Sunday, November 09, 2014

Dylan Goes Eclectic, but Don't Think Twice It's All Right -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Bob Dylan and his band
Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago
November 8, 2014 (also playing 11/9, 10)

Back in the mid-1960s, when Bob Dylan was presumably the most popular and revered folk musician in the world, he famously "went electric" and began recording and performing songs in a rock vein.

Devout folkies were far from happy about it, and at shows Dylan was loudly booed. At the widely-bootlegged but now officially released "Royal Albert Hall Concert"--which was actually in Manchester--he was met with shouts of "Judas!"

To which he responded, "I don't believe you. You're a liar."

And then to his band, "Play it fuckin' loud" as they ripped into "Like a Rolling Stone."

After which, the crowd erupted in applause and Dylan uttered, "Thank you."

Thus, the man born Robert Zimmerman on May 24, 1941 in Duluth, MN hasn't ever been shy about following his artistic instincts even in the face of derision, condemnation, disdain or disinterest.

So while I imagine anyone at the Cadillac Palace on Saturday night who wasn't a Dylan diehard long ago ceding to the notion of "Bob does what he wants" may have been perplexed and disappointed in just 4 of his 19 songs being classics harkening back to his exalted '60s and 70s output--"She Belongs to Me," "Tangled Up in Blue," "Simple Twist of Fate" and "Blowin' in the Wind"--I was largely accepting of it with reverence for one of history's greatest and most iconoclastic artists.

Photos not by me nor from Saturday's concert as photography was prohibited.
Which isn't to say I wouldn't have liked to hear "Like a Rolling Stone," "Positively 4th Street," "All Along the Watchtower," "Ballad of a Thin Man," "The Times They Are A-Changing" or any of about 50+ other gems from Dylan's brilliant canon.

But having seen him in concert six times between 1997-2006 but never before or since, I knew well that his singing voice had long ago devolved into one approximating Cookie Monster, his vocal phrasing often made even famous songs indecipherable, he no longer plays the guitar, he doesn't address the audience despite being extremely articulate and he is rather spartan in filling his setlists with anthems of yore.

Still, such is my regard for his legacy that I entirely wanted to see him again, and--along with friends Paolo, Dave and Fred--entered the theater with three abiding notions:

A) Just go with it
B) Anything beyond him walking onstage is a bonus
C) It's Bob fucking Dylan

And to the great man's credit, although it was an evening more of reverent appreciation than acute rapture and not likely to wind up near the top of my Best Concerts of 2014 rankings in a year filled with many all-time greats, my rating of @@@@ (out of 5) is not a gift nor grading on a curve.

In fact, 53 years after he showed up in Greenwich Village, during which time numerous artists have been referenced or imagined as the "New Dylan," the original Dylan showed that he--rather admirably, despite me wishing for a bit more culling of his glorious past--considers himself a contemporary artist, not an oldies act.

Thirteen of the 19 songs performed--see the full Cadillac Palace Saturday setlist here--were from the 21st century, with 6 coming off his most recent studio album, 2012's Tempest.

But though certainly roughshod, his voice sounded better than I remember from a decade ago, and playing songs written for that voice kept Dylan more in his vocal comfort zone than a bunch of age-old tunes likely would have.

I like Tempest, but should've studied up on it and other recent albums more thoroughly prior to the show. Nonetheless, such are Dylan's continued musical and lyrical gifts--and the prowess of his 5-piece backing band including a stand-up bassist and multi-percussionists--that songs such as "Things Have Changed," "Workingman's Blues #2," "Duquesne Whistle," "Pay in Blood" and "Scarlet Town" not only sounded superb, but I easily could've been fooled into thinking some dated back nearly 50 years rather than just a few. 

The first 5 of the 6 songs I just cited were played during the first set, and following a half-hour intermission, Set 2 suffered from a bit too much sameness and sure could have benefited from another blast or two of classic poetic nostalgia.

Ending the show--following "Blowin' in the Wind" as a chills-inducing encore opener--with Frank Sinatra's "Stay With Me" was, perhaps in keeping, an odd, anti-climactic choice that easily could have given way to "Like A Rolling Stone," albeit for the 1,722nd time (literally).

But while far from a rip-roaring affair on par with outstanding shows by Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam or Arcade Fire, or even as satisfying as more congruent showcases by Neil Young, Leonard Cohen or Elvis Costello, to complain about what the concert wasn't would not only be churlish but disingenuous.

On Saturday, November 8, 2014, I saw one of rock's greatest living legends and among the most impactful, influential artists--of any kind--of all-time in the company of some of my closest friends within a beautiful, relatively-intimate setting.

And Bob Dylan was far better than he could have been, entirely enjoyable in an acute sense and true to himself in a "this man changed the world" aura of eternal appreciation.

"You said you'd never compromise," he wrote in "Like a Rolling Stone" in 1965, and far cooler than if he had played a few more hits or regaled the crowd with sentimental remembrances is that--at the age of 73, forever trekking along on his "Never Ending Tour" despite his place in history being firmly established decades ago--Robert Zimmerman still hasn't.

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