Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Dylan not ‘Forever Young’

By Mark Schiffer

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Courtesy of CBS Records

Let us make a few facts clear: Bob Dylan played a solid show this past Friday at the Mullins Center. He sang and played with energy, even occasionally soloing on guitar and organ. Fears that old age has left the man slow and in poor voice have proved to be unfounded. The band is the same one Dylan has been touring and recording with for the past 10 years, so they have a tight dynamic. The set list consisted of a solid combination of fan-favorites, popular classics, and recent material. The crowd sang along with joy, and the Mullins Center smelled of patchouli and marijuana.

Bob Dylan, without question, was in top form Friday night. The issue wasn’t that this was one of his “off” nights – a problem many fans often take as a given. The issue was that every Bob Dylan fan who was able to shell out the money for the $60, or the student-discounted $30, ticket was given an adequate, tasteful show bereft of spontaneity. The songs had been re-arranged in the sassiest blues-rock manner possible, practically daring fans to say they weren’t being played with energy. They were. But it felt like they weren’t being played with even a modicum of the creativity or restless spirit Bob Dylan has made his name with.

Dylan, as usual, spoke little throughout the performance. Usually this makes him seem mysterious and a figure of purity. Many reviews highlight this aspect, connecting it to his enigmatic past or claiming the idea is to connect purely to the poetry of his music, and to ask more of him is to be a selfish fan.

However, in a stadium setting, this aspect of his performance only served to further isolate the songwriter. The new arrangements meant that, with the possible exceptions of “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” his songs were left de-fanged. It felt like music designed for Baby Boomers which had lost the spark of vitality it takes to approach artists of that generation critically. This was the spark lacking in Dylan’s performance Friday.

Technically, it was a very successful show, but think about this: If you were to walk up to the merchandise table in the lobby of the stadium where one of your favorite artists was performing, how would you react if you found that no t-shirt was being sold at less than $35?

If you were to go see one of the most groundbreaking, fascinating figures in popular music in concert, how would you feel if every song was arranged in the blandest, most serviceable blues-rock arrangements possible?

Don’t call it artistic death; call it artistic stagnation.

This is one negative account of the concert. The Mullins Center was packed last Friday with many satisfied fans. If you are looking for a positive review, talk to someone who loves their favorite artist unconditionally. If you’re looking for a spark of life in the music, go back to the recordings.

Mark Schiffer can be reached at [email protected]

11 Comments

11 Responses to “Dylan not ‘Forever Young’”

  1. Eric Havaby on November 22nd, 2010 6:34 am

    So, what you are saying is he was too good.

    Get a life!

  2. rob on November 22nd, 2010 9:45 am

    Mark,I am a long-time Dylan fan,a UMass grad,and I attended the show on Friday night…what exactly are you talking about?!Have you attended many dylan shows in the past 5 years?I have seen maybe 10 in the past 5 years…observations on friday night’s show at UMass:the band/music—fantastic band,very flexible and tight,tasty in their playing,and NOT the usual blues-rock versions that Bob has been peddling out lately,but a little different,almost “noirish”,especially with Bob’s organ up front in the mix,and he’s playing beautifully!Kind of “spooky” sounding,and very cool,another/different color on the musical palette.Definitely NOT straight blues,for sure,but Bob’s unique version of “blues-like” sounds and arrangements.Spontaneous,for sure!And his singing was definitely the WORST part of the show,and I ALWAYS give Bob a break here…but not on Friday night.Deep,garbled,barked-out,un-clear usually,atonal mostly…there were some well-sung songs,but not many.Sorry Bob-heads,but the master’s voice is SHOT!Listen with open/honest ears,and not with a closed ” Bob is always great” mindset!Peace everyone!!!:-)

  3. Mark Bittner on November 22nd, 2010 11:06 am

    Although I didn’t see this show, I think that, generally speaking, you’re right on the money. I went to see him in August (my seventh Dylan concert) and I walked out after four songs for precisely the same reasons you cite here. The next day I read that most in attendance considered it one of his better shows. Dylan used to have a discerning audience that made some demands on the artist. Now he has “fans” who want to be entertained. He and his musicians wear band uniforms, something that would have once been considered silly. When I saw him, his lead guitar player got down on his knees on stage right in front of Dylan, and the audience loved it. It’s all show biz. If you like show biz, okay. Eat it up. I’ll go elsewhere.

