Review: Bob Dylan

(Above: Zimmy and band roll and tumble.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Two of the most iconic songwriters of the 1960s visited Kansas City just two weeks apart. But while patrons packed the Sprint Center and doled out big money to see Paul McCartney, acres of more reasonably priced empty seats could be found at Bob Dylan’s concert at Starlight Theater on Saturday night.

Part of this can be attributed to frequency. McCartney has only played Kansas City three times since the Beatles called it quits. Dylan rolls through town about every 15 months. But delivery also plays a big role. McCartney performs his beloved numbers exactly (or close to the ways) how everyone remembers them; Dylan plays nothing straight.

Saturday’s performance ran just shy of two hours and felt pretty much the same as Dylan’s many previous stops in town, including the show he played at Starlight just over three years ago. After opening with two tracks from the ‘70s – including a stunning “Senor (Tales of Yankee Power),”  Dylan and his four-piece band ping-ponged between his golden era in the ‘60s and material cut in the past decade.

The best moments were the ballads. The delicate “Just Like A Woman” opened with a lengthy instrumental section that highlighted the subtle interplay between acoustic, electric and pedal steel guitars, and Dylan’s organ, his preferred instrument of the night. The instruments danced deftly until the signature descending guitar riff entered, heralding the first verse. “Workingman’s Blues No. 2” had a similar feel later in the set, and featured Dylan’s best harmonica solo of the night.

Dylan gave a nice treat when he paired two of the best numbers from his protest era. Almost a half a century after their debut, “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” and “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” remain a potent commentary on poverty and race. Their impact was muted, however, by an arrangement of “Hattie Carroll” that rendered the number nearly unrecognizable.

The band mined the Chicago blues for two newer numbers, “My Wife’s Hometown” and “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” The former was the only time Dylan strapped on an electric guitar. It should have been repeated. His prodding duel with lead guitarist Charlie Sexton seemed to invigorate the rest of the band.

A slump in the final third of the set ended with a spectacular “Ballad of a Thin Man.” The lone illumination from the footlights added an other-worldly atmosphere to the song as Dylan stepped away from his keyboard and sang into a microphone set just off center, in front of the drums.

Reliable encores “Like a Rolling Stone” and “All Along the Watchtower” still pack a punch and hold pleasant surprises. Dylan intentionally dropped his vocals after the second chorus on “Like a Rolling Stone” to give the band some space to play and let Sexton take an extra solo. “Watchtower” came in a staccato fashion that resembled the far-off gallop of the riders’ horses, before they suddenly stormed the gates.

The Dough Rollers: Dylan’s attraction to this duo isn’t hard to spot. Their 35-minute opening set included covers of John Lee Hooker, Mississippi Fred McDowell and early gospel numbers. The pair sounds like they have just been pulled off an old field recording cut by Alan Lomax. Malcolm Ford sounds like he learned to sing by studying antique cylinder recordings. Jack Byrne’s bottleneck slide on “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord” was especially tasty. The set also included an interpretation of “Goin’ to Kansas City.” They would be a great show at B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ or Knucklehead’s.

Dylan’s setlist: Watching the River Flow, Senor (Tales of Yankee Power), Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine), My Wife’s Home Town, Rollin’ and Tumblin’, Just Like A Woman, The Ballad of Hollis Brown, The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, Cry A While, Workingman’s Blues No. 2, Highway 61 Revisited, I Feel A Change Comin’ On, Thunder on the Mountain, Ballad of a Thin Man. Encore: Like a Rolling Stone, Jolene, All Along the Watchtower.

Keep reading:

Bob Dylan: All Along the Watchtower (2004)

Bob Dylan – “Workingman’s Blues No. 2”

“Tell Tale Signs” Sheds Light on Legend

2 thoughts on “Review: Bob Dylan

  1. Thanks for helping us remain aware of the music that keeps us alive. I feel better after having read your more complete review of the Dylan concert. The copy editor at the Star did you no favors! However, my wife’s comment at our breakfast table was that the McCartney comparison was “a cheap shot, especially as a lead paragraph”. Also, I tire a little of the complaints that he reworks his songs. I believe that is a part of his genius. I thought this show was exceptional and I have seen all of them dating back a long way. Obviously, the return of Charlie Sexton energizes him. Sexton is a great guitarist. Dylan was more engaged and responsive to the audience. I took children and grandchildren with me and they were thrilled by his performance. Two of them had never seen him before. Another has used him in high school class assignments.
    PLEASE don’t take my comments as criticism of your review without understanding that I thought your overall response was insightful as your work always is. I appreciated your comments about the Dough Rollers. My grandchildren took time to visit with them and look for Harrison Ford, who someone spotted early. I assume he was there to hear his son.
    Sorry this is too long. But if you are patient enough to wade through it, thanks again!

    1. Hubert,
      Thank you for reading. I’m sorry you thought my comparison to McCartney was a cheap shot. I think those two men stand head and shoulders above their peers from the ’60s, especially when considering all the great talent that has passed. Any list of the greatest songwriters of the decade that doesn’t include Dylan or the Beatles is seriously suspect. We were fortunate to have both men visit our town just two weeks apart. Had the timing been different, I certainly would have opened a different way.
      I am envious that you spotted Harrison Ford. I had no idea he was there until I saw the comments the next day. If anyone could challenge the popularity of Dylan and McCartney it might be Han Solo and Indiana Jones. I was also amazed at the way his son trained his voice. It can’t be easy to sing like that.
      It was a delight to see Sexton back in the fold. I saw Larry Campbell leading Levon Helm’s band last month at Crossroads and bumped into him after the show. When I told him how much I enjoyed his playing, especially during his tenure with Dylan, Campbell said playing with Helm was the “gig of a lifetime.” I believe Dylan’s band with Sexton and Campbell (as documented in “Masked and Anonymous”) could challenge The Band as Dylan’s best backing group.
      Thank you for reading and for taking time to write,
      Joel

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