There was no shortage of frizzy white guy 'fros, skinny jeans, and dark sunglasses at Saturday night's Bob Dylan show at Starlight, rocked mostly by kids young enough to be the iconic folk singer's grandchildren. It says a lot for the enduring relevance of Dylan's songwriting that he's still attracting a new fanbase some four decades after his heyday.
Of course no one goes to Dylan 2010 expecting the hemp, hippies and hype of Dylan 1969. But for those who, like me, grew up listening to him and were seeing him for the first time, I can't help but suspect that the show was somewhat of a letdown. Most if not all of the songs in his nearly two-hour set list deviated so severely from the original versions that they were almost unrecognizable.
I've heard that live experimentation is kind of Dylan's thing, and I respect that; after all, I'd get bored too if I'd been playing the same songs the same way for nearly half a century. For their part the band sounded tight, as did Dylan when he rocked the harmonica in the way only he can. But his trademark voice sounded shot, and in something between a growl and a mumble he spoke more than sang the lyrics. The classic "Just Like a Woman" reached the chorus before I knew what was what.
For the most part the crowd was mellow, with only a few exceptions: near where I sat, a man waved his fingers in front of his face, entranced; a long-haired, drunken behemoth in rainbow tie dye shouted "thank you, Bobby D!" after each song; and another man plopped down on the ground and emptied his pockets when an usher asked to see his ticket. Also, my friend E. ordered an eerily green margarita that tasted like goddamn lighter fluid.
But that's about as crazy as it got. Whenever anyone got down to serious business getting down in the aisles, an usher with a flashlight was quick to shoo them away. One woman we dubbed the "picture Nazi" watched for deviants trying to capture the moment with their cell cameras, much to the dismay of the woman directly in front of me, who had been taking recordings intermittently throughout the show and texting them to seemingly everyone she knew.
Naturally I'm glad I saw Dylan - along with Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, the Pixies, Leonard Cohen, the Pogues, and a few others I'm sure I'm forgetting, it's an experience I'll probably relate to either my grandchildren or my 15 cats someday. But as has increasingly been the case with big shows I've attended over the last decade, the whole event felt more like a sleek, money-making production than anything of real emotional value or substance. And even in 2010, sincerity is the least I would have expected from Bob Dylan.