Review by Peter N. Kirstein
The Dylan concert is somewhat indicative of recent years of his music.Insipid albums, a mediocre band and a less-than-perfect voice. The exeunt of Larry Campbell has left us a band with a tinny sound that cannot reconstruct the music that Dylan has so brilliantly provided. It may have less to do with talented musicians than with a decision to restrain the music in order to accommodate the declining, somewhat frozen Dylan voice.
Georgia native blues singer, Blind Willie McTell
However, the most significant singer-songwriter of the twentieth century does stick to his set list as he tours so the audience can follow his songs from previous concerts. I used my iphone to track his set list from Peoria and it worked. Since his lyrical expression is sometimes hard to fathom, having a pre-setlist is helpful. One of the songs that resonated was “Blind Willie McTell.” That was the last song in my eight-Dylan concerts that I so desperately wanted to hear. While left off of Infidels and relegated to near obscurity until its resurrection eight years later on The Bootleg Series vols 1-4, Dylan and his band were quite effective with the masterpiece.
Such genius which only occasionally marries with the sound these days, did evoke passion, commitment and eloquence. Along with “High Water (Charley Patton),” Dylan’s concert did pay homage to the great blues musicians that influenced the Minnesota native in his early development. More so than Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie, it were African-American blues musicians that inspired the emerging Dylan genius. While Woody rightfully was the persona that Dylan imitated and incorporated, it was the Mississippi Delta, the Carolinas and Georgia and the Texas Blues that drove Dylan from the Midwest to Greenwich Village.
The blues emerged in the 1890s and while not linear in origin, probably derived from field hollers, American Negro Spirituals and the oral tradition of enslaved persons and freed tenant farmers and sharecroppers. A distinctly African-American genre of music, it has greatly influenced such iconic performers as The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Elvis Presley and of course Dylan.
I had not heard My Morning Jacket before and consider them an outstanding rock group. Of the three groups, Dylan, Wilco and MMJ that performed in this summer event, the latter, whose music I least prefer, was the most entertaining, exciting and successful in incorporating audience participation and engagement.
I teach a course on Dylan; I fully recognise his greatness and impact on twentieth century music and history. He should if he wishes continue his never ending tour. It is a testimony to his fitness and energy that he is able to do so.
This revised review originally appeared in Bob Links