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The beat goes on for these oldies

Bob Dylan / Willie Nelson
Marcus Amphitheatre
Milwaukee, WI
July 1, 2009
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson

Review by John Halverson
Willie file photo by Jason Squires
Dylan photo - publicity

The old and the really old performed at Summerfest Wednesday night. Bob Dylan, 68 and Willie Nelson, 76, showed both young and old that they've barely missed a beat.

The biggest difference between the two is that Willie-who opened for Bob-played exactly the same songs he's sang the last 20 years in exactly the same way, while Dylan, did many of his standards but in entirely new ways. Even their voices aged differently. Willie's sounds exactly like it always has. Dylan's has even deepened and roughened like an old black blues singer. But his familiar, biting modulations have kept rocking on.

Neither interacted much with the audience, except to introduce their band members, and neither tried to prance around the stage. Nor did they perform together. But that's just as well. Willie was same old same old; Dylan keeps on growing. Willie did throw his trademark red bandana to the crowd but he looked old doing it. Dylan, on the other hand, showed he's still into the music but in much more subtle ways-a sly smile when a band mate did an especially interesting riff, or the dip of a shoulder when he enjoyed what he was doing on the keyboard.

They must both be sick of singing the oldies, but while Willie does them all the same, Bob can't help but reinterpret. That's both bad and good. Bad because Dylan's favorites didn't always sound as good as the originals. But good because it shows his remarkable creativity hasn't lost a beat. As he grows older, he just finds new ways.

To be singing so long, so well, both old timers were worth seeing on the Milwaukee stage. We won't see them or their kind much longer.

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