A funny thing happened at Bob DylanConcert at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach: It was dark…really dark. But only on stage; in the auditorium, the house lights remained on, just a little dim, for the entire show. It was a first for most of us, even with thousands of gigs under our belt. Was it accommodation for latecomers, as seemed likely at first? (These days, Dylan continues at 8:05, and if you go past the merchandise line, you won’t be seated until the next break.) No, they never got off, and when some audience member who considered it a killer of ambiance asked the ushers what was going on, they were told that it was at the request of the artist.
Reports said the same thing happened during the previous tour’s stop in San Diego. Did it have anything to do with making sure no one was secretly filming the show, just after some footage from a previous date leaked, although attendees were required to lock phones in pouches Yondr on every date? Or did Dylan just decide that some of the recent material dominating the show is so thematically dark that shy crowds could benefit from, you know, a nightlight? It is not the first time in 60 years of career that certain decisions can remain impenetrable.
The irony – and you have to think it was intentional – was that the stage itself was darker than any other spot on the 3,000-seat terrace. The way this “Rough and Rowdy Ways” tour (which started on the East Coast last fall) was put together, Dylan starts the show completely in the shadows, playing electric guitar alongside his band for the only time all night, before stepping forward and standing in front of a dimly lit piano, where he will spend the rest of the night. At center stage, guitarists Bob Britt and Doug Lancio get the most lighting, while Dylan gets about the same tension as drummer Charley Drayton, bassist Tony Garnier and pedal player Donnie Herron, also on the side. Every few song breaks, Dylan will step into what passes for a spotlight in the middle of the stage, striking a pose as he takes the applause, challenging you to decide if he looks more like a lover or a fighter. And then it’s back to its position with practically candle-lit keys.
Eventually, maybe with the house lit up, there might be some sort of metaphor to adopt here: Bob Dylan sees us better than we can see him.
Heavy, right? Go ahead, take a moment to soak up the depth.
Even though the power varies when Dylan comes to your town, the music itself could be described as impressionistic, with group arrangements that rarely draw attention to just one player at a time, and all improvising to the extent that the 12-bar blues allows it. with the possible exception of bassist Garnier (the longest-serving member of Dylan’s touring unit, having spent over 30 years), who more than anyone is the anchor of the ensemble. Of course, the chief improviser is Dylan, whose piano parts may straddle the fine line between being a little quirky and deeply lovable, and who isn’t likely to sing the same line the same way two times in consecutive shows, but who seems to reinvent her own language every night out of a desire to explore, without curing boredom, treating her voice like the beautiful jazz instrument that it is.
Dylan is emphasizing a new touring album for perhaps the first time since his gospel era of 1979-80 (when, of course, for a period he only played new material, having momentarily dropped the profane). “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” released two years ago, makes up just over 50% of the set, accounting for nine of the 17 selections. And overall, those picks haven’t changed from night to night, which is another difference from almost all of Dylan’s previous tours, when the idea of a setlist etched in the marble would have seemed anathema to Deadhead fans who had been following him since the show. to show. Anecdotal evidence gleaned from talking to people on the terrace indicates that he still has a bunch of those late-night followers – and, surprisingly, they don’t even seem disappointed that the song recap doesn’t vary each night. They were ecstatic over the past two weeks when, for a few gigs beginning in San Francisco, Dylan replaced that tour’s usual show-closer, “Every Grain of Sand,” with a less heavenly cover of “Friend of the Devil” from the Grateful Dead. .” But in Long Beach, “Grain” had been restored and the show was locked again. No matter. While these loyal customers are guaranteed not to get a selection of generic songs most nights, they feel that every moment feels like a wild card.
“Rough and Rowdy Ways” itself is a deeply impressionistic – read: mysterious – album despite being packed with more specific lyrical detail than has ever been crammed into a single Dylan record in his career, it’s still a puzzle to figure out how (or if) they all fit together. So if you want to go beyond the simple melodic enjoyment of Dylan’s line readings, you can entertain yourself during the show wondering if the different twist he puts on gives any further clues as to where he came from, being given that the songs may even seem contradictory. When he performs something like “Crossing the Rubicon” live, does he want to portray himself as the seeker who sings something as sweet as “I feel the Holy Spirit within / See the light that freedom gives “? Or the violent miscreant who, moments earlier, threatened to “cut you with a crooked knife”? (In Dylan’s multiverse, perhaps the Holy Spirit even has a penchant for the most heinous murder.)
