Bob Dylan, Jack Breslin Student Events Center- 11/9
Bob Dylan just seems to keep running from mortality. He knows it's there: lurking in the shadows, in fancy hotel rooms and in the landscapes across the United States as his grandiose busses seem to just roll along from show to show. The only place it doesn't seem to exist is onstage. His sanctuary, and the night after night sight of his never-ending tour he's been on for almost thirty years now. He might look a little road weary, and, of course, his voice certainly is, but he still carries a swagger of a virile 20 year- old with a full life still ahead of him.
It seems like when I haven't seen Dylan in awhile, there he is, in my backyard ready to entertain me again with his treasure trove of never ending classics. I'm not sure what East Lansing was thinking on this evening, but the show wasn't anywhere near being sold out. Not to mention, the relatively lame pre show anticipation before Dylan took the stage. For a moment, I wasn't sure if I was seeing Bob Dylan or Celine Dion. Bob Dylan certainly deserves better.
I was a little afraid for a moment. The crowd was a mixed bag of college students, aging drunk baby boomers trying to sing and remember lyrics to Dylan's songs, and their kids decked out in Abercrombie, too worried about what their friends and cell phones, instead of what Dylan was doing onstage. Seems like they were there for the cultural icon, and not the cultural icon musician.
Still, despite my fears of a rough night, Dylan as usual, did not disappoint. After a brief introduction by an announcer capping highlight's of Dylan's career, he launched into "Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35." Anchored by Dylan's typically tight band, now absent guitarist Charlie Sexton, Dylan initially struggled to keep up. Finally springing to life, a now riled crowd was singing along with every lyric, putting an extra emphasis into the part where Dylan gargles "everybody must get stoned!" (On a side note: People, the song is about Oppression, not getting high for the last time.) "Rainy Day" set the tone for a set of music that included flat out rockers, country-tinged ballads, blues boogie standards, and, even a waltz,.
Cowboy hat in tow, Dylan spent the entire evening behind the keyboards, leaving the guitar work to long time collaborator's guitarists Larry Campbell and Stuart Kimball. Campbell and Kimball exchanged licks all night, mostly prompted by Dylan's direction, especially during songs like "Desolation Row," and ("It's Alright Ma I'm Only Bleeding)." Dylan's setlists from night to night varies only slightly, with a few curveballs thrown in for good measure. No real surprises on this evening. More importantly, no "Visions Of Johanna," much to the dismay of this writer. (Played the next night in Toledo of course.) "Girl Of North Country," and a newer favorite, "Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum" of Dylan's latest classic "Love and Theft," were nice surprises The aptly current "Masters Of War," a very pertinent song right now, showed Dylan at his most passionate. And that's saying a lot for a man of his age. Indecipherable? Always. Musically together? Mostly. But, Passionate? Almost never these days. I would have to say that I was floored by both Dylan and his band, whom after years and years of touring, are like a finely oiled machine.
Every night of this current tour saw an encore of Dylan's most beloved classics "Like A Rolling Stone," and "All Along The Watchtower," with tonight being no exception. Dylan may not sing "Rolling Stone" like one would like, and thus, thwarting any chance at a sing along, but a classic nonetheless. Playing bandleader and gunslinger alike, Dylan provided cues for when it was time to end a rollicking "Watchtower," bringing the Breslin Center to their feet. With the encore now complete, Dylan took of his cowboy hat, brushed his hair back, and commanded respect and accolades from a now appreciative crowd. Swagger in full effect of course. But this is why he's here, night after night, commanding respect from every venue, every city, and every person. To expect anything less would be unsatisfactory. C'mon, this is Bob Dylan for crying out loud.