Bob Dylan in Milwaukee at the BMO Harris Bradley Center
Even after 50-plus years in the spotlight, Bob Dylan continues to evolve. The gravely-voiced, blues-based style of his recent work took center stage on Thursday night.
With nothing left to prove at this point of his illustrious career, Bob Dylan continues to produce music that is both relevant and enjoyable, if not necessarily as groundbreaking as it once was. The subdued, blues-based, folk singer rock ‘n’ roll that makes up the majority of his releases from the past 15 years was on display at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Thursday night, as the setlist included songs like “Rollin’ And Tumblin’,” “Million Miles,” “Love Sick,” and “Thunder On The Mountain.”
Case in point: for much of the evening, Dylan was seated at the piano, but for “Ballad of a Thin Man,” a song that prominently features the piano, he was up and moving, with the piano part being done on guitar. This type of thing isn’t exactly surprising, considering the source. It’s a bit funny, actually—not laugh-out-loud funny—but in the way that Dylan is often funny, like how he came out to join Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers at the 2011 Grammys’ “Acoustic Tribute” without any acoustic instrument and played “Maggie’s Farm” (the song in which he famously went electric), or how last night, touring in support of Tempest, he didn’t play a single song from Tempest.
But that’s the thing about Dylan; he’s earned the right to do whatever it is he wants to do. And it was clear on Thursday night that he was really enjoying himself onstage. Even though his live performances in 2012 aren’t exactly Live 1966: The Royal Albert Hall Concert, it’s still an extremely enjoyable show.
The BMO Harris Bradley Center was transformed to become an intimate setting for the show, with folding chairs on the floor, red curtains at each individual entrance and large black curtains shielding all of the arena’s upper level. It was an adjustment that worked very effectively, and the sound in the arena was excellent.
Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler opened the show with an impressive set of his own. His guitar sound was fantastic and he had a quiet confidence at the group’s helm, allowing his wildly talented band, or “bunch of happy wanderers,” as he called them, to shine. Knopfler even joined Dylan onstage for the first half of his set.
But of course, Bob Dylan was the star of the night. His stage presence is unlike anyone else’s, and he makes it nearly impossible to look away. Because his lyrics and songwriting often take center stage on his albums, it can be easy to forget how talented a musician he is. On piano, he was effortlessly brilliant, and his harmonica solos, especially on “Tangled Up In Blue,” were highlights of the night.
What’s interesting about the decisions Bob Dylan makes at this point in his career as a performer is that there is no roadmap for how to be a rock star after more than 50 years of being a rock star. There is no precedent. While other still-standing musicians from his era tend to, in a way, “shut up and play the hits,” Dylan is still evolving. He’s still re-inventing his music. He’s still the same forward-thinking visionary he always has been, and for that he deserves the same enormous amount of respect he’s always been granted. Roll on, Bob.
“Watching the River Flow”
“Girl From The North Country”
“Things Have Changed”
“Tangled Up In Blue”
“Chimes of Freedom”
“Rollin’ and Tumblin'”
“Highway 61 Revisited”
“Thunder On The Mountain”
“Ballad of a Thin Man”
“Like a Rolling Stone”
“All Along The Watchtower”
Encore: “Blowin’ In The Wind”