And on the other hand… Bob Dylan

This weekend in late August 2008 was a watershed mark. As a longtime devotee/insane nut of Bob Dylan, concert #16 has finally convinced me that the game is up. King Bob is the great guy who made all those wonderful albums. The guy who tromps around stage with a dead-weight band and no interest in the audience is just a guy named Bob.

I saw Dylan last night at Horseshoe Casino outside Louisville. In fairness to Bob, I should probably note that this might have been a good show. I’m not 110% sure. As soon as we got seated and the show opened, the people behind us started shouting back and forth at each other incessantly. This was joined by the people on Julie’s left, who also decided it was a fine time for a high volume conversation. If they ever wanted to ease up, they just went for beer and stood in front of us for about 30 seconds while everybody got their change and sorted out who wanted what and how many. This was earth shattering stuff. “HOW MANY SONGS DO YOU THINK HE’LL PLAY?” Well, what the Hell does it matter, I wondered, if you’re not listening to them. There was one guy on my right who was there to hear the show. Of course, there were two yuppies on his right who were talking all night as well. I haven’t even gotten into the dancing girl three rows in front, who not only has to hop around while Dylan croaks through “Ain’t Talkin”, but has to perodically swing her arms about as well.

Into this maelstorm of humanity came terrific indifference from Bob Dylan. He still aligns himself on the right side of the stage, with his keyboard pointing more at the rest of the band than at anyone or anything else. He doesn’t talk, hell, he doesn’t even look out there too terribly often. And then the clunkers came. “Stuck Inside of Mobile” AGAIN. “Highway 61” AGAIN. “Honest With Me” AGAIN. If you come to a Bob Dylan concert in 2008, you could be forgiven for leaving thinking that Dylan recorded a couple of albums in the ’60s and a couple more in the last few years and that was it. That’s all he seems to remember.

And actually I can remember 110%. The show just wasn’t that good. Bob has no concept of pacing these days, if he ever did. “In case “Make You Feel My Love” didn’t render everyone comatose, let’s follow it with a badly sung “I Don’t Believe You””, you can almost feel him thinking. Time continues to assail his voice more and more. He’s croaky, he drops parts of lines, he screws with the rhythm of his singing, falling way behind or ahead of the band just to keep himself awake.

And I’m not sure anybody notices. I probably wouldn’t have five years ago. For the vast majority of folks, people go to a Bob Dylan concert to see Bob Dylan. Not to hear him, not to experience any sort of musical conncetion. But I’m done watching him desecrate his outstanding back pages to provide fodder for the curious.

I still love Bob Dylan. His albums range from horrific to wonderful, but there’s more of the latter than the former. His songwriting is unparalleled, and his book, “Chronicles” was a fantastic surprise to me. But Bob Dylan live musician, as of this time in 2008, is a dead as if the famous motorcycle crash in 1966 had finished him off. Could he be re-born, live musician wise? Sure, it’s happened before. But something has got to give, if so.



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4 Responses to “And on the other hand… Bob Dylan”

  1. Amy Hilliard Says:

    Yeah, I’ve only seen him twice. The second time I was just wondering if the first time was a fluke. He might have been something to “see” in the 60s, but I have to say I was pretty disappointed. Like you, I love his music, but on stage he almost acts like he would rather be anywhere else. It’s kind of a bummer.

    And, as for those rude concert goers….I just wanna choke em! I saw Old Crow Medicine Show in one of the best performances I’ve attended at Headliners in Louisville…this was before their Palace days. Anyway, the audience was so obnoxious! I was thinking that if these people just wanted to go out, get drunk and yell, then they could have gone to a bar and skipped the cover charge. Louisville has a pretty decent music scene, but a lot of the residents don’t know how to enjoy it.

  2. eljoe1235 Says:

    Preach on, Sister Amy! The 2003 Dylan show in Louisville, while a much better show that the one we just saw, was a landmark in terms of audience behavior. Julie blogged about it… the best, or worst, depending on whether we’re grading on perversity or decency was the guy brandishing a copy of “Catcher in the Rye” and stumbling around drunkenly while asking his friends to burn him with cigarettes. Not the setting for great art, even if Dylan decided to awaken from his slumber.


  3. Barbara C. Says:

    Joe, I could have told you everything you just posted a good nine years ago when you and Ricky were dragging me around the country to see Dylan in four different states (yes, four: Tennessee, Georgia, Missouri, and Indiana). Although, I must admit that the first show I saw in Nashville was pretty good; I think Brian Setzer as the opening act might be why. Setzer was amazingly better than Paul Simon, and do we even want to talk about that other guy who drew all of the dirty neo-hippies who liked to spin in circles when they weren’t having mock seizures?

    I always used to thank the Lord for “Highway 61 Revisited”, otherwise every slow song sounded exactly the same. I appreciate Dylan’s musical contributions, and I even have two favorite Dylan albums (Nashville Skyline, and Desire). But I think my body keeps creating babies to protect me from having to go to any more shows. “Sorry, I’m nursing; I can’t leave the baby for that long of a time.” I mean, how many Dylan concerts do you have to vomit at (not from drink or drugs) before you get an out?

  4. eljoe1235 Says:

    Enjoy that “I told you so”, Barbara. That’s the other side of my paranoia… Was it always this bad? I really think it wasn’t… which should tell you how bad it is NOW. I’m still working with the idea that Dylan was more or less good live through about 2003 or 2004. But I admit that “good” is probably kind. At least, he was sometimes good, and interesting in that drunken uncle sort of way.

    And yeah, I do think you hold some sort of honorary record for Dylan show vomiting. I remember a couple, and I remember being told of at least one more by Ricky. If it makes you feel any better, Julie got sick at Dylan show #2 herself. Maybe Dylan just makes women sick. I don’t know.


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