Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bob Dylan in Montana

This past Tuesday I traveled to Missoula to see Dylan. Here's my comments on the concert, also published at Bill Pagel's Boblinks website.

Just a few impressions of last night's excellent show in western Montana. I made the journey all the way from home in Seattle, nearly a thousand miles under my wheels in two days. But I suppose that's not far compared to the distance traveled by Jose from Bilbao, Catalonia, whom I met on the grass before the show. Bob clearly inspires some effort.

I liked the new band entrance, Stu first, already playing, followed by the other guys and finally Dylan. Very dramatic; it was a thrill to see the great Bard step out from behind the curtain, in the bright glare of a low sun, joining us once again. He wore reflective shades against the light and a broad brimmed hat, a dark jacket, white pants. From the first moment he was entirely present and communicative. It is a myth that Bob does not interact with his audience, just because he does not banter with small talk. He communicates a great deal with gesture and subtle facial expression. Open hands show appreciation and camaraderie, smiles and bemused eyes show his good humor. And this is in addition to the art, the reason we came, the deep communication of the songs. Under the wide Montana sky it is clear that Dylan is happy to play for us, and excited to jam with his stellar band.

As for those songs: Lately there has been a discussion on the boards about the darkness in the music, as if it is anything new, or as if it is a defining characteristic of the man himself. But since the beginning, Dylan has tinctured  hard truths with a bitter humor: back in '64, teasing the crowd as they laugh at the intro to "Gates of Eden," chuckling, saying "yes, it's a very funny song!" Bob has always twisted the dark strands of culture — greed, violence, vanity —together with light – sometimes romantic, sometimes spiritual. In an age of celebrity it is easy to conflate the man with the lyric. But we simply don’t know where the character of the song ends and where the singer begins. But if I had to guess, I’d say he’s in good cheer. On a summer night in the west, he offers once again his beautiful and desolate tales for our consideration, and often laughs.

A couple of the lovely dark bits: "Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum." The piano has worked a wonderful transformation on this song. I wish I could describe it. They jam a very tight sinister jazzy bluesy thing, Dylan really leaning into the vocals. I close my eyes and see Romney and Ryan skewered together on Dylan's shish-ka-bob. Take your pick though of any evil twins you can imagine. It's a non-partisan critique really. The band just winds so tight you can see the smoke.

"John Brown" is a grim one he's played for 50 years now, and I can't say that tonight's version is a true standout, but I enjoy watching him center stage with harp, growling out the grotesque tale one more time. A parent raises a soldier for her own sick glory. I don’t need Dylan to write another protest song to prove that he is anti-war, anti-jingoistic; this one will do fine, and he plays it often (you might say "religiously").

The band and Bob enjoy all the rave-ups, "Thunder on the Mountain," "Highway 61," "Summer Days," and so do I, the piano also a great change-up on these tunes. If only he would get the damn organ out of the way so we could see his hands better on the keys. If you stand far right, perhaps you can, I'm not sure.

The slow songs don't mean as much to me in these iterations, although "Simple Twist of Fate" is sweetly played by Dylan on guitar, and "Spirit on the Water," a song I am never excited by at the opening, won me completely by the heartfelt singing Bob puts into it, and the hypnotic, jazzy rhythms. This seems like a song Bob wrote for someone he really loves, and anyone doubtful of Dylan's capacity for joy should listen and watch closely to the current live rendition.

Okay, you get the idea. Worth the thousand miles for me. I love seeing Dylan in a field in a smaller town. After the show I was entranced by the happy faces in the dispersing crowd: beautiful sexy young women with their lovers, old hippies, just regular people with hearts split a little bit open by the great artist and his band. Looking at all of them on a beautiful breezy night in western Montana, my own heart felt a little broken, I don't know exactly why. I think Dylan, through the last 35 years (I'm 52), after I see him again live, brings out the youth in me, the vulnerable soul, the longing. His music, dark and light, tears open the mundane and routine fabric of life. All the loveliness and loneliness and sad beauty of the world pours in. “Heart burnin’, still yearnin’ . . . “

Rock on through the Midwest and the East, Bob! See you in Seattle in October.


  1. Great review, very evocative. And I know exactly what you mean about the bittersweetness that these meaningful musical encounters can evoke. I feel the same way after all this time listening to Dylan (38 years for me). You put it very well. Thanks for posting this.

  2. love your review, steven- struck a lot of chords in me- will save it for repeated readings in the future - thanks!