When I was a camp counsellor in Webster, Wisconsin way back in the last millennium, I never would have believed that the first time I would see Bob Dylan live would be years later at a casino showroom north of Toronto.
And yes, it was him and not a traveling tribute show.
His performance was amazing. His voice, always like an old man’s, was even more so, filled with grit and gravel. He played his songs, old and new, with a country twang (which I loved).
To borrow from Shelley Duval’s rock critic character in Annie Hall, the experience was ‘transplendent’. What I mean is it was beyond words, Dylan’s words mostly. And that gave the concert its life. Sometimes it felt like he wasn’t singing in English. Maybe he was doing the entire show in scat. My friend Joey Ax said, ‘he’s singing in tongues’.
And his phrasing… The way the words flowed together gave a new meaning to the ones you could understand. He could give a course on hyphenation.
Dylan started off on electric guitar, switched to keyboard and played most of the show with his back to my side of the audience. (So did I really see him?)
The three songs that most stood out for me were:
– ‘Just Like a Woman’ – how did he make his harmonica speak English more clearly than he did?
– ‘When the Deal Goes Down’ – something new that is so powerful you almost remembered the words the first time you heard it.
– ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ – played in such a way that it was familiar though almost unrecognizable.
That was the encore. And you wonder, how many more times can Dylan sing this song?
When it’s this different… I guess we all know the answer to that.