LIVE REPORTGREEN STAGE7/29 SUN
BOB DYLAN & HIS BAND
Bob being Bob
What is there to say that hasn’t already been said? Bob Dylan… Enough has been written about (and by) the man to fill a good-sized library. He is a Nobel Prize winner, for Pete’s sake: The majority of festival attendees flocked to the Green Stage early Sunday evening to see a living legend.
For a man of 77, Bob still had a lot of vitality and style. Dressed all in black, with white star piping down the sides of his trousers, his iconic mop of hair blowing in the Naeba breeze. He spent the majority of the set standing at the piano, which he didn’t really need to do at all. But it all came together to show that the man still knows how to present himself.
His band brought a bluesy-western vibe that was a key factor in the current Bob Dylan sound. Lots of lap steel guitar, upright bass and Bob himself sticking exclusively to the piano. No Newport Folk Festival guitar here, folks. It was a little jarring to see him presented as a musician among peers, and a piano player at that, though he seemed to enjoy this position.
A further note on his piano playing… Generally people don’t think of Bob Dylan as a gifted musician (or singer for that matter), but more of a genius songwriter and poet. However, even in front of a band of immaculate musicians his piano playing was strikingly strong. He played with conviction, from the heart, with a loose, casual approach that nicely contrasted his phenomenally tight band.
The crowd reaction to the current state of Bob Dylan was, in the beginning, a bit flat. People didn’t seem to really be able to identify which song was which considering the band’s updated arrangements. People started to respond to the set more when he played “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”, but even a classic like this was reworked nearly to beyond recognition and seemed to serve more as a vehicle for the band and Bob’s piano playing.
The sunset and the nightfall that followed showcased the natural beauty of Naeba. As the sun went down the crowd seemed to warm up to the scene. Truth be told, the Green Stage didn’t seem like the best venue for this performance – it needed something more intimate. Then again, where else could Bob Dylan possibly play other than the main stage? After night-fall things seemed to achieve a greater level of closeness, the gulf between the audience and the performer, the crowd and the artist, closed a bit. Perhaps it just took time for a lot of the audience to accept that they were seeing Bob Dylan the constantly evolving artist, not just ersatz Bob Dylan parroting his 40-year old classics like “Like a Rolling Stone” for the 10,000th time.
Of course, that happens to be the song he closed his set with, but like his other old hits it was reworked into something new. The lyrics didn’t have the same youthful rebelliousness or anger of the original recording, but perhaps a dose of wizened acceptance. It wasn’t a protest ballad, but it was still a beautiful song. And while it may not have satisfied many because of the changes, it it Bob Dylan’s song, not yours. Perhaps we as listeners should be more open to letting our idols continue to grow and evolve rather than trying to trap them in amber at the point they recorded the songs we love.
If I were to conjecture about the crowd/artist relationship, I would say the audience gave Bob the opportunity to do what he wants to do, and he ran with it. Let me explain… Walking towards the Green Stage for the show, I overheard a young Japanese man say into his phone that he just wanted to see Bob Dylan’s face once and then he would head back to his friends. As though the idea of Bob Dylan is bigger than the man or his music. I think this was true for a lot of the evening’s listeners, especially young ones. Strangely this gave Bob a lot of freedom to do what he wanted to do with his own music and his own set. He certainly didn’t feel like a washed-up old rock star playing his hits just the way his fans wanted to hear them for a paycheck.
The lack of any sort of visual show behind the set is was a grand departure from every other big act thus far in the festival, but I’m not sure it would have added anything and it could have run the risk of cheapening the whole affair. In the end shouldn’t a show like this be about the band and the music? After all, Bob Dylan has been playing shows without visuals behind him for longer than most listeners have been alive.
And was it wrong of him to say not a single word to the crowd throughout the set, not even a simple thank you? Maybe. But should he have to? Maybe not. In the end he didn’t leave the stage taking a bow for himself, he left bowing with his band, giving recognition to the musicians at his side as peers. Further, when has Bob Dylan ever been one to follow the rules? And even though a few “Thank you Japan!” throwaway asides may have gotten him a big response from the crowd, would that have really given the audience what they wanted? Or would it simply have cheapened things?
In the end it was a rock and roll concert in the classical sense, helmed by a legend who doesn’t need to do anything he doesn’t want to do. If you don’t like that, too bad. It’s Bob freaking Dylan.