Know what you’re getting with Dylan
A couple of days after Bob Dylan played the Covelli Centre in 2012, I ran into a musician friend who was grousing about the show.
“I can’t believe he didn’t play ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’,” he said.
I asked, “Did you stay till the end?”
“Blowin’ in the Wind” was the last song.
He didn’t recognize it.
That little anecdote sums up the Bob Dylan concertgoing experience, at least for the casual fan. I don’t usually rerun columns, but with Dylan returning to the Covelli Centre on Tuesday, I decided to rework the column I wrote before the 2012 show. It still applies:
Bob Dylan is coming to Youngstown.
Yay! I love Bob Dylan. I own most of his albums, either on CD or vinyl, and have seen him live at least a half-dozen times over the years. I plan to be there again on Tuesday.
But these local appearances often draw the more casual fan. Mahoning Valley folks who never seriously considered making the drive to Cleveland or Pittsburgh to see Dylan — and he’s made many appearances in the region with his steady touring schedule — will say to a spouse or friend, ”Hey, he’s gonna be right here. We should go.”
And you should. I shouldn’t need to list Dylan’s discography and his accomplishments to convince anyone he is a legend, voice of a generation, one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century — pick your superlative. But know what you’re getting.
He may have been making albums for 56 years, but Dylan is no nostalgia act who plays the same set of greatest hits night after night.
You’ll probably hear “Blowin'” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” Old favorites like “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right” also have been setlist regulars recently, along with songs from his acclaimed late ’90s/early 2000s albums “Time Out of Mind” and “Love and Theft.” Looking at recent setlists actually has me more excited for Tuesday’s concert.
But there’s no guarantee. Bob plays what Bob wants to play. With more than 600 songs to choose from, he can’t play them all (18 to 20 songs is more likely, judging by recent setlists).
Make a list of your 10 favorite Dylan songs. If he plays three of them, consider yourself lucky. If you hear five of them, it’s a miracle.
And just because he plays your favorite song, it doesn’t mean you’ll recognize it. Dylan’s songs are fluid. The recorded version isn’t the “finished” version; it merely captures that moment in time.
In concert, Dylan can change instrumentation, change tempo and even alter the melody on his most popular songs. It’s one of the reasons that there are Dylan fans who’ve seen him dozens of times, hundreds of times. The possibility always is there to hear something you’ve never heard before and might never hear again.
It also means those casual fans sometimes are left confused or angry.
I almost can guarantee that someone will call the office after Tuesday’s concert or stop me on the street and say, “I hated that Dylan concert. I didn’t know half of the songs, and even the ones I knew I didn’t know until he was nearly done with them.”
Don’t expect Dylan to lead any singalongs on “Blowin’ in the Wind” or provide any “storyteller” moments in which he shares the inspiration behind the songs. I’ve seen Dylan shows where the audience didn’t even get a “thank you” or “good night.”
And keep your cell phone in your pocket. The last Covelli Centre show seemed to have more security people than usual for a two-thirds-full arena, and their sole job was to keep folks from taking photographs.
I’m not defending it. Frankly, after a couple of lousy Dylan shows at Blossom Music Center in the late ’80s, I swore off seeing him live for about a decade. I skipped his 1992 Youngstown appearance at Stambaugh Auditorium because the Ramones were playing in Cleveland that night.
It is what it is. And you’re not going to change it, no matter how long and how loudly you yell for “Just Like a Woman” or anything else. If you’re not willing to accept that, save your money. We’ll both be happier on Tuesday.
Andy Gray is the entertainment writer for the Tribune Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org