November 4, 2018
Review by Blind Willie
To take in a Noble laureate Bob Dylan show these days is to experience
a spoken-word poetry performance backed with a crack, technically
proficient band. Yet Dylan refrained from saying one word to the audience
at the Charleston show - to the point of not even introducing the band.
Meanwhile, smartphone picture-taking was prohibited. Contrast that
repressive policy with that of the Grateful Dead's encouragement of
tapers to plug into their soundboard to create personal tapes of the
Dead's live music. After all, Dylan was a short-term collaborator of the
Dead, and has written with the Dead's Robert Hunter.
One gets the sense that much of Dylan's audience these days is in
attendance to witness a legend, rather than being ardent, knowledgeable
fans. To wit; there are many complaints about being unable to understand
his vocals. The "tourist" effect tends to drain energy from the event, as
show-goers sit on their hands. There is no dancing and muted reaction,
putting a damper on the celebration for those accustomed to a "rock"
Likewise, the anti-septic, 2,300 capacity North Charleston arts center is
built upon endless seating rows without aisle breaks. This means, that to
relieve your bladder or get a beverage during the non-intermission show,
you must crawl across endless patrons, stomping their feet as you try to
gain access to refreshments and relief.
Dylan, iconic presence that he is, seems intent on making the future part of
the past. Witness his six "Tempest" tunes included in the show, versus an
equal amount of "classic," 60s fare. And oh yeah, the show was largely
characterized by Dylan's spoken word over the band's repetitive riffs;
although truth be told, they can be delivered with fire when called upon.
To wit; highlights and low lights:
- "Things Have Changed." High energy, with Dylan's snarling vocals to
good effect, along with rollicking instrumentals. Jaded, angst-ridden
outlook served up with stinging verve. - "Simple Twist of Fate."
Dylan's persona of poet/cabaret crooner served "Fate" well, as the
eloquent verses resonated with poignant beauty. Likewise, the break-out
of his harmonica was a sparkling addition to the show, with its clean,
piercing notes soaring through the hall with exquisite vibrance.
- "Cry a While." A sonic highlight, as Charlie Sexton's guitar produced
an eerie caterwaul enlivening the show with fiery power.
- "When I Paint My Masterpiece": This elegiac, whimsical chestnut was
well-suited for Dylan's piano and droll vocal delivery. With the band
turned down low, Dylan's mastery was on full display, accented by his
exquisite harp playing. - "Tryin' to Get to Heaven": This gem of
subtlety and grace was butchered by the star's ham-fisted arrangement
and croaking delivery. - "Scarlet Town": Haunting, with inestimable
lines such as "set 'em Joe for my flat-chested junkie whore." One of
the few that worked under eccentric staging and delivery. - "Pay in
Blood": A very lyrically and musically powerful song, which again
suffered under the "speak-don't-sing"/understated backing band
approach. - "Like a Rolling Stone": An energy-charged anthem
transformed into tepid recitation. - "Early Roman Kings": This off-beat
blues romp from "Tempest" was performed in refreshingly uptempo
fashion; its swampy coda providing a delirious, raucous refrain. -
"Don't think Twice, It's All Right": With Dylan spot-lit and blowing
soulful harp, this ditty effectively targeted the heart. - "Thunder on
the Mountain": Rollicking Chuck Berryesque rock delivered with panache,
passion and power. - "Gotta Serve Somebody": Majestic and potent in its
transcendent, incandescent, evangelical fervor. "Gotta Serve" melded
all the best elements of churning, chugging rock; with Bob engineering
the most explosive performance to come down the track on this night, to
end the regular part of the show.
- "Long and Wasted Years": This wandering lament was among the limited
number of songs to equal or surpass the recorded versions on this
night. Wistful, remorseful, harrowing in its delivery. - "Blowin' in
the Wind": Donnie Herron's violin provided symphonic delight on the
anthemic "Wind," providing a regal sound for a song that, despite its
profound legacy, can at times come across as overblown (pun intended)
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