“Well, that was rude! I really hope he’s in a better mood in 48 hours”. That phrase was a milestone in this writer’s 7 year-long concert attendance record: this was the first time I had witnessed an artist or band not coming back for an encore or even greeting the audience throughout a concert. All I could say to myself after such an unpleasant surprise was: “Well, he is Bob Dylan.”
A man that has walked one too many roads for one too many mornings in the past 6 decades; the oddly beautiful voice of a generation and creator of many lyrical and performing standards; a peaceful living legend with an endless compromise with music and arts; even after all these years, an unstoppable rolling stone: there are so many beautiful adjectives and ways to describe Bob Dylan and so many Bob Dylans that can described throughout music history.
There has been the protester, the hopeless lover, the king with the unwanted crown, the rebel, the Judas, the beatnik, the religious artist, the voiceless and never-ending performer. Discovering Dylan for the first time sucks you into an artistic maze: once you get in, it’s hard to get out. For trying to understand Dylan through his 57 albums (plus singles and compilations) is a lifelong task and one of music’s most wonderful endeavors at the same time.
After watching Dylan for the first time back in 2008 — back when I could only afford the cheapest seat inside the Auditorio Nacional and all I could see was this tiny little life form trying to sing and sounding like a drunken grandmother screaming while having her eyes pulled out at the bottom of a cliff— this writer was able to witness the evolution of Bob Dylan’s raspy voice into an almost unintelligible singing growl. Which has been a known fact for decades, when the Never Ending Tour (the first show was in 1988) began and stayed true to its name ever since. This writer had the chance to prove an even more noticeable transformation almost 2 nights in a row just a mere 4 years apart.
During the first night, in Guadalajara’s Telmex Auditorium, we were warned that if we even tried to take our cameras or cellphones out, security would take them away from us. That was also the first time no photographer was allowed to take any official pictures from the concert or for any kind of media. With an almost full venue, Dylan and a set of 5 amazing musicians came on stage and, without any introduction, greeting or warning, began to blast Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat (one of Blonde On Blonde’s jewels) in the bluesiest kind of way possible. Making a statement on what kind of night it was going to be: there would not be sign of the folky and soft Dylan, just pure, raw and simple blues-rock all the way through.
Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind
Along came It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, Things Have Changed (with Dylan’s Oscar for “Best Original Song” back in 2000’s film Wonder Boys placed on top of his amplifier) plus electrified versions of A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall and All Along The Watchtower, among other anthems from his never-ending career. As the live versions of his originally acoustic tracks are way different too from one another, the concert felt like some sort of a game from time to time. A game in which you had to guess which song the band was playing before it ended. Sure it isn’t a fun activity, as Bob’s voice makes it quite a challenging situation.
The first highlight of the night was Dylan’s work as lead guitarist, while soloing here and there during Cry A While, one of his bluesiest tunes while playing live. He may not be the fastest guitar player or the one with the best technique, but the sloppiness and feeling put in each one of his licks make his solos something strangely attractive to hear (just as his voice does). The downside of shows like this (with obligatory seats instead of the typical standing area for the crazy public with strong legs), is that you are not allowed to stand up from your seat. More than once, security had to make people sit back on their seats whenever they tried to stand and dance to the up-beat tunes the band was playing. No dancing or taking pictures? Really?
But the song that made everyone get up off their seats was the mythical Like A Rolling Stone, instantly recognizable as the first snare drum was heard and all the audience in Guadalajara threw the rules out the window. Cameras were taken out (this writer’s included), moves were danced, bad words were shouted through the air, middle fingers were flashed to the security officers and an entire crowd sang along Bob Dylan’s masterpiece (considered, arguably, the best song ever recorded in the modern history of music). Then, another song came and not a single goodbye was given to the auditorium, not even an encore. Bob Dylan and his band went off stage and never returned. After that, even more bad words were shouted through the air.
This writer had his hopes up, two nights later, when a third show was held in the brand new Pepsi Center in México City. The place was bigger and more warehouse-like than the Telmex Auditorium, filled with more people with a seated section up-front and a standing section in the back, all floor-leveled. I was in the front section, but the ticket companies played their evil move and even though my ticket was in the third line, my seat was in the upper right side of it. All this writer could see was a whole lot of necks, amplifiers and a non-interesting side of the stage. My only hope was that this show could be better than the last one. Luckily, it was.
The stupid rules on photographs and audience behavior were the same, but the set list wasn’t. To Ramona, Rollin’ And Tumblin’, Desolation Row, Spirit On The Water, Summer Days, Simple Twist Of Fate and (gladly) the encore Blowin’ In The Wind appeared. A happier, joyful and more smiling Dylan took over the place previously of the grumpy elder that played in Guadalajara. He greeted, thanked his public, introduced his amazing band and gave his best. After a guitar solo, many harmonica solos and the appreciation of a full venue, Bob Dylan bowed to us along with his musicians, before heading back to the never ending road they have ahead on their tour. We all left the Pepsi Center at our own chosen speed, knowing we were one too many morning and a thousand nights behind our next meeting with Dylan. You never know when his last show is going to take place, so if one misses a chance, all one can do is play the waiting game.
With his 35th studio album scheduled to come out this September, the Never Ending Tour is set to last a few more years, a couple at least. If you find yourself able to witness the biggest living legend in music history, do so. But don’t expect a crystal clear voice or a big show. You would only see the remains of a king who knows his throne is far from being taking away from him. There are no big lights, enormous screens, fireworks or theatricality.
All you’ll be able to witness, as the songs are a-changin’, is a wonderful display of musicianship; some of last and present centuries’ finest songs ever written; an enigmatic character with his band and the chance to gather round your grandchildren and tell them: “Did you know that, when I was a kid, I once went to a Bob Dylan concert? And boy, sure it was something”.
Jorge A. López Mendicuti | Senior Writer