Bob Dylan Review 07/08/11 – Rochester Hills, MI

As a Dylan advocate (you might at times have said “apologist”) I sometimes fear my legitimate praise of the great man will be perceived as mindless fawning.

So let me first complain about the last show I’d seen at the Kitchener Aud (terrible acoustics) with a bunch of Greatest Hits enthusiasts, and poor Bob looking almost bored to tears.  Even at this type of vaguely disheartening show I’d rationalize:  “Well it looked like he was having a good time.”  I was saying this because he bobbed his knees a few times.  And because at previous shows I’d seen he’d looked like he was having a downright bad time.

Well, last night in Rochester Hills, Michigan, Bob looked (not just to me but to even a neutral observer) like he was having a fucking hell of a time.  I think the biggest improvement is that Bob’s new configuration of switching from organ, to centre-stage crooning to playing guitar really mixes up the dynamic.

Previously, when all Bob did was plunk away on his circus organ (sometimes called the “instrument of torture”) things began to sound dreadfully similar and it could lull you to sleep, even if there were some grand moments.  It also led to a lot of sing-songy shouting that disappointed the people who wanted the songs to sound at least something like the songs they love.

But, now, for the handful of songs played on the IOT you get a great attack between the organ and Charlie Sexton’s subtle, exquisite guitar slinging.  In the past there had been accusations among knowledgeable fans that Bob was drowning Charlie out.

But it’s when Bob is crooning that his shows are now the most fun.  During his early 60s appearances in Greenwich Village some compared him to Charlie Chaplin because of the comical way he’d look nervous and uncomfortable before tearing into some ballad that held the room in the palm of his hand.  Also maybe because he is really short and cartoonishly cute in appearance.

Well, now the Chaplin comparison has come full circle as Dylan seems to, more than ever, embrace the role of comedian.  He prances about in a way so comical that I couldn’t help pointing it out to the somewhat aggravated “long-time-listeners-first-time-attendees” beside me.

These people were also trying to have a kind of religious experience with Bob but a kind that wasn’t quite up to date.  The woman was interested in my tips about what to expect.  But her companion, after delivering a non-sensical speech about Blowin’ in the Wind that kept coming back to his condemnation of marijuana-smoking, was shushed by his more-savvy companion, so he eventually became insecure and boorishly yelled at me to leave them alone in stereotypical American nastiness, for which his date later apologized, referring to him as “her friend” as though she wanted precious little to do with him after his dickish outburst.

As I have a sensitive psychic constitution this rattled me for the remainder of the show.  Also, because the premiere area under the pavilion is seated, it’s a totally different vibe than standing general admission which encourages dancing (and in my case, a Bob-inspired duck walk).  When I was yelling out the encouragement I felt Bob deserved I was generally perceived as a lunatic.

That brings me to my main point.  In the past I’ve had a theory that when an audience is rocking, Bob gives them what they deserve, but when an audience is passive Bob phones it in to a degree.  This might explain why the shows in Europe and abroad are consistently better than the ones in America.  Last night he fought through that beer-drunk passivity and just did what he does best now.

It’s my opinion that songs two through four are usually the highlight of any Dylan show.  And the last time I saw him, once those were over it was a long slow death march through Highway 61, Thin Man, etc.

Last night was a totally even show, consistently good from top to bottom.  Those aforementioned songs that I usually skip when listening to bootlegs are becoming nightly highlights.  It could also be that they’re meant to be heard live where the power of the band really comes across.  But more so than usual, the band was drum-tight on those songs.

The addition of Mississippi allows Bob to play with the lyrics to one of his most beautiful songs in the way he’s been doing with Visions of Johanna and Desolation Row for the last few years. 

For some this is, to quote one message board commentator, “pissing on the Mona Lisa,” but for others, going to a Bob show and hearing one of these lesser played masterpieces is, like, a reason for living.  I can attest to that somewhat extreme statement.  The night previous I’d been at a wedding, and, as usual, due to my proclivity for hard drinking and the sensitive psychic constitution mentioned above had made a sort of minor scene.  So I was hungover, plagued by guilt and a Kierkegaardian “sickness unto death,” and in this sorrowful condition, watching and hearing Bob healed and nourished me in ways that would only sound silly to anyone but a fellow Bob freak.

