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Dylan In Chicago

Would love to show a collection of videos from Bob Dylan's show here Friday night but - with one exception, as we shall see - they simply do not exist. Apparently Bob is quite strict about such things. What a dick. Because according to the critics - as we shall see - the show was an amazing triumph.

Now, I'm a huge Dylan fan. I happen to believe he is the greatest artist of all time, with the possible exception of William Shakespeare. But I have had absolutely no interest in his last half-dozen records or so, what we might call his Starbucks era. Because if you can't get them there, you ought to be able to.

Seems to me the music has been rudimentary and his voice, once perhaps the most underrated and unfairly, ignorantly maligned instrument in rock history, is totally shot.

Let's take a look.

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This is the one video that has surfaced, as far as I can tell.

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"Bob Dylan is 71, and on recent tours, time seemed to be catching up with him," Greg Kot wrote in the Tribune.

"The voice has deteriorated steadily, he no longer plays the guitar much while reportedly struggling with arthritis, and his demeanor has occasionally bordered on indifferent, if not hostile. Despite playing to a two-thirds full United Center on Friday, he performed without video screens (unlike just about every other arena performer you could name) to bring the action closer to the folks in the balconies."

Sounds about right.

"But Dylan mustered his 'A' game for this concert, or as close to 'A' as he can get anymore. No, the voice has not suddenly undergone a transformation. But he was singing with more spirit and clarity than I'd seen in years. He opened with a fierce blues instrumental, leading his crack six-piece band on guitar. Then he settled in behind a grand piano and the real action began."

Really? Wow. Sounds like an amazing show. But that "Ballad of a Thin Man" performance was the 12th song of a 14-song set (plus one encore). He's supposed to have been in his groove at this point.

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"'Ballad of a Thin Man' was turned inside out through heavy reverb that made Dylan sound like he was being backed by Howlin' Wolf," Dave Hoekstra wrote in the Sun-Times. Maybe you had to be there.

Hoekstra had very little else to say about Friday night's show in his review, which was more about Dylan's music supposedly originates from the Mississippi River with some commentary on guest Mark Knopfler to pad things out.

Coverage by the Examiner's resident Dylan freak, Harold Lepidus, focused on the mystery opener, which he finally determined was "Sweet Home Chicago." Lame.

Alas, Dylan's whole set list seems uninspired. As epic as they are, it's hard to believe he's still carting around "Tangled Up In Blue," "All Along The Watchtower," "Like A Rolling Stone," and "Highway 61 Revisited" on yet another incarnation of the Never-Ending Tour. Maybe those are songs his voice can still rasp out.

Harsh, I know, and I trust Kot's reviewing, I'm just sayin'. And remember, again, Dylan is my musical hero. He's earned a shit-ton of latitude. But c'mon. Enough with defining Dylan down.

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See also: Chicago Does Dylan.

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Comments welcome.

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1. From Larry Rand:

Don't know about "live," but I like the way Dylan sings on "Duquesne Whistle" (jeez I hate French spelling); after going through his Leonard Cohen With Laryngitis phase, he's settled into Neo-Satchmo. It just wouldn't be a Dylan vocal if it were not disconcerting; his singing has bothered me for about 50 years. It worked amazingly well with Sixties rock, but otherwise has been some of the weirdest caterwauling in the history of pop music.

DW is also a very interesting song melodically and chordally, with the backup band playing a two-chord blues riff against what is essentially a country swing, circle of fifths chord progression. I like it a lot, except for spelling it.



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Posted on November 13, 2012


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