Friday, August 24, 2012

Bob Dylan: Des Moines, Iowa 8/22/12

There was evolution in the air.

Bob Dylan has endured a lifetime of change, drifting in and out of the public's conscience with his whimsical lyrics and his ever changing progressions of music.

Like the ocean tides his songs have ebbed and flowed throughout his illustrious career, often to a point where an audience might deem them unrecognizable. While he might be singing the lyrics to "Tangled Up In Blue," the song he and his band are playing might sound nothing like the original version, or any other version that one might be used to. Many of the songs in his touring rotation have this effect; they have simply been tweaked to a point where, essentially they are entirely a new song altogether. They have become an alternate reality to their original versions - a shell to their former selves.

Photo by Sarah Cartwright

This is good or bad depending on who you talk to. Personally, I love the changes. If you are a stickler for perfection in terms of pitch, arrangement and tone, then a Bob Dylan concert is probably not for you.

Wednesday night his Never Ending Tour came through Des Moines and played to an estimated audience of 6500 people at the Wells Fargo Arena. The crowd was mired in silence throughout most of the night, although excitement seemed to get more rampant as the night progressed.

Aesthetically, it was an appreciative bunch, but it was hard to tell if they were getting the product that they had expected. I get the feeling that most enjoyed the "newer" version of his songs, but some didn't. He seemed to hold Love and Theft close to his heart, as he performed more songs off of this album than any other. Because it wasn't one of his greatest albums in a commercial sense, the choice of these songs might have cast a spell of stillness over the crowd.

Bob's voice has never been sharper, at least to these ears. His words pierced through the speakers like laser beams, while the music behind him delicately swirled throughout the arena. He has arrived at a point in his career where the lyrics he sings have the element of being half sung and half spoken. But nonetheless, his voice is still strong, and it undoubtedly contains that Dylanesque component that we have come to expect.

On both sides of the stage were large smoke machines that sent out occasional puffs, and within the lights, eerie shadows formed over the band as they played throughout the night. Dylan's band, like his music, has also undergone changes throughout his career. On this night he was anchored by Charlie Sexton who has played guitar with Bob on several tours, long time bassist Tony Garnier, and the multi-talented Donnie Herron who played the banjo and fiddle on occasion, but predominately the keyboards and steel guitar. Dylan also played electric piano, which created a crispier sound than did the Wurlitzer pump organ he played on the Fall leg of the tour last year.

The Iowa Events Center became a marketplace of dreams and riddles as he effortlessly made his way through his set list, and at times he incorporated different stylings into the mix. For instance, "Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum" had a fun and jazzy Ragtime beat to it, and on this night, "Simple Twist of Fate" was performed in a multitude of half steps. The latter was one of the songs that, if the listener was not aware of the words, could have gotten lost in translation. "Ballad of a Thin Man," of course had a strong element of Blues wrapped around it.

Dylan played a very busy version of "All Along the Watchtower" which made me think of local singer Jimmy Enos. In a strange musical illusion, Sexton's fuzzy guitar chops mixed with strange light patterns from above the stage, resembled the conditions of a psychological windstorm. I felt a cold breeze as the music swirled around my ears, much like the sensation I get when Stuttrin' Jimmy plays "Westward Winds" with the Goosebumps. It only lasted a second or two, but I did get that flash of excitement as it occurred.

Music is indeed a powerful force, as anyone who has experienced these mysteriums can tell you.

Photo by Cveckian (Click to enlarge)

Overall, it was a great concert. Seeing Bob Dylan is a prize in itself, but knowing that he is out there giving everything he's got each and every night at 71 years old puts a big smile on my face. Ultimately time is running out for many of our heroes... This sad fact should make any fan appreciate the essence of who Bob Dylan really is, and what his legacy means to the world of music.

When it comes to living musical icons, Mr. Dylan showed why he stands heads and shoulders above everybody else.

Set List:

Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat
Man in the Long Black Coat
Things Have Changed
Tangled Up In Blue
Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum
Sugar Baby
Summer Days
Visions of Johanna
High Water (For Charlie Patton)
Simple Twist of Fate
Highway 61 Revisited
Can't Wait
Thunder on the Mountain
Ballad of a Thin Man
Like a Rolling Stone


All Along the Watchtower
Blowing in the Wind


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