I don’t even know how to explain to you what it was like seeing Bob Dylan in concert. Last Monday, I took a girlfriend of mine and we went to the Sony Centre in Toronto to see a legend. My mother and her boyfriend were unbelievably kind enough to send me there with incredible seats for an early Christmas present.
The theatre itself was very small and intimate. The stage wasn’t dolled up or adorned with anything other than a microphone and a handful of instruments. The lights were kept relatively low the entire night, keeping the atmosphere very relaxed. But towards the end of the concert, the lights suddenly changed and shone on the curtain behind Dylan and his band to create the effect of standing directly under rain—which was pretty darn cool.
No opening act. Nothing to let the audience know he was coming. All of a sudden, after 20 minutes of chattering, the audience erupted when the guitar first strummed and the lights were dimmed. Out came Dylan in a white shirt, light tan suit, and of course, his signature wide-brimmed hat. He looked like the hero in a Western. He sauntered onto the stage and the night began in earnest.
Now, I know that there are quite a few people who hate on Dylan’s newer (should I say older?), raspier voice. Don’t get me wrong, of course it sounds different from what it did decades ago, but Dylan can and did still totally rock a concert.
When it came to songs like “Scarlet Town” and “Duquesne Whistle”, which were on his latest album, the quality of performance didn’t really change. The raspy quality was there on Tempest and it was obviously there in concert. But I have to say that the live version of “Duquesne Whistle” (my favourite song on Tempest) was actually amazing. He clipped some of the longer notes so he didn’t have to strain his voice and the result was wonderful. It was my favourite performance of the night.
When it came to older songs like “Love Sick” (Time out of Mind, 1998), “Spirit on the Water” (Modern Times, 2006), and “Forgetful Heart” (Together Through Life, 2009), I think he still nailed them. Because these songs were on the albums made in recent years, I expected his voice to sound pretty much the same as in the studio versions, which it did. Now, his more well-known songs like “Simple Twist of Fate” (Blood on the Tracks, 1975) differed more much from their originals, but that doesn’t mean they were poorly done. I liked the smokier versions of his classics and watching the audience get so into his performances made it that much more enriching.
Easily my second-favourite performance of the night was his encore. During “Blowin’ in the Wind”, a man started doing an interpretive dance in the middle of the aisle. He kept going until ushers brought him back to his seat and told him to sit down. Three times. But he kept going in his seat and because he was quiet all night, I am choosing to believe that he got really excited and just wanted to start dancing. And that made me equally happy.
What can I say? There isn’t enough space in The Medium for me to properly convey my astonishment at having seen the Bob Dylan live. It was an honour to see him before he hung it up and I can confidently say that his concert was more important than my future wedding (unless I get married to Bob Dylan).