By Joel Francis
Twenty-plus years after eschewing his “Christian phase,” Bob Dylan assumed the mantle of Old Testament prophet at his joint concert with Willie Nelson at the T-Bones minor league baseball park in Kansas City, Kan.
Dylan cried out warnings of the apocalypse with a voice burdened by so much wisdom and sorrow it frequently broke and scraped under its own weight. There was no alternative but to drench it in echo: This is the way Moses’ voice must have sounded booming down from the mountains, falling like a harsh rain on the sinners’ ears. Then again, if Moses were accompanied by Larry Campbell on steel pedal the way Dylan was, the idolaters likely would have started casting a new statue. Like Isaiah foretelling the destruction of the temple, Dylan’s echo-laden, sparse and mournful arrangement of “All Along the Watchtower,” driven by Campbell’s pedal steel, warns that the future isn’t as bright as many concert-goers would like to believe.
In this new arrangement, the joker and the thief watch in relative safety. From their vantage-point, the riders are no longer approaching, but inside the city walls, raping, ransacking and causing unimaginable destruction. Campbell’s playing suggests that the wind has been howling for some time now._“Look at it,” the thief says in dismay, not wanting to believe his eyes. “We tried to warn them, but no one wanted to listen. Now they’re paying the price.”
A tear trickles down the joker’s cheek as he sees more riders on the horizon. He has lied to the thief, and he knows it: There is no kind of way outta here. The only exit from this horrific scenario is to end the song and turn on the house lights, which is exactly what Dylan does, but only after another of Campbell’s solos. The crowd cheers rapturously, never knowing how close they came to oblivion._But then again, seldom are the prophets’ words heeded in time.