Sunday, July 02, 2017

Bob Dylan Show Notes by John Mensinger

I was prepared to be disappointed by the performance. Not by the experience — I knew I would be pleased to have an 'in-person’ opportunity to take in the enormity of BD’s influence on my life-long musical journey — but by the musical performance itself, the mumbling, bumbling old man who long ago lost his mojo, and was now just side-stepping his way through one post-Nobel victory tour-stop after the next. Maybe a pickup band… like Chuck Berry in decline….

But no. He was awesome. Still a rebel with an attitude, but now with style and grace, integrity intact, doing it his way, without apology… I was really quite stunned. He walked out in a western suit and bolo tie, big hair, pointed boots with spats, took a bold (almost aggressive) stance behind a baby grand and started pounding away, launching into a tune that reminded me of one of those “Time Out of Mind” things, a freight train of rhythm bearing down…. Next up was “Highway 61”, and I was hooked. There was lots of material that I didn’t recognize, but plenty that I did. He started on time, and played for 1hr 45m without a pause. He remained in strong voice throughout. Personal highlights were of course the ’60’s stuff (Ballad of a Thin Man, Desolation Row, some Blonde on Blonde), but the whole catalogue was great - blues, honky tonk, folk (an incredible version of ‘Don’t Think Twice’), country, rock ’n’ roll… And the band was fabulous - Bob remained on piano, a lead and rhythm guitar (rhythm player also did acoustic), a propulsive drummer who shook up the beat with syncopated riffs, a bass player who picked up the stringed version as appropriate, and a multi-instrumentalist (electric keyboard, mandolin, pedal steel, violin and more) who was able to turn the ensemble into anything it needed to be by sheer force of will. The set, sound, stage layout and lighting design were all top shelf and professional; the whole show was so impressive…

The tunes that stuck with me the most were the standards, the great American songbook… I had already heard (and bought) “Melancholy Mood” (Sinatra’s first single with the Harry James Orchestra in 1939), and Bob included it and about a half-dozen others in the set that were totally satisfying. For these he stepped away from the piano, took a tall mic stand at center stage, tipped it out front, jutted one knee forward, put a hand on his hip in a way that was at once proud and humble, and sang with a world-weary tone and a depth of emotion that was just stunning… All or Nothing at All, That Old Black Magic, All the Way, Autumn Leaves… This was a man who, at seventy seven, while he never felt the need to re-invent himself, was making it clear that he still had something to say (take it or leave it). Of course he was off-key, and his voice strained to hit the notes. I remember that’s what my dad said in ’64; it didn’t matter then, and it doesn’t matter now…

OK, so it wasn’t Forest Hills ’65. I’m not eighteen anymore, either. I’m so grateful that I made the decision not to let this one pass me by…
-John Mensinger, 2017

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