Back to the music:  When this boot comes out…pay particular attention to the clipped yelling on Things Have Changed.   Clipped yelling is what people have grumbled about for years.  Some idiots have even called for him to quit because of it.  Maybe that lit a fire under Bob.  Because this is a new kind of clipped yelling that even the Greatest Hits fans can’t help but be amused by.

Something is happening here…

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10 thoughts on “Bob Dylan Review 07/08/11 – Rochester Hills, MI

  1. Not about what you said, but about “Things Have Changed.” I have listened to the evolutuon of this song over the summer, and it is like watching a child grow. He played guitar on it, he played keyboards on it, and then would ruin it by playing an extremely loud harmonica that sometimes would perfectly fit, mostly not. He finally started to play only harp in that song a couple or so weeks ago, and play it only on the last 3 verese I think. It appears as if he practiced, it is perfect every night. The song has become one of the truly great songs of Rock ‘n Roll history. That song can be picked apart, with almost every line standing on its own as a philosophocal, psychological, sociological or religious statement. “All the truth in the world add up to one big lie…” is one of the greatest lines of any song I have ever heard. Those twelve words say more than a 12 volume set of theology books, or books on any of the other topics I mentioned above. An unbelievable song. Testimony to the fact that if a “songwriter” doesn’t grow with his song, that song eventually dies, like all things born but not nourished or loved. Every day I look for a new “Things Have Changed.” That’s the song I always go to first, #4, after the Intro and the next two. (BTW, is it just me, or do you also feel that if the guy who does the Intro doesn’t get a break soon, he’s going to kill himself?) Well, sounds like Bob has painted another masterpiece.

    I just have to throw this in. Seeing some of Bob’s movements up there, I’m thinking that I wouldn’t be surprised if at any second he broke into singing “Mammy.” Love it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. As a HUGE Bob fan since the 70’s,I have always loved his concert voice,but his last great stand as a live SINGER was 1986 with T.Petty,to my ears.I have been to 10—15 shows since ’86,and I can count on one hand,easily,how many shows were passable to good,singing-wise,for Bob.NONE of them were great,or even close to it,maybe the odd song or two.Face it,BobHeads—his voice is SHOT,PERIOD !!! He makes Cookie Monster sound like Pavarotti…in fact,Bob sounds a lot LIKE Cookie Monster these days !!! Growling,phlegm-coated(Bobby,spit-up and gargle pre-show,PLEASE !!!) croaks and barks of sounds and words,but this is NOT singing,not even for Bob !!!!! Don’t listen with your memories,or your records,or your fantasies,or your hopes,BobHeads,but listen with your EARS,and stop writing innaccurate/untrue live reviews about how he sang “beautifully” or “crooned” or “strongly”….barking,mumbling,croaking,growling,yes,but he can’t SING anymore,and the tar and nicotine-soaked remnants of his voice only ruin the beautiful,powerful music this current band can make…sorry,but just Gimme Some Truth !!!!!!!!! The Watchman

  3. Watchman,
    “No great shows, voice shot, Cookie Monster, growling phlegm-coated croaks and barks”. And you have seed him 10-15 times!!!!!! You must be dumber than your post.

    • Yeah,I have “seed” him 10—15 times…in the LAST 2 YEARS,MORON !!!!! Are you in 2nd or 3rd grade?!?!?!?! Take a spelling class,nitwit !!!!!! YOUR post explains NOTHING about how you feel about Bob,his current voice and live shows—NOTHING !!!!! VERY informative post,we’ll learn a LOT from your thoughtful,well-written,perfectly-spelled insightful observations !!!!! Did I use too many big words for you,Junior???!!! 🙂 Very Sincerely,The Watchman

      • Hey Watchman, I totally respect that you are frequently disappointed by post-87 Dylan, although I think it’s sort of strange you choose that as the beginning of decline. I’m not an expert on the Petty tour, but my impression was that outside of a few stellar moments it was kind of sloppy. What about the GE Smith shows? The beginning of the renaissance in 94/95? The wonderful period between 1997 and 2003 with Larry Campbell and Charlie?

