Story by Tony BonyataOn his recent stop through Milwaukee, Bob Dylan showed that at 60 years-old he's still got a thing or two to prove to not only his audience, but himself as well.
Dylan, who's been touring relentlessly for the last two years along with his loyal bandmates, mixed together a stew of old and new, acoustic and electric, and hits and obscurities. While drummer David Kemper, bassist Tony Garnier and guitarist Charlie Sexton provided a rib-sticking meat and roux to the stockpot, it was the multi-instrumental talents of Larry Campbell, who jumped from mandolin, guitar, keyboards, banjo and slide guitar, that added a spicy kick to the evening's musical gumbo.
Clad in a dark suit and a thicket of sandy-gray tumbleweed hair that threatened to be blown to the next town with a strong gust of wind, Dylan was in top form - from acoustic and electric guitars (which he held like a homestead guarding shotgun) to harmonica and vocals. Despite the fact that his lyrics were almost indistinguishable for the novice, his biting inflections and sly phrasings spoke louder than words. And if that wasn't enough, his body language, with pantomime legs that kept searching for an open bar rail along with his cigarette snuffing feet, helped give further meaning to his songs.
One of the interesting aspects of seeing a Dylan show is, that unlike other trad-rock acts like The Stones and now even U2, who play verbatim setlists through an entire tour, he drastically mixes up the songs from show to show, making each one a treat to see. While he has handful of staples that he performs for most shows on this tour, such as the country-fried gospel cover of Fred Rose's "Wait for The Light to Shine," as well as a few welcome numbers from his latest masterpiece "Love and Theft," his songs were decidedly split between one full decade - the '60s - and his most recent work.
And it turned out to be just the ticket for a crowd that was equally as far spread in age. Surprisingly, for every fan that was around during his Gaslight days in Greenwich Village in the early '60s, there was a youth in their twenties, apparently looking to latch onto anyone or anything that has any connection with the Grateful Dead. Considering that the majority of his strongest work was done in the '60s, as well as the material from his last two albums, (although mention should be made of his '70s gem "Blood on the Tracks"), the setlist couldn't have hit a stronger cord with his audience.
While newer numbers such as the dusty electric bluegrass of "High Water (for Charlie Patton)," rousing rockabilly of "Summer Days," dangerous powder-keg blues of "Lonesome Blues" and greasy rocker "Honest With Me," the latter two which were a couple of the evening's highlights, stayed relatively close to the originals from "Love and Theft," practically every older number was given a drastic overhaul from the originals giving them a fresh, invigorating sound. And with his firing squad of strings taking these classics someplace new, nobody was left hankering for the original takes.
Dylan treated newer fans to old favorites such as "Lay Lady Lay," "Blowin' in the Wind," "Highway 61 Revisited," "Like A Rolling Stone" and "All Along The Watchtower," which was actually closer to Jimi Hendrix's treatment than his own original, while delivering harder-to-come-by goods such as "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," "Drifter's Escape," featuring a murderous harmonca solo from Dylan, and "Mama, You Been On My Mind" for the well-seasoned Bob fan. The evening may have weighed heavy on his '60s material, but as a performer and songwriter Dylan proved, as he enters the throws of old age, that some his best material may still be yet to come.
Great Dylan seats here!
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