Concert Review: Bob Dylan, San Diego, June 18, 2022

Bob Dylan, being my preeminent favorite music artist, I have obviously seen him in concert many times over the years. He has a 60-year career already, getting close to Queen Elizabeth reign duration numbers, which by itself is amazing. How many artists today can say that? Yesterday, my wife gave me a Father’s Day present and took me to the Bob Dylan concert at the Civic Center in San Diego.

If you had told me when I was 15 as a schoolboy in Germany, when I bought my first harmonica and practiced playing Blowing in the Wind in the city park, that I’d be going to a concert to see that artist when he was 81 years old, I certainly would not have believed it.

The San Diego Civic Center is a beautiful venue for concerts, symphonic events, with great acoustics and a capacity of about 3,000 seats. When we first arrived, they scanned our tickets off our smartphones as it is done nowadays. But then they took our smartphones away and locked them into pouches we could not open. Before they did that, they had to write our seat numbers onto little slips of paper. Kind of beats the paperless ticket process and creates a bunch of jobs for the people who have to handle the crowds. Then as we entered the venue, we were without phones. I usually sit there and read my book while I wait for an event to start. With no phone, I didn’t know what time it was, I couldn’t read, and I could not take the customary snapshot of the stage that I would then post along with these words. But none of that has to do with Bob Dylan.

The crowd was mostly old. Lots of folks in their 60ies, 70ies and 80ies. Some young people, some children, but I am sure the average was in the 60ies. Lots of pony tails and tie die shirts. Dylan has a lot of dedicated fans, and he can pretty much do what he wants and get away with it.

My first Bob Dylan concert ever was in 1978,  when I was 22, in the stadium at Arizona State University with 60,000 of my best friends. The last one was at the San Diego Sports Arena maybe five years ago. It was bad. Dylan’s voice was completely shot. He only played the keyboard. The sound was terribly distorted in the arena and too loud. I remember walking out of the concert thinking that, well, that was Bob Dylan. I don’t have to go to his concerts anymore.

But then I went again yesterday at a much different venue. There were just six guys on the stage and played a bunch of songs I had never heard. Of course, that is because I had not bought or listened to his latest album Rough and Rowdy Ways. That’s what the concert was about, and if I did it again, I’d listen to this album a few times before going to the concert. My mistake.

Except for a single song, which Dylan sang out in the open, he was mostly hidden behind an upright piano for the entire concert, so we only saw his head. He hardly plays plays the guitar anymore. Between songs, he would step out for a few seconds to be seen by the audience. He never greeted us, never said a word, except at the very end when he introduced the band by their names. But that’s how Bob Dylan does concerts, and we’re used to it.

I recognized very few songs. Either it was obscure material, or new material. A few songs I recognized by the lyrics, like When I Paint my Masterpiece, but not the music. But Dylan sang, with his broken voice, and it was mostly melodic, with good projection, not too loud. He would whisper into the microphone and we understood the words, for the most part. It was a good concert with wonderful music, performed by a legend.

But I missed Bob Dylan. There was not a single one of his hits. Blowing in the Wind would have fit perfectly into this playbook. I could have have used It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding, or of course the iconic Like a Rolling Stone to top it all off. That didn’t happen. Worse – in what seemed like the middle of the concert, when the audience got fired up and gave him a standing ovation for the previous song, the stage suddenly went dark, they walked off, and didn’t come back. He houselights went on and that was the end. No encore whatsoever. I didn’t even realize I was listening to the very last song. And then he was gone. No final bow. No final howling hymn. No Bob Dylan anywhere to be seen.

I didn’t know how to feel. I liked the concert. I liked the music. I liked the new, melodic Dylan. But in the end, I was let down. The concert ended like a popped birthday balloon and next thing I knew I was in the parking lot.

 

38 thoughts on “Concert Review: Bob Dylan, San Diego, June 18, 2022

  1. barbara carlson

    what a pity. I guess the adage “Don’t meet your heroes” applies to their “last” concert — but walking off? that seems rude. And standing behind a piano? How affected. Bob Dylan is one of my heroes, too. He changed minds, opened eyes, a real poet… I heard a piece on the radio from a 12-year-old who was sitting in the family car — waiting for his mother to come back from the store. He turned on the radio and heard Bob Dylan for the first time, was blown away…. The boy said of this, “When my mother came back from the store, I was surprised she could recognize me!”

  2. carrieschneider2000

    Dylan played several songs from his most recent album which is a freaking masterpiece. I suggest you check it out.

      1. Steve Saunders

        I saw my first Dylan concert in ‘78 as well, in Carbondale, and 100 times since. I speak Dylan so I could understand the garbled and marble mouthed years and have loved my allegiance. I saw this tour in Phoenix and, knowing the set list and the droning tone, decided to pass on th rest of the tour, including this one in San Diego. The new album is good but word-heavy and musically minimalist. Just not my taste, others love it, but to play that many songs from the new album is a recipe for boredom. I hope it’s not his last go-round, as I look forward to the next leg of his incredible never ending tour and fantastic career!