  4. Dan on November 22nd, 2010 12:11 pm

    Bob has not been touring and recording with this band for the past 10 years. The band members joined as follows:

    Tony Garnier: 1989
    George Receli: 2002
    Stu Kimball: 2004
    Donnie Herron: 2005
    Charlie Sexton: rejoined in 2009 after playing from 1999 to 2002

  5. Mark on November 22nd, 2010 12:36 pm

    My mistake, Dan. I used the information I gained from reading articles about Dylan, rather than checking credits. My apologies.

  6. david desmond on November 22nd, 2010 3:49 pm

    People are both over rating and under rating Dylan. He ruined his voice trying to please fans too many times. I was at tour 74. he was amazing. It was that tour that really began the never ending tour. Ronaldo and Clara came next. etc etc until 88. He could just paint or write books. He could tour the country with a little record player and take requests and give an intro to each song. He is not a genius. but an interesting singer/songwriter. He’s not a recluse. He has toured for MOST of his life. If you meet him alone, he will talk to you. But let’s face it, he’s a man of about 70 who works all the time. He doesn’t really know what else to do. And calling it quits at his age may be calling it quits. enjoy looking at him while he is around.

  7. John Carey on November 22nd, 2010 5:55 pm

    “Blandest”? I don’t find that so. Many great artists do not enjoy repeating themselves. I think that Dylan feels these songs still live, in part, because they are still evolving. It’s wild to see what he comes up with next. “Like A Rolling Stone” began as something like a waltz on demo (!) and seemed so recently, too, once again. I wouldn’t knock anyone saying they didn’t like a show, it can certainly be an acquired taste, but there are people who have followed Dylan — like Sean Wilentz, for example — who find the progression and indomitable aspect of Bob Dylan’s life as a troubadour really fascinating. I feel that way, too. What an American character.

  8. whalespoon on November 22nd, 2010 8:06 pm

    As a long time Dylan fan, I would disagree with the assessment that Dylan is coasting. But one thing that I would say is that, since the “Never Ending Tour” began in the late ’80’s, each tour has been less exciting. If I could suggest one thing to Bob, it would be to take a sabbatical from his current band for an album/tour, and try out the songs with some different musicians. That’s one of the things I have found so appealing about live recordings of Bob’s tours over the years. In ’74, he toured with The Band. In ’75-76, it was the “Rolling Thunder Review,” which sounded nothing like the previous tour. The ’78 “Alimony Tour” (the first one I actually saw) was totally different from the “gospel tours” of 1980-82, which were different from the 1984 European tour with Mick Taylor, Ian Maclagen, et al. Then there were the tours with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in 1986-87 which were different than the Greatful Dead mini-tour. With the constant change of musicians, every tour was a surprise, but since Bob has more or less settled down with this current band led by George Recile, the sound has ecome more homogenized. The only times that it really changes much is when Charlie Sexton is playing in the band.

  9. airoff on November 22nd, 2010 11:13 pm

    I stopped going to Dylan shows for this very reason. It’s the height of irony that one of the most spontaneous and creative artists in history now plays these same benign, vanalla, bar band arrangements of his songs night in and night out. His voice sounds better than ever, his releases for the past 2 decades have been nothing short of brilliant, but I can’t tolerate hearing another note from this band that would be better suited as the house band on a late night comedy show.

    Dump these guys Bob and put a spark back into your live shows!

  10. Avi Kommen on November 25th, 2010 12:51 am

    I’m surprised that you people are expecting the ’65 Bob to show up, preserved under glass, and at 70-odd years old reinvent American popular song again, for the umpteenth time. I mean, enjoy the elder statesman, who he is now and where he’s at now. Tell me what is different between your whining about his voice, or his “pedestrian” performance, and the Manchester heckler disapproving of where he was at then? Give me a break people – it’s not like he’s completely irrelevant like the Rolling Stones these days. Dude can still bring it, in his own way, and we live lives a bit richer as a result.

  11. jbowns on November 28th, 2010 9:59 am

    I just saw Dylan last night at the MGM in Preston City, Connecticut. I think the key points here are that you can’t expect Dylan to come out like the Stones and do all of the tracks the same as 30+ years ago. The reason why people are disappointed with Dylan is because he didn’t come out and do the three songs that people actually know in their original form so that people can draw on some type of youthful nostalgia. The fact is, if you don’t like blues, you won’t like the show. You have to be a music fan, and not just a Dylan fan, to enjoy the show. I don’t know about you, but Bob was extremely spontaneous at the show I attended. You have to pay attention, there were plenty of times where you could see him signalling to the bassist or drummer with his hand while playing organ telling them to extend the bridge or break. As someone already stated, Dylan is pushing 70, and we should appreciate him for what he is.

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