On April 11, 1961, Bob Dylan opened for bluesman John Lee Hooker at Gerde’s Folk City. Dylan was 19, too young to get the union card he needed to play. But a friend got him in. It was his first ever concert in front of a large audience.
Bob Dylan, now 71, is on a North American Tour. For my birthday present in August Trisha bought us tickets for the concert on October 24 in San Diego.
Dylan’s opening act was Mark Knopfler and his band of 8 great musicians. I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t catch the name when he was introduced and then kept guessing through the various songs who he was, recognizing Dire Straights songs and style. Of course, googling him later I realized that Mark was the founder and key member of Dire Straights. He left the band in 1988 to go solo, and Dire Straights … died.
Dylan, like in the last concert I saw him in some years ago, didn’t pick up a guitar once. Nobody knows for sure why – try to google that. I found rumors of arthritis, rumors of an accident that had his left arm in a cast 10 years ago, but nothing substantive. Dylan played the keyboard and the harmonica, and he sang, if you can call it that.
Bob Dylan must be the worst singer ever to tour and sing live. His voice is totally shot. Most of his words come out as raspy barks and are very difficult to understand. Due to the strong keyboarding and his gravelly voice the trusty old songs are sometimes unrecognizable. It took several minutes before I realized I was listening to It Ain’t Me Babe. Visions of Joanna was barely recognizable. His band of five members played loud and rhythmical, no matter what the song. The result was that every song sounded like the one before it. They were too loud, there was too much bass, and Dylan barked over the music totally off-key with the keyboard distorting the songs even more. Every now and then the Dylan howl came through when he was yelling out some high notes and there was a semblance of a melody – and I had flashbacks to the concerts of the legend I grew up listening to.
Here is a you YouTube from 2011. Knopfler did not sing with Dylan during our concert, but he played one song with him. It gives a feeling of the concert, though.
I don’t know how many songs there were, but the concert was too long. The average age of the crowd around us must have been 62 or so. They were yelling and cheering Mark Knopfler like he was a superstar, but Dylan only got polite applause. Dylan does not play for the audience. He plays for himself. He does not interact with the audience. He never did in all the concerts I have seen him in. It’s worse now. He messes with the music and the songs to please himself, and somehow his band keeps up with him. The seats around us started thinning out about half-way through, and people continued to leave before the concert was over.
I have never been to a Bob Dylan concert where he didn’t play Like a Rolling Stone, mostly held up as one of the greatest rock ‘n roll songs of all time, if not the greatest. Dylan always, ALWAYS rocks the venue with Rolling Stone, driving the audience to its feet, making them dance, shout, sing and thunder.
This time, even Rolling Stone didn’t break through. Dylan didn’t reach his fans. Rolling Stone flopped, and Dylan walked off after only one song of encore, which I can’t remember now, and the audience stumbled out quiet and subdued, the fire burned out.
Dylan gets away with this. He has inspired people for over 50 years with his music. He has shaped generations of musicians. He has made millions of people for decades fiery eyed with his lyrics. His music takes me back to my youth.
If you are not a Bob Dylan fan, this concert must be torture. I didn’t listen to good music, except for Knopfler’s opening hour. But I was surrounded by kindred spirits who all came searching for vignettes of memories of their coming of age and melodies that tied together their lives. I was one of them and I let the legend on stage do his magic and enjoy himself. I let the chords wash through me. For a couple of hours I got to be part of that legend.
Will I get tickets next time?