on the harp.
As Dylan went into “Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum,” a track from his new release Love and Theft, it happened.
In the cover of darkness, I didn’t see the two middle -aged women who wedged their way through our ranks. At first they distracted me and then became the bane of my concert-going existence that night. When I politely moved out of their way so that they could see, I inadvertently moved behind a 6’6″ behemoth – the young man my friend Erin dubbed “the tallest Bob Dylan fan in the world.” He and his huge noggin stood directly in front of me for the first few songs. Weaving left and right with an almost psychic accuracy, I was lucky to catch quick glimpses of the reflection off Dylan’s guitar. The rest of him was entirely eclipsed by this wall of bone and flesh.
I tried to be Zen about it and told myself to concentrate on the music. Dylan ripped through a number of classics with his often-parodied nasal rasp. “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again” took on anthem-like proportions, but the follow-up “Moonlight” brought the crowd to a hush as he crooned the sweet lullaby. The audience was enchanted by the aptly chosen “Forever Young” and a revitalized “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Dylan made no attempt to shelve his politically charged folk-protest songs.
I took a long puff and a swig of some cleavage-warmed vodka and tried to ignore the crowd.
But alas, my self-medicated remedy didn’t work and I wound up getting agitated by the two middle-aged women who kept complaining that they couldn’t see. Especially ironic considering they themselves were blocking the view of my petite friend after I had shifted place to give them a better view. When I later moved across them, they protested.
The couple spent the entire concert making strange sorts of primal mating calls of orgasmic intonation – “Yes … Yes … Oh God … YES” – supposedly directed towards Dylan. They certainly could not have seen him from where they were standing either, because if they truly ever looked upon the grizzled visage of their god, my bet is that there would be more agony than ecstasy.
If the “people suck” bumper sticker has any personal meaning to me, then it would have to be in the context of a concert. And it should really read “people suck sasquatch chode”
No matter how obnoxious I found the crowd, Dylan aimed to please. Maybe it had something to do with the intimacy of the venue, but I think he had a good time as well.
Dylan’s voice went years ago and the songs might not have been true to the original recording, but there’s little need to obsess on that. His voice was always a lemon, but, in true Dylan style, he manages to make lemonade.
I mean, it’s Bob Dylan for chrissakes.
He could just stand there and people would applaud until he felt the need to go somewhere else. Then people would track him down and applaud some more. Regardless of his status, last Sunday he earned the standing ovation.