Posted by Pat Baxter on 11/12 at 05:10 PM
On November 9, 2010, Bob Dylan performed at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, PA. Much has been written about the man and his storied career. No doubt he is an American icon manifested in a whole host of variations: folk icon, counter-cultural icon, marijuana icon, even Christian icon (during his brief born-again period from 1978 - 1984). Such a thick aura surrounds the man that one can’t help but bring a kind of awe-struck demeanor to the auditorium. That was the case with me as I brought—at least at first—a “Bob Dylan is a legend” kind of attitude to the BJC. However I realized that bringing in these awe-inspired expectations might set me up for disappointment.
These are the expectations that might want to hear classics such as Blowin’ in the Wind, The Times Are a-Changin’, and of course Like a Rolling Stone. And perhaps there are the expectations to hear music exactly as it’s played on the album, and for Dylan to have exactly the same voice he’s been known for since the 60s. But on this night he offered a different sound to his music that perhaps might not sit well with some. That’s why it was essential to leave all expectations aside in order to enjoy and appreciate Dylan’s current incarnation. I was fortunately able to quickly adjust my attitude towards these ends. What I was treated to was a performance from a man who has managed to reinvent himself and remain relevant even amidst the banality of today’s Billboard top 10 hits.
After a brief introduction, Dylan and his band took the stage. They were sporting a sort of country and western look complete with hats and suits. Dylan got right to the point, starting things off with bluesy Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat. For this song, he chose to play organ. What struck me about this first number was his singing voice. I dare say that his singing voice now might actually be better than it was in the 1960s. To me it has more character and expresses all the world-weariness of his life’s successes, trials, and tribulations. It evokes almost a Clint Eastwood kind of attitude. He would maintain this persona throughout the roughly hour and a half set.
After Leopard-Skin Pill-Box, Dylan and the band segued into This Wheel’s on Fire. Then things got interesting when he went into a rendition of Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again. This number was definitely a highlight for me as it seemed to be one of the more soulful performances of the night. The band changed things up with Just Like a Woman, moving in 6/8 time. They then sped the pace up a bit with Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum. The band continued this pattern moving through Masters Of War, Cold Irons Bound, Visions Of Johanna, and Summer Days. A number of these songs featured an upright bass and violin, along with pedal-steel guitar. In addition, Dylan whipped out the harmonica displaying plenty of soul with his solos.
Dylan chose not to engage in banter with the audience, but he didn’t have to. His performance alone was enough to engage the audience and express all that he wanted to express. This was not a mail-in show. On the contrary, he showed vigor throughout each song and maintained a cool stage-presence. It’s something he’s no doubt perfected over his decades of touring.
After Dylan finished off the set with Highway 61 Revisited, Can’t Wait, Thunder On The Mountain, and Ballad Of A Thin Man, the crowd was asking for more. Coming out for an encore, the band first played one of Dylan’s most recent works Jolene. He then performed one of his all-time greats, Like a Rolling Stone. The show concluded with a standing ovation.
I’m sure a number of people were left disappointed with the overall sound and arrangements. I, however, appreciated the kind of set he played. It was a reminder that there is more to music than top 40 hits, and more to performances than obvious crowd-pleasing. I went away from the concert happy that I had taken advantage of the opportunity to watch a music icon that can still get the job done. Dylan still has distinct performances after all these years.
Author: Pat Baxter
Bio: A native of Pittsburgh, Pat Baxter is now working for WPSU/Penn State Public Broadcasting in video on-demand and multi-media. He enjoys playing guitar and bass, listening to music and watching films. He likes listening to grunge/alternative rock, experimental and prog rock, and jazz/fusion. His favorite rock bands include the Smashing Pumpkins (1990s era), David Bowie, Talking Heads, King Crimson, Buckethead, Frank Zappa, Mars Volta, David Torn, and the Cure.
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