Of the eight oldies who fill the current setlist, only “Gotta Serve Somebody” is a famous man-in-the-street “hit,” though picks like “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” and “When I Paint My Masterpiece” are enough to make the patron happy with even a passing acquaintance with catalog favourites. It has been speculated by some writers covering earlier gigs on the tour that he avoided galvanizing barn burners as ” Highway 61″ because he doesn’t want them to eclipse new material. If that’s true – and it probably is – it’s not necessarily paramount to lower the energy of old ones in order to elevate deceptively mostly soft newbies. It’s more that there’s a brilliant quality to the way this set has been crafted so that the songs are vaguely one-piece, a guideline that would be marred if “Subterranean Homesick Blues” suddenly appeared.
There, I said it: “Like a Rolling Stone” would have been an absolute buzz-kill on this show. Thanks, Bob, for turning it down.
It’s almost comical to compare what Dylan is doing at 81 with what Paul McCartney did in the stadiums just on the cusp of 80. One is a people-pleaser, and the other is a walking Rorschach test, or hall of mirrors. But they’re putting on what could be the two most reliable big shows of 2022, despite flying or busing from opposite ends of the solar system. You don’t want McCartney to look his age, but to challenge him. On the other hand, it’s fantastic that Dylan puts on what absolutely amounts to a rock ‘n’ roll show where nonetheless you box believe how old he is, as the depth of his performance is heightened by our awareness of the years he recorded, adding to the palpable mythos already present in the music. The barely death-defying danger of “Crossing the Rubicon” or the giddy fountain of youth of “Coming Up” – listen, it’s OK to want both of our favorite octogenarians.
Wondering how good he sings these days? Well, about as wonderfully as he did in the 21st century, as long as you don’t expect to hear his ‘Lay Lady Lay’ voice or even ‘Slow Train’. It’s the voice of ravaged experience – but it rings pretty one, sometimes too. (Credit, if you will, to the three albums he dedicated to covering Frank Sinatra-era standards, one of which, “Melancholy Mood,” appears late in this setlist.) His voice goes from a sweet pampering at the suggestion of fury – and good humor too. It’s a tour where he can catch him laughing, like he did in Long Beach at the end of “Masterpiece,” like he or the band just told a good joke. There’s enough clarity in his singing these days that Long Beach audiences will be there with audible responses to certain lines, like applause during “I Contain Multitudes” for the mention of “those bad British boys, the Rolling Stones”. (Even “The Size of Your Dick Will Get You Nowhere,” from the otherwise doom-laden “Black Rider,” chuckled.)
The later material was mostly rendered fairly faithfully to the “Rough and Rowdy” album versions – with the exception of “Key West”, which by all accounts got a few different arrangements on tour, and who was getting yet another completely different one on a Monday, loyal fans reported. Old stuff… yeah, it won’t sound like the record, but you knew that. In true “Never Ending Tour” style, “Gotta Serve Somebody” didn’t receive a big round of applause until the chorus kicked in, unfamiliar as it sounds, with the first verse rendered practically a cappella as both guitarists added a few stingers for a good measure of set up. (Lyrical changes were to be made there, not all of them easily understood.) “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” had what amounted to a new – and satisfying! – melody and rhythm, even before its fast pace slowed down for a halftime finale. “Every Grain of Sand” didn’t stray far from its waltz tempo as it closed the show, but Dylan added a new counterpoint piano riff halfway through.
The big takeaway from this show, and probably all on the tour: At 81, Dylan is playing his Dark Ages, and yet, in his own way, he’s playing deep in the fields of the Lord. As for those gigs, even with the near blackout on stage allowing Dylan to let the mystery hang in the air, it’s not dark yet. It doesn’t even happen.
Bob Dylan’s “Rough and Rowdy Ways Tour” Setlist:
1. Watch the river flow
2. Most likely, you go your way (and I will go mine)
3. I contain multitudes
4. False Prophet
5. When I paint my masterpiece
6. I’ll be your baby tonight
7. Black Rider
8. My own version of you
9. Crossing the Rubicon
10. Being alone with you
11. Key West (Pirate Philosopher)
12. I have to serve someone
13. I decided to give myself to you
14. Melancholy Mood
15. Mother of the Muses
16. Goodbye Jimmy Reed
17. Every Grain of Sand
The best of variety