Live: Bob Dylan Rasps Beautifully At Terminal 5
Better Than: That tour he did awhile back with John Mellencamp, probably.
You want to know what he looks like, but you already know: dapper, dignified, craggy, with a hat so wide and round and stiff it could hold six or seven drinks if he'd only stand still, which, of course, he does. You want to know what he sounds like, but again, you internalized it long ago: Call it Forlorn Cookie Monster, an amelodic rasp that, unlike the comedic horror-movie snarl of, say, Tom Waits, improbably still radiates warmth, can still deliver a ballad that sounds like a ballad. "You think I'm over the hill?" Bob Dylan croons ("croons"), to raucous crowd whoops and applause. "You think I'm past my prime?/Let me see what you got/We could have a whompin' good time." Gets a little garbled there so I can't say for sure it's whompin', but I always wanted it to be whompin'.
Tonight's the first of three nights here at Terminal 5 (good luck), the nightly set lists on this tour hilariously precise: 16 songs, including a two-song encore of "Jolene" (not that one) and "Like a Rolling Stone," which, due to the rasp, is like visiting the Colosseum -- that was a long time ago, and a lot of it is in ruins, but what grandeur is no longer there is nonetheless implied. Before it begins Bob delivers his only stage banter of the night, introducing the band, his usual gang of loose, lithe, necessarily tentative honky-tonk rockers who are visibly perpetually Prepared for Anything. Bob himself switches between guitar and keyboard, along with several demure harmonica solos, which you are invited to replicate on the Bob Dylan signature harmonica, available at the merch table for $120.
The old stuff is a reliable thrill -- more whoops when "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" climaxes with "I'm going back to New York City/I do believe I've had enough," a few smiles at the goofy TSA-patdown falsetto whoop he gives the chorus of "Tangled Up in Bluuuue," involuntary winces at the still-lethal slither of "Ballad of a Thin Man," the first real adrenaline surge when "Highway 61 Revisited" comes to an uncharacteristically loud and surly conclusion. But though we get a few too many longish meanders from 2006's Modern Times (including the "I was thinkin' 'bout Alicia Keys" one), his newer material undoubtedly fits him better: Your pick to click tonight is "Forgetful Heart," from last year's Together Through Life, far better onstage than on record, a slow noir ballad, bowed upright bass and weepy violin backing Bob's harmonica and vocals, both at their most mournful: "The door has closed forevermore/If indeed there ever was a door." A different kind of ruins, the grandeur entirely present this time.
Critical Bias: Aw, dude, c'mon, do "Love Sick" or "Not Dark Yet."
Overheard: "CHRISTMAS!" A little too soon, still, friend.
Random Notebook Dump: Quick Bob story. First time I saw him was at a casino in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, on an outdoor stage that afforded you a clear view of "backstage," which consisted entirely of Bob's tour bus. Bob and the band emerge from it, climb onstage, play for 90 minutes, walk back off, and get back on the bus. The crowd starts clapping and cheering for an encore as the bus drives away, and though we are confused we keep cheering and clapping, thinking maybe this is part of the encore, but no, the bus makes a right turn and disappears, never to return, and we stand there befuddled for a second, and then we all leave.
Gonna Change My Way of Thinking
Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
Tangled Up in Blue
Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
Spirit on the Water
Cold Irons Bound
Highway 61 Revisited
Thunder on the Mountain
Ballad of a Thin Man
Like a Rolling Stone