Bob Dylan rolls into Mullins Center

By Mark Schiffer

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Music fans, the so-called “holy grail” of folk-rock has arrived: Bob Dylan, the creator of what has turned out to be some of the most enduring music of all-time, will be playing the Mullins Center this Friday at 8 p.m.

Even his biggest fans have begun discussing the possibility that this living legend has “lost it.” Time has passed, and quite frankly with age the man has shed at the very least some of his power. Not that you’d ever hear Bob Dylan say anything like that. With his “Never Ending Tour,” and consistent album releases since the late 90s, the man clearly has been doing everything within his power to please his fans while fulfilling his full artistic potential.

However, having been on his “Never Ending Tour” for what has basically been 22 years, it is only natural that at least some of his edge would have been worn down, both in terms of lyrical content and musical originality. His sound over the past couple of years has come to resemble an almost militantly relaxed feel, with influences mainly stemming from Cajun music and blues; little of the enigmatic and beautiful imagery that he made his name with in the 1960s remains. This frustrates some fans, who are justifiably annoyed with the so-called “selling out” of their favorite musician.

This isn’t to say the music lacks value. In fact, there is nothing disappointing at all about what the man has been producing, as long as one accepts the fact that for some artists, with age, comes contentment. “Together Through Life” and “Christmas in My Heart” – both quite recent releases – certainly aren’t the best albums Bob Dylan has produced. But they don’t feel overly derivative, or even mediocre. Both are solid albums in Bob Dylan’s extensive body of work.

Potential concert-goers who are fearful of a sedate show, led by a detached Dylan who is completely out-of-synch with his surroundings can rest assured. Since 2001’s “Love and Theft,” Dylan has been touring and recording with the same backing band. Consequently, the performance this Friday will undoubtedly be energetic and tight.

Dylan’s constant shifting of arrangements and vocal techniques should mean that this performance will be full of surprises. He has, for example, been known from time to time to perform his classic “All Along the Watchtower,” which on its original 1967 release was an acoustic slow-burner, in the style of Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 rock version. Such a shift potentially represents a willingness to adapt his works to suit stadium venues, which once again could disputably be seen as a negative thing. But as an experience, it undoubtedly works.

There have been grumblings from both fans and non-fans alike regarding every potentially negative aspect of the performance that will be occurring this Friday. Bob Dylan has long generated controversy among his fan base regarding his artistic decisions, but it isn’t that simple in this case. There wasn’t any real sell-out in the mid-60s, when he began recording electric albums. It was a change in musical style, with a purely artistic motivation. The frustration at this point seems to lie with the very concept of the “Never-Ending Tour,” which has been going on since 1988. One could argue that such a rigorous performance-schedule exists purely as a cash grab. Others see Dylan as giving as many of his fans as possible the chance to see him perform. The perspective of the cynical fan is fair, but purposeless.

Dylan carries the burden of outliving the majority of his contemporaries, who never were forced to tread the musical minefields (particularly the 1980s) that claimed the reputations of countless artists who survived the 1970s. Few would argue that he has unceasingly continued down his own chosen path, and his restless artistic spirit still seems as unpredictable and exciting as ever.

Bob Dylan will be playing this Friday at the Mullins Center, at 8 p.m. Tickets are still available for $47.50.

Mark Schiffer can be reached at [email protected]