Tangled Up in Dylan
Memories of Bob Dylan and how the legend performed at the Riverside last night.
Ten years ago I was a first-year undergrad at the University of Minnesota. On a sad, balmy Tuesday night in July I drove my roommates car to Midway Stadium in St. Paul to sell a pair of Bob Dylan tickets. It was a tragic exchange, but I felt it had to be done. The day before I incurred three rolling overdraft fees from my bank and I needed the money. I idolized Dylan at the time, so the debt filled me with guilt and frustration.
I was a hip-hop kid through and through, but no single musician meant more to me in my youth than Dylan. During my ill-fated freshman semester at the University of Wisconsin I regularly laid on the floor of my lonely single Lakeshore dorm listening to Dylan and studying the pages of “Lyrics: 1962-2001.” It wasn’t a major factor, but Dylan’s brief stint at the University of Minnesota played a small role in my decision to transfer.
Dylan spent slightly more time at the U of M (he lived in his cousin’s frat house the summer before school started) than I did at UW before he dropped out and made his way to New York City where he rose to global fame. Dylan grew up in small-town Minnesota so you can imagine how his few months in Minneapolis are heralded up there.
In my third year of college a traveling Dylan exhibition was scheduled to feature at the Weisman Art Museum and their curator taught a one-credit course on Dylan, which essentially functioned to train potential tour guides. My roommate Jordan Sandvig (Vision the Kid) and I immediately enrolled. Our first assignment was to visit the Minnesota History Center and listen to an early recording of Dylan from an apartment on the corner of 15th Ave SE and Como Ave SE, the same building I lived in the year before.
As soon as I saw that Dylan was playing the Riverside this week, I wrestled with the decision to buy a ticket. He’s a living legend and still one of my idols. But I’ve heard about his show these days, how he rarely plays the hits and when he does they are almost unrecognizable. And the price is always an object.
“This is the first song. He hasn’t said anything. We were at the show in Chicago and he didn’t say much there. He’s not much of a talker.”
True enough. Dylan’s only off-book aside was to assure the crowd that they’d be back after intermission. The first couple of songs were as expected, bluesy crooning, a far cry from his signature 60s sound. In those days many fans were offended when he evolved from an acoustic guitar to an electric band, but today he needs the backup. That’s not to say the old man can’t still blow the harmonica or even play the piano. His musical skills impressed and so did those of his band. But his aging, road-weary pipes leave much to be desired. Nevertheless, they found a groove four or five songs in and didn’t let up save a couple songs throughout the two-hour set.
Despite my once encyclopedic knowledge of Dylan’s catalogue, I can’t provide a set list from last night’s performance. This is a testament to how much I haven’t paid attention to his last decade of releases and to his obscure song choices. It was a surprise when they did play “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Simple Twist of Fate.” Both received huge applause and his piano finish on the former was a special moment. During each guitar solo I couldn’t help but be distracted by his subtle dance moves, even if it was just a head nod.
“He’s like the male version of Carmen Sandiego. Always on the move, one step ahead,” my friend mused before Dylan’s encore.
With a career spanning over a half-century, Dylan has stolen a lot of hearts, minds, awards and critical acclaim. The current, Never Ending Tour has covered a lot of ground and shows no signs of stopping. “Blowin in the Wind” kicked off the encore and unified the crowd in their admiration for the mythical figure in front of them. At that point we all remembered why we loved and will always love Dylan. His imprint is unmatched. As his final song, “Stay With Me” (off his latest release, 2015’s Shadows In The Night), echoed through the old theater I knew that the night and his legacy would do just that.