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Bob Dylan at Rogers Arena

Bob Dylan


Review – Bob Dylan at Rogers Arena, October 12, 2012

– by Christine Redmond

I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
I used to care, but things have changed

These days Bob Dylan is a man of few words. Still gracing the music circuit at age 71, the old time legend performed to an audience of over 8,500 at Rogers Arena, Vancouver, Friday night. He allotted 90 minutes of music to his devoted fans, including a one-song encore. He paused just once throughout the set (an hour in) to utter his thank you to the audience and introduce his band. There was no small talk, just music.

Seemingly weary of his earlier work, Dylan has reinvented his revered tunes with the addition of a five-piece blues band, breathing new life into old classics but not always for the better. Kicking off with the  “Watching the River Flow”, Dylan croaked and barked his way through the fitting lyrics: “What’s the matter with me, I don’t have much to say”. He followed this with “To Ramona”, “Things Have Changed” and “Tangled Up in Blue”.

The latter was unrecognizable from the original 1975 version and the realization that Bob Dylan is not the freewheelin’ twenty-something that many fans still regard him as was a hard pill to swallow. Dylan’s voice has grown more gravelly over his career and at moments during Fridays show it sounded almost comical – like a fake-scary voice used to scare children. Amused, a woman seated behind me laughed the entire way through “Cry a While”, probably the poorest and scariest rendition of the night.

Undeterred, Dylan continued to deliver lyrics to songs such as “Desolation Row” and “Highway 61” with  melodies that bore very little resemblance to the originals. Understandably the crowd didn’t attempt to sing along. Identifying the lyrics was impossible.

Despite the presence of one of the greatest songwriters in the world, the show lacked a certain something. It was more than the odd comical croak and masked lyrics, it was the band. The 12-bar blues templates began to grate after a while. Surely the beauty of Dylan’s lyrics would be better heard in his raw, rasping cigarette and whiskey-soaked voice rather than being so heavily buried underneath loud, monotonous blues riffs. But, Dylan clearly must have his reasons – what they are however, remains unknown. With five decades of performing and 35 albums under his belt he’s earned the right to do as he pleases. After all, he’s poet laureate of rock ‘n’ roll.

The minimal lights were kept dim on Dylan all night and resulted in a surprisingly intimate feel for the concert despite the size of the venue. As the night drew to a close it was apparent that Dylan had saved the best for last. “Ballad of a Thin Man” never seemed so apt:

And you say, ‘Who is that man?’
You try so hard
But you don’t understand

From this sprang “Like a Rolling Stone” which set the audience soaring and a smiling Dylan animatedly pounded the keys to rapturous applause. He concluded his set with “All Along the Watchtower” and silently left the stage. But, as always, the audience wanted one more song. Two minutes later, the impeccably dressed man of the hour emerged with his band and wooed the crowd with a raspy, bluesy rendition of “Blowing in the Wind”.

To put it politely Dylan’s performance was sporadic. From out-of-key notes to frightening, garbled lyrics, it was hard to believe this was the same man that revolutionized rock ‘n’ roll  many years ago. Obviously Dylan is not the man he used to be and to expect him to be is unrealistic. For a 71-year-old man he did fine. But to a lifelong Bob Dylan, fan he disappointed.

Set list – Bob Dylan at Rogers Arena, Vancouver, Oct 12 2012:

1. Watch the River Flow
2. To Ramona
3. Things Have Changed
4. Tangled Up In Blue
5. Cry A While
6. Make You Feel My Love
7. High Water
8. Desolation Row
9. Highway 61
10. Love Sick
11. Thunder On The Mountain
12. Ballad of a Thin Man
13. Like a Rolling Stone
14. All Along the Watchtower

Encore: Blowin’ in the Wind

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