Washington, DC

The Anthem

November 14, 2017

[Roger Catlin], [David Mendick], [James Mahoney]

Review by Roger Catlin

“Forever Young” is not a song Bob Dylan played in his first show at
the big new rock club The Anthem in D.C. Tuesday, but it is something he

Who else has so dominated American music for half a century, requiring one
to venture out to see his shows with his band year after year not
necessarily to hear new music, but to see how the old ones have evolved
even more, even since the last time around.

Dylan at 76 does seems younger - his hair no longer hidden beneath a hat
but grown out to a brown ‘fro again; his voice as clear as he wants to
make it (its cragginess here and there, we see, is a choice).

Behind a baby grand piano rather than an electric keyboard — and never
coming close to touching a guitar, something I’m still not quite
adjusting to — he dominated early solos in a setlist that has been
substantially the same for much of the last year. Charlie Sexton didn’t
seem to weigh in with short, stinging guitar solos until later in the

That made the sound of the songs are different, which will happen when
your lead instruments are piano,  pedal steel and tom tom.

Entering the vast Anthem stage to the sounds of guitarist Stu Kimball,
improvising “O Shenandoah,” the band kicked in with “Things Have
Changed,” the 2000 song that earned him the Oscar he appears to have on
display on an amp.

The song seemed propelled on kind of a cowboy beat that seemed to fit with
the matching Western suits the band wore (black hats on the left, hatless
on the right).

It’s an occupational hazard to pluck out lyrics of a Dylan song to
clarify what’s happening. In this case it was “I used to care, but
things have changed.” And in the second song, a further kiss-off to
those who would be too fervent a fan: “I’m not the one you want babe,
I’m not the one you need.” Add this to the fact that he never speaks
to the audience or acknowledge them in any way and you might think he
doesn’t like what he’s doing.

The music would undo that theory, though, as he is having fun — as he
has throughout his career — keeping his songs alive by changing them
constantly. You can’t step in the same river twice, and that applies
here: The lyrics are the stones, the music the water rushing by at
different paces with different effects on different days.

While he’s been showcasing the solid songs on his last album of original
songs, "Tempest," which is now five years old, even those selections are
getting different arrangements.

Other songs from this century changed even more: “Summer Days” was a
fiddle-led country song; “Thunder on the Mountain” had a Ventures-like
“Batman” meets “Wipeout” feel — with a drum solo!

“Honest with Me” had an undertow that suggested the under frame of the
Beach Boys, “Dance, Dance, Dance” era.

I’m not complaining. But it is an adjustment to hear the old favorite
“Tangled Up in Blue,” after years as a guitar-led tune in concert, as
a 50s style countrypolitan song with a peppier pace, and led now by piano
and pedal steel (which, like the fiddle, and eventual mandolin and banjo
in other songs, were handled by the indispensable Donnie Herron).

The latest recordings by Dylan, of course, have been his agreeable
adaptations of old American standards, on 2015's "Shadows in the
Night*,"  *last
year’s "Fallen Angels" and this year’s three disc overkill,

As odd as this still might seem to those who have latched onto earlier
incarnations of Dylan, his heart is into these little gems and, removing
himself from piano to take center stage with a standup mic and some
swagger, he uses a voice that has more clarity and nuance than he has used
all evening on things like “Why Try to Change Me Now” (another
suggestion to fans), “Melancholy Mood,” “Once Upon a Time” and the
super-timely “Autumn Leaves” (both for the season and his time in

Dylan has been a serious part of American music for more than a half
century, he recognizes the simple sublimity of a beautiful tune paired
with a heartbreaking lyric. These were by no mean arcane throwbacks; they
were show highlights.

