I’ve decided I want to spend my senior years as an old fart (and I use the term old fart with the utmost respect and reverence). I will hang out with my old fart friends (and some not so old) doing what we love to do. Whatever that is, I’m not sure. Maybe what gives us joy now, we’ll just continue to do it and not worry about what others think.
Last night in front of 6000 guests in the Calgary Saddledome, Bob Dylan and his Band with Mark Knopfler gave us the Old Fart Show and Concert in two Acts. Many audience members, close to that category as well and joined by their young friends and/or offspring, were there to share a cultural experience that would perhaps entertain, enlighten and inspire.
The show started right on time and Mark Knopfler was heralded onstage accompanied by an exceptional and eclectic band of animated, engaged musicians who shared the spotlight with him throughout the set. There was much seat dancing, joyful reception and response from the audience. Although best known for his work with Dire Straits, and that is what the audience likely was hoping for, Knopfler delighted in long jams and gorgeously playful pieces featuring stand up base, violin, washboard, whistle, and of course his signature guitar licks. He returned after a rousing standing ovation and delivered a token Dire Straits hit, So Far Away.
At intermission there was much discussion about what was coming up for the Second Act of the show. What do you think he’ll play? Have you heard him before? Do you think Knopfler will join him for a mixed set, the way he did with Tom Petty in Vancouver in 1986? The tearing down and recreating the set was, from what I could tell, seamless, smooth and efficient, allowing our headliner to be on stage right about 9.
Opening song was loud, Dylan’s voice a barely audible scratch. The crowd seemed instantly subdued from its early energy buzz. There was much confusion.
I think the problem is that many people, especially those who have never seen him before, came to the show expecting Dylan 1967. Or maybe Dylan 1976 . That’s our own fault if that’s the case. Those are the versions of the songs that we sing along to. The ones that are played over and over again in our mind and on the radio and in our cars and our playlists. The familiar. Our privilege though is that we get a unique opportunity to hear Dylan’s new interpretations of his vast collection of songs.
A lot of people don’t like that. They want to be able to sing along. They want to be appreciated and coddled by the performer. Perhaps not coddled but at least acknowledged. They also want to understand the performance. Or at least the words of the songs. The opening tunes in the concert were so difficult to interpret, not only in the arrangement, but also in the strained vocals (See the set list), that it took a bit of time to recognize even the most familiar.
Which explains, partially, the steady exodus from the arena that began about midway through the first song and continued throughout the set. The simple alternative is that they just didn’t like what they heard. End of.
As Mike Bell so eloquently stated in his review for the Calgary Herald, anyone who has been following Dylan the performer and artist for the past 30 years or who has seen him, knows that Dylan doesn’t come out for us. He really doesn’t care about interacting with his audience. He is there to feed his need to perform and he gets the best of the best musicians to play and tour with him.
I have to admit that although I’ve seen Dylan three times prior to last night, I still think I’d like to hear him say, as he sits at the piano for the first time or after he finishes his first couple of tunes, “Hi, how are ya? Nice to see ya!” Or maybe, “Thanks for coming! See ya!” at the end of his show. But I know that he doesn’t do that. So, I’m not disappointed.
Bob Dylan is 71 years old. The youthful troubadour who was a voice (albeit reluctantly) of a generation is not so young any more. I think that means that for many of us, it’s tough to see that we too are aging. He is still very relevant. His songs, which he claims are gifts from a place beyond himself, still resound within our individual and collective psyche.
This is likely the last time that I see Dylan perform. Maybe not. I appreciate that the 1976 Dylan of the Rolling Thunder is available on YouTube. I know that I can see that Dylan anytime I like. But, that’s not who I went to see last night. And, I’m so thankful that I saw the 71 year old Dylan: the brilliant old fart in the gondolier’s outfit and amazing hat.
PS See the September New Yorker Magazine for a thoughtful discussion of Dylan’s new album Tempest