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  • “Ah, the great song traveler passed through here
    And he opened my eyes to the view
    And I was among those who called him a prophet
    And I asked him what was true?"

    (Jackson Browne’s “Looking Into You”)

    The Dylan show was amazing. Might just have been the best birthday present ever! Mark Knopfler and his multi-national, highly versatile band opened it up with beautiful, soulful songs, some with a decided celtic flavor, many infused with a strong hint of blues - just about as dynamic a “warmup” act as you’ll encounter. Band members hailed from Wales, Scotland, Ireland, England, and Long Beach, California, and each played wide variety of instruments quite adeptly. Knopfler’s guitar and vocal style still has a very distinctive flavor and edge that always seems to hint of danger looming down the road, just around the corner. Knopfler later joined Dylan’s band on guitar for 3 numbers.

    (Photos all courtesy of
  • Opening up with “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” and “Ramona”, one’s first impression was that, vocally, he’d finally reinvented himself as Louie Armstrong! If he had segued into Louie’s “What A Wonderful World”, it would have been hard to tell the difference – the same gravelly, “these vocal cords have travelled the very hardest of life’s roads and lived to sing about it” sound – but also, the same joy and “lived-to-tell-the tale” essence came through his gravelly hardscrabble sound. His band was outstanding throughout the show.

    Things began to change on the third song, appropriately entitled “Things Have Changed”, a number he wrote for the excellent movie set in my hometown of Pittsburgh back in 2000. (This movie is a must-see, along with “Finding Forrester”, for anyone who is a writer, or who wants to be a writer. If you haven’t seen it – ya oughta). He became decidedly more animated as he grabbed the mike and moved about the stage, and his scratchy vocal cords began to stretch and find more range – if that’s what you could call it. The beauty of Dylan is, the man never could carry a tune to save his life, in the traditional sense, so you can’t ever say he’s “lost it”, since you have to “have” something before you can lose it. It’s more like he was the original rapper, with just a little more melody than a traditional rap artist. Now, there’s just a little less melody going on there, which makes it even more Dylanesque!

    The show really took off as he and the band launched into “Tangled Up In Blue”, a favorite from “Blood on the Tracks”:
    “And, me, I’m still on the road, headed for another joint, We always did feel the same, we just saw if from a different point of view, Tangled up in blue”.
  • The energy was most definitely there on this night. He was clearly enjoying plying his craft, and the crowd was definitely into it. He did something he hasn’t done in a lot of the shows on this tour – he pulled out a number from his recently released (this year), critically acclaimed album “Tempest”, the song “Early Roman Kings”. Having not heard this album yet, I had no idea what song he was playing, but he played it well.

    He really hit his stride with one of my favorites from his prolific mid-60’s musical stride, “Chimes of Freedom” :

    “Starry-eyed an' laughing as I recall when we were caught, Trapped by no track of hours for they hanged suspended. As we listened one last time an' we watched with one last look, Spellbound an' swallowed 'til the tolling ended…

    Tolling for the aching whose wounds cannot be nursed, For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an' worse. An' for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe
    An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.”

    He could have stopped right there, and my night would have been complete. But he had a few more great numbers to reinvent, and lots of energy left in him for this penultimate show of the tour, and the year 2012. Who’d a thunk, when he was playing the Gaslight Café in Greenwhich Village as an unknown up-and-coming folkie wannabe, back in 1961, he’d still be doing this 51 years later, nearly filling a joint like the Verizon Center in Washington, DC, doing some of his old folk numbers, and rockin’ the joint out with his rock’n’roll ballads? Back then, he was just making it from one meal to the next, looking for Woody Guthry and trying to catch a break. Now, he’s bouncing from Boston to Philly to DC and back up to New York City in 4 days time, always headed for another joint, singing his songs, from a different point of view.
  • Next came a tune from 2001’s “Love and Theft”, - a song called “Summer Days”:

    “Summer nights, summer nights are gone, But I know a place where there’s still something goin’ on”. Yes, they are, and yes, I do, too. On this chilly, late Autumn night, with no remnant of summer left in the chill air, it was all going on at the Verizon Center in D.C.

    From there he launched right into “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”. Bear in mind, he wrote this song early in 1963.

    “Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son? And, what’ll you do now, my darling young one? I’m a-goin’ back out ’fore the rain starts a-fallin’, I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest, Where the people are many and their hands are all empty, Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters, Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison, Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden, Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten, Where black is the color, where none is the number”

    After that, he really got rockin’ and rollin’ on “Highway 61 Revisited” :

    “Now the rovin’ gambler he was very bored, He was tryin’ to create the next world war
    He found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor, He said, “I never engaged in this kind of thing before
    But yes I think it can be very easily done, We’ll just put some bleachers out in the sun
    And have it on Highway 61!”

    After a couple of more “newer” songs, “Soon After Midnight” and “Thunder on the Mountain”, he came down the home stretch with an incredible flourish, beginning with “Ballad of a Thin Man”:

    “Well, you walk into the room like a camel and then you frown, You put your eyes in your pocket
    And your nose on the ground. There ought to be a law gainst you comin’ around
    You should be made to wear earphones!
    Because something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is - Do you, Mister Jones?”

    He followed that with the song that was voted by a panel at Rolling Stone magazine as the greatest Rock’n’Roll song of all time – “Like a Rolling Stone” (they may have had a bit of “name bias” going on, but it was, and still is, a great song, even sung by a 71 year-old, Armstrong-voiced Dylan):

    “You never understood that it ain’t no good, you shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you
    …Ain’t it hard when you discover that, he really wasn’t where it’s at
    After he took from you everything he could steal?

    How does it feel, how does it feel, to be on your own, with no direction home
    Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone?”
  • He ended the show with two iconic classics, one made most famous by another artist who only made it to age 27 – Jimi Hendrix. Dylan was so taken by Jimi’s version of this song, he forever after only played the Hendrix-inspired electric version of it, instead of the original, spare acoustic version, which I still love nearly as much. One could almost feel the ghost of Hendrix smiling as 71 year old Bob choked out, “There must be some kind a way outta here, said the Joker to the Thief, there’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief… but you and I we been through that, and this is not our fate, so let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late”.

    Inexplicably, as I’d read about in reviews of previous shows, some freakin’ idiots actually got up and left just as this song was starting. Really? What is it, past your bedtime, Bonzo? Come on! Your loss.

    He did one encore number – “Blowin’ In The Wind” - a song still as relevant today as it was in 1962, the first time he sang it at the Gaslight. “How many times must a man look up, before he can see the sky? How many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry? How many deaths will it take ‘til he knows, that too many people have died? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind.” And still blowin’, 50 years later. Still listening for it… Can you hear it?

    I went to the second to the last (penultimate) game that Cal Ripken ever played, at Camden Yards. I really hope this wasn’t Dylan’s penultimate show, ever – but, if it was – it was a real, timeless treat.

    Thanks for indulging me my Dylan moment. My wife will have a tough act to follow for my birthday next year!
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