Dylan in 2017

Driving home from Father’s Day Dylan at the Oakdale Center last night, I got the feeling we’d seen three different shows. I was buzzing over juxtapositions from the long career, thinking that maybe Bob, like me, thinks Tempest is his best album of the 21st century, and scratching my head about the Sinatra phase. Alinor said she couldn’t understand the words to any song except “Stormy Weather,” and when Bob started gravel-crooning “Melancholy Mood,” she leaned over to me to say, appropriately, “What the fuck?”

Olivia, who came along with her eighth-grade buddy who likes what she calls “hippie music,” asked if she could go see Beyonce next time. I said OK.

Maybe Bob’s only for the already-converted in 2017?

Here’s the set list from last night:

  1. Things Have Changed (Modern Love, 2005)
  2. It Ain’t Me, Babe (Another Side, 1964)
  3. Highway 61 Revisited (Highway 61 Revisited, 1965)
  4. Stormy Weather (Harold Arlen cover)
  5. Summer Days (Love and Theft, 2001)
  6. Scarlet Town (Tempest, 2012)
  7. Duquesne Whistle (Tempest 2012)
  8. Melancholy Mood (Frank Sinatra cover)
  9. Once Upon a Time (Tony Bennett cover) (live debut by Bob Dylan)
  10. Pay in Blood (Tempest 2012)
  11. Why Try to Change Me Now (Cy Coleman cover)
  12. Early Roman Kings (Tempest 2012)
  13. Desolation Row (Highway 61 Revisited 1965)
  14. All or Nothing at All (Frank Sinatra cover)
  15. Soon After Midnight (Tempest 2012)
  16. That Old Black Magic (Johnny Mercer cover)
  17. Long and Wasted Years (Tempest 2012)
  18. Autumn Leaves (Yves Montand cover)
  19. Encore: Blowin’ in the Wind (Freewheelin‘ 1963)
  20. Encore: Ballad of a Thin Man (Highway 61 Revisited 1965)

By chronology: 5 from the ’60s, none from ’70s-90s, 8 from ’00s, 7 covers

By disc: 1 from Freewheelin‘ (1963), 1 from Another Side (1964), 3 from Highway 61 Revisited (1965), 1 from Love and Theft (2001), 1 from Modern Love (2005), 6 from Tempest (2012), 7 covers (probably on last 3 studio albums 2015-17)

A quick google of recent setlists from this tour shows that the songs from Tempest and the covers are almost always in the mix, but we missed some nice oldies: Baby Blue, Simple Twist of Fate (from the 70s!), To Ramona, Don’t Think Twice, Blind Willie McTell (which I would’ve loved to hear), Hard Rain.

All the songs from Tempest were great, though I missed my favorite of all, the title track, an 11-minute waltz (!) about the sinking of the Titanic, about which I dilated in scholarly prose in my last book, Shipwreck Modernity (162-66). Not sure that song lends itself to live performance, but who knows.

The Sinatra / Johnny Mercer / Tony Bennett stuff is powerfully weird. Dylan doesn’t play piano or guitar for those numbers, just dances or shuffles awkwardly with a stand-up microphone and croons through gravel. In a few places, especially “Stormy Weather” and “Once Upon a Time,” I thought I glimpsed a conceit: the idea might be to transform the Great American Songbook into Dylan songs, and to increase the challenge he’ll do it without changing any words. Can Bob rob Frank just with phrasing and nasal twang? I’m a pretty devoted fan, and I appreciate the extremity of this latest phrase, but I’m not sure what to make of it.

Back in the early 90s, after a pretty fallow period — I like some songs on Empire Burlesque (1985), but it’s an acquired taste — Bob released two great albums covering traditional folk songs, Good as I Been to You (1992) and World Gone Wrong (1993). Does the Sinatra turn — four albums long, since 2015 — herald another turn and promise something to come as good as Tempest?

I must say I doubt it. He’s growling strong, but at times he looks as if he feels his 76 years. It’s great to hear him rework old material — my favorite of the night was Desolation Row, though interestingly he cut the penultimate verse with T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and the mermaids.

I wondered going into the show if he’d address the current kerfluffle about plagiarism, SparkNotes, and his Nobel Prize Lecture. (Here’s my reading of the lecture.) I didn’t expect him to, but the opening two numbers probably give a pretty direct answer, one he’s been repeated for decades:

  1. [I used to care, but] Things Have Changed

  2. It Ain’t Me, Babe

Good times at the Oakdale Center!


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