October 13, 2012
In the spirit of the age-old maxim, "Nobody is worthless: Everyone can be used as a bad example," no>"/>
In the spirit of the age-old maxim, "Nobody is worthless: Everyone can be used as a bad example," no Bob Dylan show or album is truly disappointing -- every one of them is critical in its own way. The benchmark of success for Dylan is different than almost every other artist: We're not watching to be impressed, but to see what transpires, hoping to peek behind the curtain and better understand how the man's levers work. Like a breathing figure from our history books, Dylan's every artistic move, even the harmonically disappointing ones, are revealing, and valuable in their own way.
The Tempest, the September release that Dylan "supported" at KeyArena Saturday night (he played no songs from the record), will not be remembered as one of the best in his catalog, or even of the post-Time Out of Mind era (despite the gushing reviews of late). But as a piece of Dylan archaeology, it's another mile-marker, all of which come with their own fossils ripe for debate. The same can be said of Dylan's set on Saturday, which will hardly be remembered as one of his finest of his recent Seattle-area appearances, but is an interesting reference point anyway.
The last time Dylan played Seattle -- at Bumbershoot in 2010 -- he roared onto the stage to the tune of "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" and the crowd shouted along to every word. Saturday the band tiptoed onstage unceremoniously, and crept its way through "Watching the River Flow," "To Ramona," and "Things Have Changed."
Characteristically, all the songs were re-imagined and disguised, revealing themselves to members of the audience at different times. "Tangled Up In Blue," a live and recorded favorite, was kept in the dark -- as it typically is -- until Dylan began to spit "Early one morning the sun was shining." Highlights included "Mississippi," from 2001's Love and Theft, as well as a saucy shuffle through "Blowin' In the Wind." But the show never rose to a boil, and the anxious audience kept rising from their seats briefly, and sitting again as Dylan brought them back down. Crystalizing this point was the band's obligatory run through "Like a Rolling Stone," which was romantic and subdued rather than boisterous and triumphant.
At the Triple Door, this kind of intimate, gingerly-electric set would have been appropriate. But in a concrete arena full of fans making the pilgrimage, it was unfulfilling. It lacked the energy to fill the space, but gave us a little material -- why did you skip all material from a record you released five weeks ago?! -- to keep Dylan's narrative humming.
BTW: Fewer people heard Dylan sing "All Along the Watchtower" Saturday than heard Gotye sing "Somebody That I Used to Know" at Bumbershoot 2012. But fewer people left after Dylan's performance.