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flag US - California - Full Moon 122 - 09/07/06

Bob Dylan
Pawtucket, McCoy Stadium, Rhode Island, 24.08.2006

Where is Bob Dylan when you need him? He's playing a nationwide tour of minor league ballparks, slopped over what sounds like a child's keyboard, playing the most unfathomable circus organ tones over his masterworks past and present...that's where. Behind him is a giant black and neon, sinister, magical eye drawn like something out of a Lord of the Rings movie poster, and in front of him is a baseball field full of accepting hippies and hipsters, young and old alike.

His stance is an obstacle, he's perpendicular to the audience (nearly disregarding one of theater's most pivotal laws) and his eyes are locked on his band-a band that he's called the best he's ever worked with. It's hard to tell how many drugs he was on when he either said that or when he was on tour with Robbie Robertson and the Band in 1966 but it could not have been that many. Looking at this hoarde of outlaws in all black attire surrounded in cloudy, surreal, neon lighting it's obvious the whole Tolkien/Wild West thing really isn't working. Yet the weirdness and distraction comes all down to that-it's all on the skin deep optical presentation, the audio presentation is however impossible to nit pick.

"Thunder on the Mountain" kicks off this concert as well as his latest and finest latter day album Modern Times. The performance of which will probably mark the only time in my life that I will see a 60 year old man vocalizing his fantasies about a female R&B singer 40 years his junior and will actually be accepted (or even expected) by a crowd of thousands. His pedophilic blues is a comfortingly stripped yet dirty blues that recalls a wiser, elder man than the boy who shouted political one-liners over 12 bars in Bringing it All Back Home.

Also, our grand statesman seems to lack all will to surprise and dismay listeners with the neo-Tom Waits, weirdo delta attitude that he began with on 1997's Time Out of Mind. He recluses inside of such crowd pleasers as "I Want You," "Tangled Up in Blue" and "Queen Jane Approximately" while maintains his artistic license in reconstructing the very DNA of his own best work. Freewheelin' solo numbers like "Masters of War" and "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" keep their respective attitudes, but Dylan's smart enough not to magnify those dispositions because he has six more pieces on the board to play around with. Yet equal energy is maintained in new clothes without exhausting potential. The balancing act of each song is the mark of experience and perfectionism. Anyone younger would've blown a fuse of excitement, and the bombast of melodrama would've taken over the work-as what frequently happens with any given Bright Eyes effort.

What's even more respectable is that he's not afraid of his own best work. Take for instance, the way Radiohead stays clear of OK Computer or how Kurt Cobain would probably still refrain from "Smells Like Teen Spirit" if he were alive today. With more balls than his offspring, Dylan encores with "Like A Rolling Stone" sounding like he's been waiting to sing it all night. He cowers into the deepest depths of the original, sexual, twenty-four year old angst that inspired the song to announce his best abandonment. Critics of Dylan's aged vocal cords beware this-he hits every note in the chorus just as spitefully as the day he recorded it.

This is probably the most accessible Dylan has ever been in his second (or third?) golden age. His wide eyed, hermit freakishness has eroded into the ultra-magical stage devices and that creepy, pencil-thin mustache he's been wearing for five odd years now. Thankfully, very musical figure who invented the idea of letting down your audience, makes approachability a list on his priorities. However, he wouldn't be Bob Dylan if he didn't do this on his own terms-he sings every song in his set a few beats behind, throwing off the unison chorus of thousands in front of him. Let's also ask ourselves: would anyone go to a Bob Dylan concert not expecting this? Not waiting for it to happen? Of course not-we want to be let down, we want to be abandoned.

With so much unintended, political abandonment around us (I'm not going to list the obvious Bush-era tragedies up for discussion) Mr. Zimmerman's songs remind us without preaching, there were times as dark as these and there were ways to conquer them. In those former dark times (i.e. The Cuban missile crisis), he was an early twenties wonder boy who tossed around the words "Talking World War III Blues" as a joke title to a cautionary folk ballad. Forty years and a few wars later journalists are actually discussing if the current state of events constitutes as a valid third World War. It can not be claimed even by the anti-hippies that this prophetic gentleman's title of cultural importance ended permanently in 1980. It continues. Bob Dylan is right where we need him-performing as he always has, left of center and making his intelligence subtly known. He may be a clerical figure, but he never preaches.

Copyright © 2006 Matthew DeMello e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Bob Dylan articles/reviews: Blonde On Blonde, Live at the Garde Arts Center, January 14th 1998, Modern Times, Bootleg Series Volume 4 .., Tell Tale Signs : The Bootleg Series Vol. 8, The Best Of The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12.

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