  3. Anonymous

    I was at the Dylan concert last rnght in San Diego. The top review is very accurate. The band was Fantastic. Dylan very disappointing. it could have been a great concert if he had just let the band play,

    1. Well, it’s Dylan being Dylan. At 81, I guess Bob Dylan is playing for himself. The band was definitely coddling him, looking to have his back all the time, making sure they made him look good.

  4. Her Norbert I must ask where you grew ip in Germnay? I lived in Hamburg for 6 years form 70 to 76 – came form San Diego to Hmaburg direct, learnbed teh language and lived my teenage years in Hamburg going ot concerts and learning music. I wished I ahd been able tpo go last night. I love dylan and have learned thta it may take years to understand the music he puts out. BUt I know he is not everyones cup of tea. Didnt he close with Every Grain of Sand? I think he’s been playing the same set each night.

    1. Hi Dan: I grew up in Regensburg. Left for the US the first time in 1974 for high school student exchange, and then again in 1977 for good. Nice you enjoyed Hamburg! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Richard Hyatt

    Norbert:

    I would have hoped that your review focused on the accomplishment that is Rough and Rowdy Ways, his first album in at least five years. It was released a little over two years ago. Plenty of time to determine its place in his career. These songs reflect a sage voice looking to connect now with the feelings of his age and experience. The depth and meaning of so many moved me deeply. His voice filled with compassion for the very human in all of us. The performance was measured and assured. He wanted to be understood. He was. There is a reason he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He deserved it.

    From Mother of Muses: Mother of Muses, unleash your wrath
    Things I can’t see, they’re blocking my path
    Show me your wisdom, tell me my fate
    Put me upright, make me walk straight
    Forge my identity from the inside out
    You know what I’m talking about

    When a lifetime has been so productive and provided such joy, thought and reflection, it is fitting that this concert was so satisfying.

    Regards,

    Richard Hyatt

    1. Hi Richard – Yes, I have obviously not kept up with the latest album. I learned, and I missed out due to it. And so the journey continues.
      Thanks for taking the time to make this comment. It means a lot.

    2. Anonymous

      I agree Richard. Rough and Rowdy Ways is the best stuff he’s done in years. Glad to see him move out of his Frank Sinatra days, which he was in when I saw him at Humphreys about 5 years ago. He was good that night, but it’s really good to see him move beyond that and
      create a whole new genre of music. He does contain multitudes!
      Regards, Ain Roost

  6. Evan

    Your review and perspective is appreciated, thanks for that. How anyone familiar with the man is still surprised by his ever changing and constantly progressing status, I’m not sure I understand. He played Blowin’ in the Wind on one of his more recent tours, this is the Rough and Rowdy Ways tour. He’s playing mostly those songs. Where many classic rock stars are milking their old hits (and good for them), Dylan is continually growing and searching for a new spark of creativity. Basically no one else is doing this. Does he always hit the bullseye? No. Is he always in the mood? No. Does he give the audience something special and unique every night? I think so.

    1. Hi Evan – thanks for your comment. For one that has bought pretty much every Dylan album in over 50 years, I had NOT bought Rough and Rowdy Ways – so I didn’t benefit as much from the concert as I could have. Still – if there is another tour in Dylan, I’ll be going. I have since bought the album, and it’s playing when I drive….

      1. Billy Eye

        Why are Baby Boomers so fixated upon nostalgia? I saw Dylan in 1979, where he only did his “Born Again” material, and he was on fire. One of the best shows ever by anyone. But at the time, the Boomers walked out and/or booed because of the lack of older material. Jettison ahead 40+ years later, and it seems as though little has changed. Yikes…now at least we know the mindset of the dude who yelled out “Judas” in 1966.

      2. Well, Billy, I hope you didn’t see me yell Judas. I enjoyed the concert. I wrote about that. I would have liked a few oldies, and didn’t get that. I would have liked a few more songs at the end, I missed that. I don’t think it’s fair to compare me to the Judas yeller. But when I write a review, it’s to tell those that care to read how exactly I felt. And I think I accomplished that.

        Thanks for taking the time to make the comment – really appreciate it. It made me read it again and make sure there was no Judas in here.

  7. Anonymous

    Another review from a casual fan with the obvious complaints, if you know bob from 60 year ago by now you should know certain things…..

  8. It’s true though, if you saw McCartney or Jagger or Brian Wilson you’d get mostly old songs not their recent stuff. Dylan is still in touch with his muse. it’s like the 1966 tour, couple of oldies (but recontextualised) but mostly recent stuff. Plus it should be no surprise he’s behind his piano now, since he put on his school report, under ambitions for the future, ‘To Be Like Little Richard’.

