Rock legend’s live performances don’t live up to his rep
By Giovanni Colantonio
Jack White and his merry group of Raconteurs had just wrapped up a gloriously energetic set at Boston University’s Agganis Arena. The band’s stage presence and performance filled the massive venue, provoking an equally massive applause from the audience. The clapping eventually deceased as the house lights came on, indicating a slight break before the night’s main event. Anxiously, the crowd began killing time in any way possible: making small talk with their friends, taking a stroll to the merchandise booth or stealthily lighting up a bowl. After what felt like an eternity of waiting, the house lights fell back down, spurring an uproar of applause. Everyone looked on fascinated as the night’s main attraction staggered his way onto the stage: the legendary Bob Dylan.
For such an epic set-up, one would expect an equally monumental climax. However, this was not the case on that chilly November night. The audience was instead treated to a confusing and lackluster performance, leaving a baffling aftertaste. How could such a legendary and influential musician put on such a disappointing act? How can a man who has played myriads of shows be overshadowed by the opening act who had only formed that year?
The pieces don’t seem to add up at first glance. But let’s face it–Bob Dylan isn’t the youngest whippersnapper in today’s music scene. Nearing 70 years of age, it’s clear that Dylan’s eventful life has taken a toll on him. This isn’t the same lively innovator who once unleashed electric hell on the unsuspecting Newport Folk Festival.
It isn’t so much that Dylan’s live performance is “bad.” His lengthy, classic studded set was certainly enjoyable. But it’s hard for diehard fans to shake off their expectations. Dylan didn’t touch a guitar the entire night, instead sticking to an electric keyboard. He explained this to the audience at the start of the set claiming, “I was going to play guitar this tour, but I didn’t have anyone to work this thing.” That’s right. Bob Dylan could not find a stable keyboardist for his full American tour. As disappointing as this was, it’s a rather nit-picky complaint in comparison to the rest of his set. At least the crowd was still treated to some of his classic harmonica playing.
The real problem lies in the songs themselves. A casual listener may have found they didn’t recognize a single song of the man’s set. This isn’t because he didn’t play the songs. On the contrary, his set was stacked with some of his biggest hits like “Tangled Up In Blue.” None of these, however, sounded a thing like they do on record.
“I didn’t even know what ‘All Along the Watchtower’ was until more than halfway through it,” said Doug Linse, a Bob Dylan fan in attendance at the Boston performance. “Honestly, there were some songs that I had hoped to hear him play that night that I left the show thinking he didn’t, only to learn later on that he did.”
The songs were all morphed beyond recognition by the mastermind himself. As Sarah Rodman, a critic for the Boston Globe, pointed out, “It’s not just the timings that have changed in the 65-year-old’s repertoire, but the melodies, the rhythms, and the genres.”
Even his backing band didn’t seem to know what exactly was going on; their eyes never left Dylan for the entire show. They remained fixated on the mad scientist trying to follow along with his seemingly improvised re-imaginings of his own songs. Sure, that’s nice for him, as it keeps his sets from becoming boring to perform. But to an audience who shelled out at least $60 for a ticket, this is beyond frustrating.
So is Bob Dylan just some old washed up hack whose moment in the spotlight has finally burned out? Well, not really. Sure, he isn’t the best live performer… by any means. But what he stands for outshines this. Dylan’s innovative career continues to inspire musicians to this very day. The man himself may appear worn and tired in 2008, but his music maintains the freshness that got him famous in the first place. Despite anything he does, Bob Dylan is and will always be a legend. A bad live performer… yes. But a legend nonetheless!
Giovanni Colantonio is a sophomore cinema and photography major. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.