Bob Dylan still rocking a place like the Greek Theater in 2009? Anyone who would stated that to be possible in the late sixties would have others thinking it to be very unlikely. By the late sixties Dylan had crashed his motorcycle badly and had turned into a recluse poet, shying away from the claims that he was one of the big “prophets” or “fathers” of the hippie generation. Dylan rejected the notion preferring to be labeled a human being like the rest of us. He changed his harmonica folk blues to a more country tinged rock n’ roll. This still worked well, and despite touring an awful lot less he still managed to record some great albums like Nashville Skyline, New Morning and Blood On The Tracks leading into what is referred to as The Rolling Thunder Years of Dyaln’s career in the mid 70s. After becoming a born-again Christian in the 1980s with a few albums that freaked the entire 60s generation out, Dylan found himself again after years of touring with nothing new to show, Dylan fans must have thought the well had finally run dry by 1996, but Dylan surprised them again with the release of Time Out Of Mind, a huge comeback and quite simply one of his finest albums with such classics as “Cold Iron Bound,” which Dylan performed his first night at The Greek Theater, and the timeless “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven,” which was the fifth song I heard Dylan perform on Sunday.
Folks at the Greek Theater was just as excited to see Dylan a day later on Sunday then they were on Saturday, as huge crowds began lining up outside the Greek four hours before the show even began in the early part of the afternoon with their blankets, warm coats and wool hats, as it had been an abnormally chilly weekend for California, and it really felt like a crisp Autumn Day with many leaves beginning to fall.
I got into the show right in time to see Dylan open with “Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat” that dates way back to his timeless 1966 folk classic Blonde on Blonde. If Dylan surprised anyone with “Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat,” he got the crowd even more revved when he ripped up another Blonde on Blonde classic “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again,” blending blues, country, rock, and folk into a wild, careening, and dense sound. Dylan’s harmonica ripped it’s way through the Greek Theater as his backing band did a good job especially on guitar and drumming. Dylan was content sitting behind the keys for a lot of the show, although he was a front man and playing harmonica also. It was interesting just seeing him sing without a guitar in hand. It is an image I am unfamiliar seeing when it comes to Bob Dylan and I have never thought of him as an all out front man, more of a folk poet with his guitar singing about “Shakespeare in the alley.”
This was a much different Bob Dylan set than the one I had witnessed in Manchester, Tennessee at Bonnaroo Festival back in the summer of 2004. While seeing Dylan at Bonnaroo I had only recognized, “Highway 61,” and “Like A Rolling Stone,” as the only two songs I knew. This time Dylan seemed poised to give me and other Berkeley folks a taste of his sixties magic as he delighted the crowd with a fantastic rendition of “A Hard Rains A Gonna’ Fall.”
If you could get past the point Bob Dylan’s voice was pretty burned out from lots of years of singing and smoking and he couldn’t hit nearly the same notes he could in the sixties than it should still have been an enjoyable show for most of the crowd.
Also I am more familiar with Dylan’s newer material five years later than I was back in 2004, and Dylan played songs that hadn’t even come out the last time I saw him such as the opening track on 2007’s Modern Times “Thunder On The Mountain,” a song in which Dylan describes himself dreaming of pop vocalist Alecia Keys. Many of Dylan’s songs prior to his newest album Together Through Life seemed to deal with his rolling subconscious which is pitted with love, but tinged with an overall sickness and disgust for life in gems such as “Love Sick,” Standing In The Doorway Crying,” “Dreamin Of You,” or even a song like “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven.”
Dylan also played three songs from Highway 61 Revisted, the title track “Highway 61” “Like A Rolling Stone,” and the fantastic “Ballad Of A Thin Man,” which drew the most reception. With some of the most poetic lyrics Bob Dylan ever wrote, he sang to the Greek Theater crowd, “You've been with the professors and they've all liked your looks. With great lawyers you have discussed lepers and crooks. You've been through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald's books. You're very well read it's well known. Because something is happening here but you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?
After the Highway 61 classics Dylan left the stage for a few minutes, then came back on and played two encores “Jolene,” and his most famously covered song “All Along The Watchtower,” that has influenced everyone from The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Dave Mason from Traffic, to The Grateful Dead in their late 80s early 90s sets, and in modern times Dave Matthews Band. The lights show was crazy during this last song and it almost seemed like Dylan was trying to go psychedelic a bit like The Grateful Dead. His backing band was heavier than anything I remember Dylan working with in recent years and sounded nice and loud despite playing in an outdoor amphitheater. The crowd sang along with Dylan, “"There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief. There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief. Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth. None of them along the line know what any of it is worth. No reason to get excited," the thief, he kindly spoke. There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke. But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate. So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late." After the song Dylan bid the crowd at the Greek good night smiling. He seemed to be happy and in a great mood compared to his usual introverted enigmatic personality.
1. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
2.This Dream Of You
3. Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
4. Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
5. Tryin' To Get To Heaven
6. High Water (for Charlie Patton)
7. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
8. My Wife's Home Town
9. Honest With Me
10. Forgetful Heart
11. Highway 61 Revisited
12. Workingman's Blues #2
13. Thunder On The Mountain
14. Ballad Of A Thin Man
15. Like A Rolling Stone
17. All Along The Watchtower