I’ve been spending the week taking in yet another well curated dive into
the vaults, "Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 /1979-1981,"
covering his trilogy of Christian albums and its subsequent tour. Then, as
now, he got flack for going to a whole different area, which now sounds
great in retrospect. And then as now, he was enough of a showman to bring
back some of the old favorites of the crowd, albeit with often different

So the Washington show ended the way the London show does in the new
collection, with a “Ballad of a Thin Man” that may or may not be
addressing the audience in its refrain, “There’s something happening
here, but you don’t know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?”

Opening the show as she did the last time Dylan was in these parts, last
summer at Wolf Trap, Mavis Staples showed how wonderful her gruff gospel
voice still remains in a short set that blended old Staples Singers
standards with uplifting tunes from a new recording.

She also got the crowd involved to sing and clap along to her fine trio
and two backup singers. By dropping “Freedom Highway” from the set
Tuesday, though, there was the missed opportunity to hear two songs sung
associated with the March on Washington, held a mile away and 55 years
ago, their “Freedom Highway” and the first song in Dylan’s encore,
“Blowin’ in the Wind,” which was sung at the event.

Roger Catlin


Review by David Mendick

A few weeks ago Foo Fighters christened this beautiful new arena. Last
night Bob Dylan baptized the place. Wow. What a show. I saw Sinatra many
times and Dylan hasn’t just embraced his great songs but also the class
and elegance of his live performances. Try to listen to the classic
Sinatra albums of the middle to late 50’s such as In the Wee Small Hours
arranged by Nelson Riddle. Bob Dylan clearly gets the genius of Sinatra.
It was all about - - - - timing. The Sinatra songs killed. This was a
great audience. They knew what to expect and loved it. Some of the reworks
were odd. If you heard Tangled up in Blue it’s cos you were paying
attention. Now let’s talk about Desolation Row. He was smiling
throughout as the concert peaked - time froze, Trump never existed and
Dylan helped us forget everything and take us to a place only He can take
us. Think I might follow the tour bus up north and meet up again with old
Dylan friends Howard X and Nomi. Many thanks to Gabi for sharing the
experience. And let’s never forget - thanks Bob. 

David Mendick


Review by James Mahoney

The new Anthem, located on the river in DC’s most upscale 21st century
living & frolicking zone for Millennials, is a dark concrete & steel
cavern, with two bars that only take credit cards on every floor (and
start shutting down before the encore…)  Like the 9:30 Club (which owns
it), the vast, nearly seatingless ground floor is where we stood, as Mavis
Staples and her spare, soulful band opened, with a set of solid
gospel/rock’n’roll music - & always a grace when you want the lead-on band
to just keep playing...

It’s never been wise, these years, to imagine that Bob Dylan will play one
of his songs in any way you expect, or even respect... His songs are
processes, not finished creations, and he’s being run by a restless force
within and beyond him that insists on it. Things Have Changed  may be the
first - and only - confessional, in the whole evening, which does end in
Ballad of a Thin Man, not exactly a happy tune. These “messages” telegraph
how Bob Dylan's been seeing the world for decades:  people are crazy,
times are strange… and things keep changing… so his songs do, as living
experiments.   And open-ended stories.

My friend Becky was fascinated by Bob’s presentation of the “Sinatra”
songs - his legs spread, his mic stand routine, his jacket, all reminded
her of Elvis Presley directly. Both the pose and the songs are passionate
reminders that history still exists, however invisibly - which has always
fiercely mattered, to Bob anyway.  These are resurrected songs, he’s said,
from times as abstractly distant as the late ’60’s are now becoming.

And so what if Tangled Up in Blue seemed awful (for me), along with Trying
to Get to Heaven?  The last six songs, from Desolation Row on out, were
masterpieces of live performance.  Bob sang every word in Desolation Row,
Thunder on the Mountain was powerfully transmogrified, Autumn Leaves
brought tears, Love Sick killed, Blowin’ in the Wind was unusually lovely
(sorry, Washington Post), and Ballad of a Thin Man? I first saw him play
that song 50 years ago, and it’s still alive. "How does it feel to be such
a freak?,” asks the geek.  Well, we’re still dealing with his impossible


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