Bob Dylan, still rollin’

Nov 05, 2009

Bob Dylan, still rollin’

By Maxwell Webster | The News Record (University of Cincinnati)

Published: Thursday, November 5, 2009

The standing room only crowd was a mixed up bunch. Burnt out hipsters looking for that one last hit of nostalgia, glossy-eyed college students, mop-headed teenagers, clusters of oxford clad businessmen, haggard old groupies and the just plain curious. The delegates of three generations crammed together on the floor of Columbus’ Lifestyle Communities Pavilion Tuesday, Nov. 3, waiting for Rock and Roll’s poet laureate to step onto the stage.

When Dylan finally emerged dressed in a black suit with a pink shirt, tie and tuxedo stripe and a wide-brimmed black top hat, the crowd erupted and Dylan wasted no time diving straight into a 17- song tour de force.

It becomes obvious when he begins that this isn’t the Bob Dylan of the ’60s – alone on a stage strumming an acoustic guitar, whining out folk songs. For one thing, Dylan’s voice has become so faint that it’s impossible for him to hit the notes that trademarked his early sound. You can see right away that the band’s hardline blues drive is meant to work with Dylan’s vocal regression.

The days of Dylan playing guitar through an entire set are also gone. Only a few times did he venture out from behind his keyboard and only once did he pick up a guitar.

With that said, the performance was nothing short of spectacular. Dylan might be 68, but he plays like a man possessed: jerking, grimacing, stomping, twisting and grinning with every note he pounded on his keys. It isn’t the unbelievable stage raving antics of Mick Jagger, but Dylan is still sharp enough to work the crowd with every move he makes.

And although Dylan’s voice now is something like marbles rattling inside a tin can, he’s done a fantastic job rearranging his songs so they’ll work with his vocal range. Classics like “All Along the Watchtower” and “Like a Rolling Stone” may be altered, but in such a way that their power is not lost.

Like any good show, though, the performance was a reflection of the crowd and they couldn’t have been better. It’s a peculiar thing, but somewhere in the middle of the set you are forced to realize that the crowd is just full of love and appreciation for this man. Shouts of, “Bobby D we love you!” and “Anything for you Bob!” seem to fall on deaf ears during the performance, with Dylan hardly lifting an eye in the crowds direction. But by the time the encore rolled around he couldn’t help but smile back and the crowd’s clamoring was finally answered when he said, “Thank You friends.”

And let’s not forget about the band, on their own they would be a show worth going to. Lead guitarist Johnny Sexton’s fingers danced over the fret board and he squeezed every last drop out of his solos.

With the last round of “How does it feel,” as Dylan took a bow and blew a kiss to his adoring fans, I was forced to wonder what has made this man the preeminent voice of American music for 50 years. The answer has to be that in every song the listener can see themselves: their own reality and their own dreams reflected and immortalized in a way that they could never communicate before.

An A+ to Dylan and to us, the fans, together through it all.