Monday, September 10, 2012

But Things Have Changed

It was a cool, pleasant evening at the Hershey Star Pavilion after a surprise afternoon rain, but it got hot when Bob Dylan and his band barrelled into "Route 61 Revisited," even though the lyrics were more in our memories than heard from the stage.  All I got that was recognizable was "bleachers;" for each song the music was pretty much made up and only, at times, were there faint phrases similar to those melodies we have known for decades.  After playing guitar for the first three numbers, Dylan spent most of the rest of the show behind the piano.  I'm certainly not qualified to judge anyone's playing, especially a 50-year veteran's, but I'm not sure he would have passed the audition at Miss Prunella's Music School.  He did perform one lead on the guitar, though, and it was sweet.
His voice started out as a shocking croak that would have frightened a raven, but loosened up at little further in.  The words came in short bursts as if he just didn't have the wind anymore.  Well, the Queen is quite old and not as lively either, but they're both still absolutely one of a kind and we're glad they're still here and doing what they do. 
The crowd  responded enthusiastically to his brief harmonica bits -- it is his signature sound, like screaming feedback is with Neil Young.  There were two other guitarists, a rhythm section (the bassist switched to a red Rickenbacker mid-way; loved that), and a versatile fellow in back who played lap steel, pedal steel, electric mandolin and finally, violin on the encore "Blowin' in the Wind" (he really should have played the keys also).  Speaking of which, I missed the rolling Hammond organ on the old songs, which had been piloted by Al Kooper way back in the day.  It's like Santana without Greg Rolie today.
The other highlight, predictably, was "All Along the Watchtower."  Whatever did Dylan have in mind when he sketched out that mysterious story?  We've all been wondering for quite a while, but he will probably go on keeping his secrets.
After writing and touring for so long, he's pared both down to the dry-bone basics.  There were only white lights on the stage, everyone was dressed in black, and not a word was spoken except to mumble the band members' names once.  The lyrics in recent years have been simple, almost commonplace phrases, and he's been mining and quoting outside sources; they're so unlike the inscrutable epics he penned in the 60s and dangerously close to what I think of as plastic top-20 "country."  As far as I could tell, all the numbers performed were the older ones.
Another icon opened the show, solo:  Bob Weir was barefoot and bearded, but full of energy and conviction.  The sound was loud and clear as he made his acoustic guitar work hard for a living; the old vet looked like he could go lots longer than the hour he performed nonstop.  I was really hoping for "My and My Uncle," and there it was near the end; "Not Fade Away" was just as good and got the crowd jumping and cheering.  Women of our age (who were about 17 when the Dead appeared) were dancing the snaky Dead dance with practiced skill and some certainty, I suppose, that their grandchildren would never see it.
Needless to say, there were great clouds of blue smoke drifting through the air.
As we left with old but great music in our heads, we passed a dreadlocked senior in bare feet, a group being hauled off by the authorities, and one fellow looking forlorn in the back seat of the police car. 
The 60s ain't over til they're over, bro.


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