Dylan’s show at College Park was for the most part a high energy affair with occasional, fleeting glimpses of the bone-chilling intensity he is capable of. Dylan is clearly having a lot of fun on stage these days, and why not? He certainly doesn’t have to prove anything at this point. If anything he’s trying to disprove those who would say he just stands there and sings. Constantly-in-motion, his stage moves are an almost comic combination rock star guitar slinging swagger and once again Charlie Chaplin, perhaps with a bit of Harpo Marx and WC Fields thrown in for good measure. After all this time, his sheer presence is magnetic and riveting. You don’t want to take your eyes off him.
Musically, thing were a bit speedy. “Serve Somebody” roared to live with Dylan singing in a shockingly strong voice. The song rocked and rocked hard, considering Dylan — judging by his curious hair style — looked like he just woke up.
A fairly speedy “I’ll Remember You” followed making it even clearer that he was in good vocal form, getting into his low scary voice on the “Didn’t I try to love you?” bridge.
Fairly typical renditions of “Memphis Blues Again” and “To Make You Feel My Love” came next. On all these songs, Dylan took every single guitar solo which is unfortunate. Sometimes his solos are fun, sometimes the three-note repetition serves to take the energy level up a few notches, but too often they are just meaningless. He has a superb lead guitarist in Larry Campbell — easily his best live lead player since Robbie Robertson — and he ought to let him step out instead of hogging every solo.
The standout musician of this particular night was easily Tony Garnier who was playing amazing, driving and intricate runs throughout the night whether on “I’ll Remember You” or one of the evening’s true standouts, “I Can’t Wait.”
The acoustic set began with an okay “Stone Walls and Steel Bars.” This was followed by yet another re-arrangement of “Mr. Tambourine Man.” It began at a moderately slow pace, and slowly built up to a rousing peak on the last verse. Having reduced the melody to two notes, as only he can, he phrased those two notes to build and build to a stunning climax. However, this is a song that never needed to be rearranged period. The melody is one of the most beautiful Dylan ever came up with, the original tempo perfect. It would be nice to see him return to it.
A brisk intense “Tangled” followed with Dylan really leaning into the lyrics in a close to intense clipped fashion. An epic song by any standard it was made even more epic by two Dylan guitar leads and finally a harp solo that started off very slowly and tenuously and just kept building and building till he hit whatever it was he was looking for and once he found it, he didn’t let go.
“Don’t Think Twice” started with Campbell finger-picking the original “Freewheelin'” guitar part. Sounded pretty cool until Bob led it back to three-note-solo land, destroying the original mood, making what could’ve been a really gorgeous version a typical one.
Then in a surprise move the intro to “Blind Willie McTell.” And it was strong, and it was powerful and it was fine through the first stanza and then Dylan forgot the words, and no he didn’t get thrown off by the guitar. He just forgot the next line and it’s too bad Tony or someone couldn’t have said to him “East Texas” and it would’ve come back. Then he went into the fourth verse or something and couldn’t remember that did the part of the last verse twice and thankfully ended it. And it was too bad because he was actually singing the chorus the way he originally wrote it “And I know no one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell” instead of the Band’s version “I know one thing, no one can sing……”
What really made it a shame was the next song was “Every Grain of Sand” which would have been an incredible one, two punch. But the McTell gaff clearly rattled Dylan and kind of let the air out, and for a second we almost thought he’d forgotten the words to this as well, but he pulled it out. The momentum was gone however, and “Highway 61” whether it was scheduled next or not was definitely the right move to get the energy back.
“Lovesick” had kind of a strange beginning, but they pulled it out with Campbell finally stepping forward to take a solo. However, this is one of the songs where Bob’s solo like the one he took on the Grammys really works. Oh well it’s one of the joys of being a Dylan fan. The one time you want him to take a guitar solo, he doesn’t.
Bob still had some surprises up his sleeve as everyone was expecting the inevitable “Rainy Day Women” and instead he pulled out “Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat” in a way to make everyone think it was going to be “RDW.”
A moving “Blowin’ In The Wind” came next with strong harmony from Larry and Bucky following Bob’s phrasing stretching wind.
Then it was back to the electrics for “Till I Fell In Love” and as it was getting pretty late and close to midnight and we weren’t sure whether they were coming back or not, Larry seemed to think the show was over — but come back they did for a gentle “Forever Young.”
It was a show more entertaining and fun than moving, but it was fun I’ll take anytime.