History was in the air Sunday when Bob Dylan kicked off another leg of his never-ending tour at the Moore Theatre, and as far as tour openers are concerned it couldn’t have gone much better.
The band was tight, Dylan was animated (or at last animated for Dylan) and the acoustics were perfect. He even picked up the guitar a few times throughout the evening, something he rarely does nowadays. Those were some of the things that gave a feeling of significance to watching a historical figure like Dylan perform in a historical setting like the Moore, even though the man formerly known as Robert Zimmerman passed his point of serious social and cultural impact a few decades back.
The set list strayed from hits and leaned on deeper album cuts and some new material. “Shooting Star” and “Not Dark Yet” both sounded amazing even all the way up at the top of the Moore’s steep second balcony. “Highway 61 Revisited” took on a quicker pace and Dylan’s cadence lent itself to a rocking rearrangement complete with a keyboard breakdown near the end. The show’s only flaw was Dylan’s voice. But I’m not breaking any music criticism ground here by calling out Bob Dylan’s indecipherable lyrics. Understanding his gravelly, growling singing voice live is a bit of an obstacle to overcome but it can also make the concert experience a little more fun. Case and point, I actually giggled when I thought Dylan sang “Get away from these jellybeans and these daggum women who rule” during “Nettie Moore.” What’s so wrong with jellybeans Bob? (A quick Google search shows the actual lyrics to be “Get away from those demagogues and those bad-luck women who stick like glue,” in case you’re wondering.) Maybe if Dylan would have sung a song or two from Christmas in the Heart, his upcoming record of holiday standards due Oct. 13, his words would have been clearer. But probably not since this is Bob Dylan we’re talking about.
It was also nice to hear Dylan hasn’t let the fact that he’s past his prime of penning powerful folk anthems get in the way of writing good music. His 2006 album Modern Times, the record that spawned “Nettie Moore,” was at the top of many critical best-of lists that year and his latest effort, this year’s Together Through Life, reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts upon its release in April. Two songs from the latter made appearances during Dyaln’s 16-song performance. The album’s opener “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’” came early and helped set the show’s rocking bluesy tempo. “Jolene,” one of the best tracks on Together Through Life, ended the night and like most of the songs during Dylan’s near two-hour set it featured some searing guitar work from Charlie Sexton.
Sexton, along with Dylan’s loose demeanor, was one of the night’s highlights. He knew when to take the spotlight while playing lead on classics like “Highway 61 Revisited” and graciously stepped aside when Dylan left from his post behind the keyboard to take center stage on the harmonica, guitar or microphone. This is Sexton’s second tour of duty with Dylan — he was previously in Dylan’s band between 1999 and 2002 — and Sunday marked his first show returning as lead guitarist. The chemistry between Dylan and Sexton was noticeable as the two would strut toward one another and play guitar side-by-side or Sexton would jam next to Dylan while he blew on the harp. Dylan even showed he could hold his own on guitar during “High Water (For Charlie Patton)” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” while accompanying Sexton.
Dylan seemed to have a little bit of swagger in his step and it was nice to see him have fun. During “Ballad of a Thin Man” Dylan raised his arms from his sides and stretched them out toward the crowd while singing. He swayed back and forth when he played harmonica and he even did a little bit of hip shaking while tapping his toes to the beat from behind the keys. He and his five band members — Sexton, bassist Tony Garnier, drummer George Recile, multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron and guitarist Stu Kimball — were dressed in black and the stage setup was minimal with bright white lighting and the occasional yellow and orange hues used for effect. The approach complimented the music well, allowing the sounds from the stage to demand attention.
The crowd was diverse in age, ranging from Baby Boomers clinging to every indecipherable word out of the mouth of their generation’s musical poet laureate to fans in their 20s and teens who might have been turned on to Dylan thanks to the recent popularity spike in folk music locally, due to the likes of Fleet Foxes and others. Or maybe the younger set showed up with hopes of hearing a Christmas carol.
Bob Dylan and his band perform at WaMu Theatre tonight at 7:30. Tickets cost $47.50.
Gonna Change My Way of Thinking
Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
Lonesome Day Blues
I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)
Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
Not Dark Yet
High Water (For Charley Patton)
When the Deal Goes Down
Highway 61 Revisited
Thunder on the Mountain
Ballad of a Thin Man
Like A Rolling Stone
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