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.