        I think some people want to hear Bob sounding as close to, say, 70s Bob as possible, and every step away from that is perceived as decline. But I think for others like me and your angry opponents here, the new Bob is pretty cool too. I mean, sure, his voice isn’t crystal clear anymore, but neither is the voice of Tom Waits and he has plenty of fans. Some have said that in a strange way Bob now qualifies as “outsider art”, so it makes sense that he’d lose some fans along that path. Although ironically he’ll always get people obliviously buying tickets to hear K-Tel Bob anyways so he doesn’t really have to worry haha.

  4. I am not referring to the overall music being played on-stage,his band and other musicians that have been in his band since The Never Ending Tour began have all been terrific,talented,tasteful musicians!!! And,the albums since Time Out Of Mind are FANTASTIC,So well-written,deep,and enjoyable,they are amongst my favorites in his amazing musical catalog!!!All other songwriters/bands are STILL trying to match his songwriting prowess—to no avail !!!:-) What I AM referring to is the SHOCKING decline his live voice has taken,and it has been noticed by many a rock critic and other fans,not just by me! A little smoother,clearer,less gruff and without the literal BARKING out of sounds,syllables,words,and lines—I don’t find this to be very MUSICAL,and Bob makes amazing MUSIC !!! I am certainly not expecting Steve Perry(God no!!!),or 60’s or 70’s Bob,but something closer to good,clear singing would improve his live shows greatly,in my opinion!!! Keep On Keepin’ On,The Watchman

    • All good points…but earlier you sort of insinuated that those of us not so bothered by Bob’s voice are lying to ourselves, when perhaps we’re just able to take him for what he is now and still find it very enjoyable. And given the admitted decline, I’d say there’s been a marked improvement in the 2011 shows compared to 2010 when I was getting pretty sick of his sound myself.

  5. Well,if you can take and accept the choked-sounding barks Bob makes on stage these days as “singing”—Enjoy !!!:-) Yes,you have said it yourself,you are a Dylan “apologist,” but I am not,simple. It is what it is,and he is what he is,and he’s not what he was,for sure! Live,Mick Jagger can still SING,Paul McCartney can still SING,Paul Simon can still SING,and many others who started in the 60’s are STILL singing beautifully !!! There is no doubt,in fact,that of all the singers from the 60’s still playing live today,Bob actually sounds the WORST,his vocal decline the most shocking,hands-down !!! As to live reviews of Bob’s current shows, I RARELY hear any mention of Bob’s voice sounding rough,weak,un-intelligible,gruff,or bad…and I know,from many experiences in the past few years,that he DOES sound this bad,EVERY night,although some nights are better than others.So,as a rock critic,you are required to mention this to your readers,I feel,because it IS the truth—just because YOU can take it doesn’t mean someone else can,you know?! The example you gave as the Things Have Changed video proves it—nice re-arrangement of the song,musically,but Bob is barking and shouting his way through the lyrics,not SINGING them !!! This reminds me of his performance of Maggies Farm on this year’s Grammys—great music,but Bob sounded TERRIBLE,and even his friend Bette Midler had negative post-performance comments(“Bobby honey,stop the ciggies,please !!!) So,no,you are NOT being honest with your readers when you make no mention of his rough,un-clear sounding voice—they will go to his shows expecting to hear at least a reasonable facsimile of him singing,and they’re not getting CLOSE to that—TRUTH !!! Stay out of denial,blind faith is VERY dangerous,The Watchman

  6. I fully realize that many people are disappointed by modern Dylan shows, but I’m not, so what I write represents my experience. Frankly if people are naive enough to expect Dylan to sound like he did 30 years ago then they deserve to be disappointed. As for the likes of McCartney, his shows are notorious “juke-box” experiences that tend to bore anyone outside of nostalgic one-time listeners. Bob does more of a Grateful Dead thing where there’s always something new and interesting. I get that his voice is shot, but with that shot voice, he still manages to entertain me and many others, so I represent this end of the spectrum. And I do think there are a lot of reviews that criticize his voice, see the “Bob should retire” media blitz of last winter.

  7. Pingback: Curse of Belmonte | Planet Ivy

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