After 2 years of interruption of concerts, Bob Dylan, always surprising, returns to embrace his “Rough and Rowdy Ways”


MILWAUKEE – Bob Dylan has always had his own sense of time and timing.

When the COVID-19 pandemic moved him out of the way for the first extended stretch since 1986, he released his first album of original material in eight years and presented his first streaming concert.

Back on stage Tuesday night with a revamped band at the sold-out Riverside Theater, he performed eight selections from his standout 2020 recording, “Rough and Rowdy Ways.”

Dylan was never the type to cheat on his last concert album; it often ignores fresh material. But he tore up the new numbers with conviction and nuance, even though he relied heavily on lyrics sheets.

Things have changed since the 1980s, when I asked Dylan how he remembered the words to his wordy songs. “I wrote them, didn’t I? he retorted. On Tuesday, however, he could start a center stage piece before retreating behind his upright piano and flipping through laminated pages of words he wrote not long ago.

The tousled-haired singer in a white sports jacket, black shirt and black pants seemed happy to be back on stage. He took on awkward rock star poses and did a playful mock dance like an aging man of song and dance.

After a 23-month hiatus from live gigs, Dylan has apparently ended his legendary Never Ending Tour, which had 3,066 gigs between 1988 and 2019. He dubbed it the Rough and Rowdy Ways World Wide Tour 2021-2024.

In her first gig in her 80s, the bard from the North Country of Minnesota didn’t want to live in her ancient past. More than half of the 18 songs he performed on Tuesday were modern times, including three from the 60s and 70s and one from the 90s, as well as a pleasant cover of the standard “Melancholy Mood”.

Meet the new Bob, the same as the old Bob. Always a masterful writer, he remains a singer with acquired taste who must be listened to attentively, and an uncompromising artist who continues to challenge himself and his followers.

Supported by a quintet of two new members – guitarist Doug Lancio and drummer Charley Drayton, both travel veterans – Dylan opened with alumni “Watching the River Flow” and “Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I ‘ ll Go Mine) “in arrangements reminiscent of those heard at his July concert on stage,” Shadow Kingdom “.

Then came two gems of “Rough and Rowdy Ways” – “I Contain Multitudes” and the hesitant blues “False Prophet”, numbers that could be interpreted as autobiographical or simply social commentary. Dylanologists, please discuss with yourselves.

Among the new selections, the Frankensteinish “My Own Version of You” had an odd Halloween vibe, “Black Rider” was shrouded in Tex-Mex mystery, and “Mother of Muses” resonated with an anthem-like reverence. “I have decided to give myself to you” found an emphatic Dylan holding his notes, and “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)” was a piercing 10-minute meditation that sounded as unlikely to be heard in concert as “Murder Most Foul “, the 17-minute political and pop marathon from the new album.

Some old ones have been redesigned for a diminished effect. “Gotta Serve Somebody” becomes a blowing boogie; a slow-motion “Early Roman Kings” avoided its usual blues sting, and “Love Sick” lost its menacing aura.

Dylan’s face was often animated, his eyes widening and his eyebrows raised as he typed out words, his index fingers pointed to emphasize his words. His diction was clear, his phrasing precise, his voice sometimes harsh (no one at a Dylan concert expects a polite crooner).

Neither his piano playing nor his harmonica work were particularly noteworthy. He did not give many solo opportunities to his companions. When guitarist Bob Britt was introduced, it was hard to see him, located behind Dylan’s piano. On the other hand, it was easy to appreciate Drayton’s superb drum playing, which was placed alongside his fellow students rather than at the back of the bandstand.

For someone who rarely speaks in concert, Dylan surprisingly twice thanked the crowd of 2450 grateful fans, introduced his band members and – after turning to longtime conductor / bassist Tony Garnier to verify the name – he dedicated the show to the late Les Paul, the electric guitar pioneer of suburban Milwaukee.

At times during the 100-minute concert, Dylan seemed uncertain on his feet, gripping the top of his piano as he strolled around the compact, no-frills stage. But his performance couldn’t have been safer or more reassuring.

Twitter: @JonBream 612-673-1719

List of sets:
Watch the river flow
Most likely you’ll go your way (and I’ll go mine)
I contain multitudes
False prophet
Simple twist of fate
My own version of you
I’ll be your baby tonight
Black rider
Mother of the Muses
I have to serve someone
Key West (pirate philosopher)
The first Roman kings
Shortly after midnight
I decided to give myself to you
Goodbye Jimmy Reed
(again) sick love
It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry

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