As expected from an aging icon, Bob Dylan’s concert at the Mullins Center Saturday was a pleasant show, but no extraordinary performance to be rendered as irrevocably memorable.
The smell of marijuana was in the air as a crowded audience of University of Massachusetts students, faithful fans and walking stick pensioners took their seats. The younger crowd had come to witness a living legend, while the older generation likely came due to their own personal experiences with Dylan, many having grown up listening to him and following his story.
The band strolled on to the stage, undecorated except for the royal blue lights that illuminated it. Band members were dressed in hats and grey suits and resembled a 1920s gangster squad. Moments later Dylan appeared, dressed in a black pinstriped suit, black hat and white spats. After receiving a thoroughly warm welcome, Dylan took straight to the microphone.
Never once during the concert did Dylan address the audience, maintaining his rock and roll enigma but offering no personality or insight to himself as a musician. Visuals were lacking as well, giving emphasis to the music alone. Despite his signature tone, at times it was hard to distinguish lyrics, his wise words became disorientated by his gravelly aging voice.
Dylan stuck to his grand piano and harmonica, never once reaching for an acoustic guitar to play a song solo like he use to. The star never performed anything other than what he wanted to, despite the crowds’ screaming requests to hear classics including “Like a Rolling Stone.” For the final song of the night, he finally performed his classic haunting hit “All along the Watchtower,” a familiar tune that was famously covered by Jimi Hendrix. The song brought a fading audience back to life as members of the crowd responded to each crisp note Dylan played. They watched him through neon lights, clinging on to every lyric before delivering a huge applause and a standing ovation.
At times it was easy to tune out Dylan’s music, and it was clear the crowd was determinedly waiting for his more popular, recognizable songs, rather than his enjoyable but unmemorable new material. The band members helped him maintain a steady beat throughout his two-hour long set. They rocked and rolled through the leisurely performance, with Dylan only exerting his strong pair of lungs to play the harmonica.
Throughout his extensive career in the music industry, Dylan has had an almost unparalleled number of artistic variations. Many people gravitate toward one form of his expression, from the early folk Dylan on the cover of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” to the electric “Blonde on Blonde” Dylan, leading to disappointment when they only see the modern traveling bluesman who performed on Saturday night. However, Dylan did take the audience on a journey of his musical evolution across the last five decades, performing his music from folk, rock, blues and country genres.
Concerning the unpredictability of Dylan’s set list, 62-year-old Budd Miller, a fan of Dylan since he was a teenager, said, “I’ve been with him all my life, but even I don’t recognize the songs sometimes.” However, Miller affirmed that Dylan still manages to refresh his songs; they are “never boring, never the same,” he said.
Thankfully, when Dylan began “Thunder on the Mountain” from his 2006 “Modern Times” studio album, the audience began to move. During the song, Donnie Herron played lap steel (a type of steel guitar) while Tony Garnier strummed a standup bass. It was a poignant peak to the performance, watching even the crowd’s older members doing exactly what they loved during the height of Dylan’s popularity: rocking out. There was no longer pity for the gritty vocalist, but instead deep pride for the iconic performer.
It is a credit to Dylan that he has been able to reinvent himself so many times throughout his career, still creating albums at an age by which most artists generally resign. He delivered a strong performance for an artist of his age, but it couldn’t keep attendees from leaving throughout the night – some happy to watch the legend for only a moment before continuing their Saturday night; others disappointed to see an icon far beyond his prime.
Steph Cann can be reached at email@example.com.