Dylan not in tune with the times

CON­CERT RE­VIEW | Fans got what they wanted but noth­ing new

Chicago Sun-Times - - Front Page - BY THOMAS CON­NER

Peo­ple play mu­sic for a lot of dif­fer­ent rea­sons. Bob Dylan’s rea­sons have al­ways been his own, for good or ill, and we’ve been guess­ing (largely un­suc­cess­fully) at what those are for half a cen­tury now. The Dylan who showed up Satur­day night at the Riviera The­atre seemed driven by the same rea­sons that fu­eled him on Hal­loween week­ends in 2009 and 2007. He plays mu­sic now be­cause he ap­par­ently just can’t stop.

This is the Dylan we’ve seen for about the last 15 years. He can put on a great show — as he did Satur­day, live­lier than I’ve seen him in a long time — but he’s a mu­si­cal Grady Tripp, the pro­tag­o­nist of Michael Chabon’s 1995 novel a writer highly ac­claimed for his early work but un­able to fin­ish a fol­low-up, a nearly 3,000-page man­u­script with no con­clu­sion in sight. Dylan keeps tour­ing (play­ing a lot of old songs) and record­ing (play­ing new songs that sound like old ones, love letters to his col­lec­tion of 78s), and he seems no closer to an­other co­he­sive state­ment. The in­tro­duc­tion Satur­day night re­ferred to Dylan, 69, as the poet lau­re­ate of rock ’n’ roll; he’s more like a dis­tin­guished chair, a pro­fes­sor like Tripp, a relic worth learn­ing from — but only in the his­tory depart­ment.

The Dylan road­house re­vue plows ahead at full steam, though. Still backed by a beefy band, led by chis­eled gui­tarist Char­lie Sex­ton, Dylan croaked through a re­mark­ably fan-friendly set list, switch­ing be­tween or­gan, gui­tar and har­mon­ica. Things re­ally swung in the mid­dle of the two-hour show, with Sex­ton on a hol­low-body “Jo­lene” “Like a Rolling Stone” “For­ever Young” gui­tar for a jump­ing-jive ver­sion of “Sum­mer Days,” then a slow, sway­ing retelling of “The Lone­some Death of Hat­tie Car­roll.” “Cold Irons Bound” (“

thun­dered with big drums, cour­tesy of Ge­orge Re­cile, and Dylan stood at the mi­cro­phone vis­i­bly at ease while spit­ting out the words and blow­ing a hot harp solo, then brush­ing his gray locks back un­der­neath his gray hat — and smil­ing, a rar­ity that held through the cool pace of “Sim­ple Twist of Fate” and sur­faced later on a worka­day run through “Tangled Up in Blue.”

Like any other re­cent Dylan show, Satur­day’s con­cert rocked and rolled, the mu­sic tak­ing point over the poet lau­re­ate’s ut­terly un­in­tel­li­gi­ble words. Six hours be­fore show time, “Daily Show” comic Jon Ste­wart ad­dressed his Rally to Re­store San­ity in Washington, rail­ing against the deaf­en­ing blus­ter of Amer­i­can me­dia, say­ing, “If we am­plify ev­ery­thing, we hear noth­ing.” That cer­tainly ap­plies to Dylan’s blar­ing road show.

But it’s worth build­ing on that: On the same day Ste­wart ral­lied mod­er­ates on the Na­tional Mall to in­ject a desperatel­y needed voice of rea­son into the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal and me­dia shout­ing match, isn’t it a drag to see Dylan —

Bob Dylan, still roundly iden­ti­fied by the im­pact of a so­cial con­science he dis­played four decades ago — glid­ing through a great­esthits set, de­liv­er­ing nar­ra­tives and mes­sages so far out of con­text only skill­ful pro­fes­sors could ap­ply them to mod­ern times?

Steve Earle once recorded a song wish­ing Woody Guthrie, Dylan’s orig­i­nal hero, would come back, claim­ing we ur­gently needed a strong voice of protest like that again. I’d give any­thing to have Dylan back in that mode, if only for one, good song. Not for nostal­gia’s sake, but be­cause if Dylan of all peo­ple had per­formed the mu­si­cal call for san­ity Satur­day at Ste­wart’s rally in­stead of (lord have mercy) Kid Rock, his grav­i­tas and power would have cut right through that am­pli­fied blather. The whole world would have heard it.

Dylan long ago shrugged off the re­spon­si­bil­ity of be­ing a voice for any­one but him­self, and that’s fine. Un­for­tu­nate at this par­tic­u­lar moment, but fine. His rea­sons for play­ing now are merely to put on a good show, which he does. For what­ever that’s worth.


Bob Dy­lan (shown per­form­ing in Eng­land last sum­mer) put on a lively show at the Riviera Theatre Satur­day night.

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