An Evening with Bob Dylan

The poet laureate of rock & roll

~Nov 9, 2009

Philadelphia, PA

Temple University – Liacouras Center~

Bob Dylan

Yesterday morning, as I rolled out of bed and groggily wiped my eyes clear of the night’s sleep, I was asked if I’d like to go see a Bob Dylan concert. For a second, I thought I may still be asleep and simply dreaming of this amazing opportunity to see one of the founding members of modern folk and the man who electrified it and brought it mainstream, changing the game forever. This was the man who wrote Like a Rolling Stone, the anthem of an entire generation, many years before my time. This was a man who was covered by Jimi Hendrix. This was Bob Dylan.

So I pinched myself and yeah, it hurt. This was no joke, but a bonafide, no-turning-down opportunity here. Plus the tickets were being given to us for free. Another check on the bucket list.

I have heard many conflicting things in terms of Bob Dylan’s live show and I was ready for anything. Sometimes I hear that live, Bob Dylan (now 68 years old) decides to change songs up entirely and sometimes he stays at his little corner of the stage, out of the spotlight and behind his keyboard instead of picking a guitar or playing his harmonica. He may stick with the lyrics, or he may foray into indecipherable drunk-sounding mumbles behind the microphone. It’s hit or miss with Bob, or so I was told. And hey, it’s Bob Dylan– the man can do whatever he wants.

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Well let me tell you right off the bat that the man was on fire last night at Temple. He was introduced as “The Poet Laureate of Rock and Roll” to an immediate standing ovation. And last night, not only did he play guitar (and lead for that matter) on a solid third of the songs, but he dazzled the crowd with his brilliant and melodic harmonica solos which he burst into regularly when he wasn’t playing the keyboard. His voice was grungy, dirty and soaked in bourbon as he crooned and crackled his way through his poetic lyrics in classic Bob Dylan fashion, as his voice characteristically bent upward at the end of each line. Sure his voice may have frayed a bit since his younger days, but in many ways it added to the music instead of subtracted from it. The modern renditions of his songs were dirtier, folkier and harder hitting than any I’ve heard before. Tom Waits could have been Bob Dylan’s son– sorry Jakob.

And Dylan’s band were spot-on incredible.

Dylan’s artistic vision of the “Never-Ending Tour,” and “Never-Ending Tour Band,” have been in fruition since 1988, as he freed himself from the constraints of recording new material (Even though he has recorded new material since then) and although his band lineup has changed, it has retained the concept that the live show should be a venue for reinterpretation, experimentation and in essence, should be completely live in every facet that a live show could be live. That was Bob Dylan and his band last night at Temple’s Liacoras Theater.

And an old friend is back in the band. Arc Angels guitarist Charlie Sexton, who played with Dylan from 1999 to 2002, has rejoined his group. Earlier this month Sexton sat in with Dylan in Round Rock Texas, causing rumors that a reunion was imminent. “I love and respect Bob and am very happy to be reunited with my friend onstage,” Sexton tells Rolling Stone. “I’m starting up with him for the fall tour and will carry on with him from there.” He’s unwilling to say any more about what brought him back. “I’ve never given an interview about Bob,” he says. “Ultimately he is my friend, and it’s not my place to talk about his business.”

Sexton’s playing was incredible and I must admit that he actually took some of the spotlight away from Dylan as he got down on his knees on the stage, ebbing and flowing with the notes he made burst forth from his guitar as he pointed the guitar around like an automatic weapon. It wasn’t distracting, but rather fun to watch. And Dylan didn’t seem to mind. And Sexton’s playing was impeccable.

All of the music provided by the backing band was along the lines of a tastefully expanded and explored reinterpretation of the original versions ranging from the 60’s to the 80’s. The sharp, flowing keyboard notes retained their original and filling flow (especially when provided by Bob), while the addition of another two guitarists when Bob wasn’t playing (and when he was) brought a new dimension to the music, making it sound fuller as new life was breathed into an old beast. The bass lines were simple and appetizing as the bassist trotted up and down the fretboard, keeping meticulous timing as the very talented drummer tore things up from atop his little perch. This was a whole new side of Bob Dylan and what a pleaser at that. Nothing was lost but much was gained. The starstruck crowd easily found itself lost in new, little jams and hooks that never before came from any of their old Dylan LPs.

In line with the music, the band wore tasteful black slacks and jackets and two members wore hats that seemed to echo the deep south, now popular among the likes of contemporaries like Jack White. I’m no hat expert, so I will call them Zorro hats. Bob’s hat had a much wider brim and was gleaming white. You couldn’t miss the man, even when he receded to the back of his little keyboard.

The setlist was as follows:

  1. Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
  2. Man In The Long Black Coat
  3. I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
  4. Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
  5. Spirit On The Water
  6. High Water (for Charlie Patton)
  7. Tryin’ To Get To Heaven
  8. Cold Irons Bound
  9. Desolation Row
  10. Po’ Boy
  11. Highway 61 Revisited
  12. Workingman’s Blues #2
  13. Thunder On The Mountain
  14. Ballad Of A Thin Man
  15. Like A Rolling Stone
  16. Jolene
  17. All Along The Watchtower
The band moved swiftly from song to song like a well-oiled machine and classics like Highway 61 and rocker, Ballad of a Thin Man brought the crowd to insurmountable cheering. The last three songs were of the encore and needless to say, I found myself lost in wannabe nostalgia. There was no Hurricane, but I think I will survive.
I think I was on the same wavelength as most of the crowd at Temple University last night. Fans young and old were there to do much more than pay homage to a legend. They were there to bask in the musical brilliance of a man who has helped to define an era of music. Many had never even heard Bob Dylan before, but they were able to appreciate him. At last night’s concert, you had the feeling that at that place, at that time you weren’t simply watching and listening to a concert, but you were participating in the culmination of an already-established legend. We made it happen. In the air hung the feeling that you were truly part of something important that night and it was timeless and true. It was Bob Dylan and you had to be there to believe it. Rarely do I leave a show with such a feeling of deep satisfaction. Usually this satisfaction comes on mere grounds of well-played music, but last night it was something more. It was respect, it was awe. It was rock at it’s roots. It was Bob Dylan… for the record.

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