  9. Ken Millen

    Took my grandsons (both 16 year old guitar players) to see Bob in Atlanta a few months back. He’s been playing pretty much the same 17 songs on this tour – most are from his recent album Rough and Rowdy Ways. Bob and I are the same age so have been seeing him in concerts for a long, long time. I’d rate this tour as some of his best work – to say he has aged well would be an understatement. My grandsons both are looking forward to the next time that we can go see Bob!

    1. That’s the sad part. All these decades, I went to see his concerts, some good, some not so, but I always knew I’d go again next time. I certainly hope I have the opportunity to go again to listen to an 85 year old troubadour.

  10. I have seen Bob Dylan 186 times. He is not an entertainer. If you want that, go see Elton John or whomever. The shows I have seen are basically divided into categories for me because I have seen him frequently drunk (1990-1993) but also his best run as a performer in my view (1994-2003). He is not a good Bucket List choice because he continues doing what he does not what people expect.

    1. Thank you for the thoughtful review. I’m adding to stewedandkeefed’s reply because it was similar to what I was going to say. I also have seen Bob that number of times, First at The Last Waltz, then all of the Jesus shows at the Warfield in ’79 and ’80 and so on. In ’93, I went to a show at San Jose State University that I thought was dreadful. After reading the bootleg newsletters proclaiming that this was the best show on the tour, I was done. Then, on a whim I saw him in ’95 and he was fantastic I thought. But getting new material in ’97 with Time Out of Mind was a revelation. I ended up seeing him almost 100 times from ’97-’02 on the strength of him having new material that he connected with and that was written for his modern voice. I’d put this in the same category. I saw him in Oakland and went in with an open mind and he blew me away. As far as sitting behind the piano, you may have noticed that at 81 years old, he’s a bit unsteady on his feet. I was thankful that he was safe and comfortable. As for the encore, an encore isn’t “more songs” but rather a game that I’m supposed to clap and whistle for 3-5 minutes before they finish the show. It’s silly and apparently Bob feels the same way. Stew is correct that he’s an artist and not an entertainer.

      1. The encore thing – you’re right – it’s a game – but it’s usually the best 2 or 3 songs in any concert – so I was deflated. I missed those songs – whatever they would have been.

  11. Brian Ahlborn

    Norbert, if the experience you described causes you to listen to Rough & Rowdy Ways at least a couple of times, then the collective experience will definitely be a rewarding one for you.

    When we saw the same show in New Orleans during March (an amazing show, by the way), I leaned over and told my friends, “believe it or not – in 15 minutes Bob will be out of the theater.” They were shocked (for the same reasons you mentioned), but they were at least forewarned!

  12. Michael K. Eidman

    Not sure how a musical critic attends a show by someone of Dylan’s stature but is oblivious to his recent, acclaimed album.

  13. moseskravitz

    I think I get the bottom line. No one should have been able to buy a ticket without signing an affidavit that they have listened to latest recording

  14. Anonymous

    Eccentric and Sublime. Classic Dylan behavior. I did not recognize one song but loved every minute of the music. The band definitely coddled him, but he is 81 after all. When he stepped out from behind his piano as if for justification ( see… it’s really me, I am really here. ) he almost looked like a puppet on a string. Bob Dylan has never been warm and social and never will be. I didn’t expect and encore, a good evening, or a goodbye. Not having phones to use ( I love taking photos and I missed that ) was epic and reminded me of simpler times. We actually communicated with our neighbors and watch the performance real time with no distractions. It was so nice to watch a Legend. I never forget the experience.
    (7th row, smack dap in the middle seat)

    1. Wow, nice seat! I thought of the puppet thing, too, but endearingly. When he did it the first time, I got the binos out and checked him out. Then I just got a kick out of it later. Yes, enjoyed every minute of the music too – even though it was not what I expected, as I stated. That’s Dylan!

  15. joefinnerty

    Hi everyone,
    I’ve seen Dylan four times in Ireland: once in Tramore, Co. Waterford in the mid-1990s; then in Galway in the early 2000s (sorry I can’t be more specific); then in the Marquee in Cork City, 2011; and most recently, in a double gig with Neil Young in Kilkenny, 2019.
    The lack of engagement with the audience has been a constant, as has his mostly commendable refusal to be a ‘human jukebox’. What was disappointing for me (and my good wife) at the 2019 gig, was his banjaxed voice: it was often a ‘phlegmy gurgle’, as an English reviewer suggested. And fekkit, he could have thrown in an oul’ crowdpleaser!!
    Joe F

    1. Hi Joe – yes, in 2019 period his voice was awful. I saw him in a big arena, and the speakers were too loud – and there was distortion. You could just make out that he was singing, but not much more than that. That is different now. The volume is down, the sound carries well (probably depending on the venue) and his songs are surprisingly melodic. The music is simple, but the melody grows on you, and as a result it’s a whole new Dylan. I recommend you go back “if you get close to him.”

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