Review provided by John Whitehead: DYLAN AT THE CAPITOL Capitol Music Hall Wheeling, West Virginia April 28. 1997 Enwrapped in an off-white go-to-meeting suit circa 1875 West-of-the-Mississippi, Bob Dylan came out on stage with his six-piece band and, defying all expectations encrusted by nearly forty years of sullen, isolate performances, proceeded to have a good time. Or, he had as good a time as an undemonstrative iconoclast whose concert anthem "It Ain't Me, Babe" has always served as a consecrated wedge between himself and his audience can have (it is true that, though he seemed more at ease, he never spoke a word, not even to introduce and thank his band, who followed him all night with a pleasing mixture of respect and playfulness). Resting a funny, penguin-like paunch on his rhythm guitar between verses, he seemed at ease with himself, with his precarious place center-stage, and with a near-capacity Capitol Music Hall audience (well-represented by three generations of Dylan faithful) who only wanted to tell him that he could do no wrong. Dylan in 1997 seems at peace with large tracts of his song catalog, which is good news: at times in the past, he has grown suspicious of the pre-Newport Dylan, or pre-motorcycle-accident Dylan, or Woodstock Dylan, or Hurricane Carter/Joey Gallo Dylan who spent a couple of strange years co-writing with the otherwise-mortal Jacques Levy, who has slipped once again into obscurity. Yet from the outset, with a three-song overture that included "Absolutely Sweet Marie," "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" (an intentionally gracious concert-counterpoint to the more-typical sentiments of "It Ain't Me, Babe"), and an obligatory "All Along the Watchtower," Dylan gave hints that he is comfortable in his role, long his for the taking but only recently embraced, of elder statesman, granddaddy of rock attitude, conscience, and roots (he even, late in the show, did a modified duckwalk during the fine instrumental passage of "Ballad of a Thin Man"). Better late than never, Dylan seems finally to have recognized that, despite his Capitol Music Hall introduction as "Columbia Records' recording artist Bob Dylan," no one is expecting him to break new ground with his recordings. He's broken more ground than most builders; people come to see and hear Dylan these days to shower him with the approbation that, for many years, Dylan simply wouldn't accept. He's relaxed into middle-age, and it's provided a new level of rapport between Dylan and his audience. He still doesn't talk to us, but he seems to trust us enough to allow that he's having a good time. Hearing "Silvio," a middling studio rocker, in concert serves as an indicator of what has happened to Dylan as he's gotten older. Taking a cue from his late friend Jerry Garcia (who received tribute in "Alabama Getaway," the first encore), Dylan has begun writing songs he can take out on the road with him. Dylan and his band woke themselves up from a sleepy, two-ballad set with the rockin' opening chords, and the Capitol crowd caught a rare glimpse of the spotlit Dylan, smiling. Again, in "Ballad of a Thin Man," with its traditionally interior swagger and arch exclusivity undercut by his duckwalking and mugging (his face contorting into sudden, silly grinning, almost like a newborn with gas), Dylan suggested a new openness to his audience, offering them songs that might well once have been spat at them with the same contempt afforded Mr. Jones. And in "It Ain't Me, Babe," the second encore, Dylan gave us an unforseeably charming, down-home, somehow-affectionate reading of his most dismissive song, the legendary message to the Newport Folk Festival traditionalists and all the would-be acolytes thereafter. Between the neo-Nashville acoustic jamming in the breaks of "It Ain't Me, Babe" and the white, 10-gallon hat he donned for the final encore (a meticulously-sloppy take on "Rainy Day Women, #12 & 35"), Dylan was standing in what he knew was the Capitol of Country Music, speaking the musical language he knew we wanted to hear, and telling us how it feels, after all these years, to be a rolling stone.
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