My friend Zenon and I drove down to Lethbridge on Saturday to catch Bob Dylan and his band. Lethbridge is a small Canadian city located in southern Alberta. It’s the heartland, actually, a small, tiny, sensible and scrubbed clean city in the heart of the Bible belt. Hardly the kind of place that you would expect to catch Mr. Dylan and friends, but if we have learned one thing about Bob Dylan over the decades, surely it is that we never know quite what to expect from him.
This was the third time I’ve seen Bob Dylan in concert, going back a mere ten years ago when I saw him in Calgary with my friend and long time Dylan fan Bob White. (I say “mere” because this is just a sliver of the time that Dylan has been playing and performing. But you know that. In fact, a guy in the row ahead of us on Saturday was seeing him for the 24th time going back many many years!)
I guess the general impression out there is that while Bob Dylan may be one of the great poets and songwriters of our era, as a performer he has the reputation of being “uneven,” to be generous; remote, detached, disengaged, even cold are adjectives one hears typically used to describe a Dylan performance.
Well, maybe it’s something about the air in Lethbridge, or maybe he’s simply more comfortable in a smaller venue (he’s playing enough of them these days – the show in Lethbridge came a day after a show in Lloyminster, en route to Cranbrook, BC). Because say what you will, this was a very generous and even charismatic performance we witnessed on Saturday evening.
Zenon and I were sitting close enough to appreciate the real connection between Dylan and his band and the audience, especially when some of the audience broke the barrier and stood on the floor at the front of the stage. There was a constant connection from that point on, and we really came away from the experience feeling we somehow had had the chance to get to know Bob Dylan, especially his very sly yet ingratiating sense of humor. To say that at times that he was vamping for us is hardly an exaggeration.
My friend Zenon, who is a disc jockey for a rock station (Q107 in Calgary), pointed out that some bands (ie The Rolling Stones) really stop moving forward at some point and start becoming cover bands for themselves. Easy enough to do when you have so many hits. I would assume that most people just want to hear their hits the same way they have been hearing them for decades now. Change is never good, in such a case.
Yet Bob Dylan is known for constantly tinkering with his own songs, some of them which are essentially the anthems of a generation, as they say. In fact, in concert, it can take a minute or so until you realize that the song you are listening to is actually something as iconic as “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The words give it away, but not the melody or in some cases even the rhythm. It’s all been made over again. It’s all now new. And if you can go with the fact that an artist would alter his own work, even when that work is an acknowledged masterpiece, then a Bob Dylan concert is the best place in the world to be.
If you can’t go with it, and want him to keep repeating the same old thing yet again, you might as well stay at home and play the disc. Or the vinyl if you have it. And you probably do.
Just don’t go to his concert hoping that he hasn’t moved on, because he has. I’m sharing a video at the end of this post to give a sense how one of his great songs has evolved over the years. It’s probably morphed many times since this was recorded. Why not? It’s his own damned song.
I admire him for it, for this restlessness. This was one of the best, and not to damn with faint praise, but most interesting concerts I have been to in a long time. Dylan was on and charming and the band was great. And in Lethbridge, no less!
What more could you ask for?
Thanks for reading . . . .