Review: Dylan does it his way

Apr. 30, 2014 | 0 Comments
Bob Dylan and his band played at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on April 26, in the first of two concerts to be played in Hawaii. (Star-Advertiser photo by George F. Lee)

Bob Dylan performs at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on April 26. Dylan’s management refused to allow the Honolulu Star-Advertiser to take photos during the Honolulu show Tuesday. (Star-Advertiser photo by George F. Lee)

REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / jberger@staradvertiser.com

There are some things in life that must be experienced personally to be appreciated. A Bob Dylan concert is one of them.

Dylan returned to Honolulu on Tuesday for his first show here in 22 years, and his fans — most of whom looked to be old enough to have seen him then, and maybe in the 1960s as well  — were delighted to see him.

Dylan gave no sign he reciprocated the love.

He acknowledged the audience once, announcing he was going to take a break and would be back in 10 minutes. That was it. The only time he said anything. There was no “Hello, Honolulu,” no “thank you” in response to the applause for his songs, no “It’s great to be back after 22 years.”

Who knows, when you’re Bob Dylan, maybe it isn’t.

After many of the songs, Dylan would pause and strike a pose for just a second, his left hand on the left pocket of his jacket, and gaze towards the adoring audience like a Roman emperor. Or perhaps like Michael Corleone in that scene in “The Godfather,” where he has taken his revenge on Moe Green and Five Families and his capos have come to pay homage to him. That’s what the Blaisdell fans were doing on Tuesday.

Even so, the absence of the normal interaction between performer and audience made the evening a unique experience. It was as if Dylan and his musicians were playing in a private rehearsal hall for their own enjoyment and we were all voyeurs peeping through a hole in the wall.

(The Honolulu Star-Advertiser was not allowed to photograph the concert on Tuesday. A request for a set list was also denied.)

After 17 shows in Japan during the first three weeks of April and one on Maui last week, it was no surprise Tuesday’s performance went off like the well-oiled, long-running production it is. A tight 47 minutes of songs from Dylan’s recent works, the intermission, and then 45 minutes more. His musicians are world-class players; two guitarists, a powerful drummer, a bassist who switches between an acoustic standup bass and a conventional electric instrument, and a guy who plays steel guitar on some songs and violin or guitar on others.

Dylan may be the only performer of his caliber these days who does not acknowledge his backing musicians by name at some point in a show. They remained anonymous throughout.

Old-time fans remember Dylan as a guitarist. The modern Dylan is a serious rock-the-keyboards pianist. There were a couple of times he looked like he was enjoying himself as he played piano, standing at the keys like a rock musician or classic R&B pianist. He also played harmonica on several selections, but did not play guitar.

To complain about Dylan being largely unintelligible in concert is like complaining about Van Halen being loud or about the vocabulary used by performers at a gangsta rap concert. It’s part of the show. Expect it. Whether Dylan consciously developed his unique delivery as part of his iconic stage persona, or is actually unable to articulate any more clearly as a vocalist than he does, the shared experience of being with a couple thousand other people trying to make out what Dylan is singing at a concert is part of being there.

The odd thing last night? As the show went on it seemed to become easier to understand what he was saying.

The show stood out for another reason. Dylan played the encore game much more convincingly than is usual these days. Many groups barely leave the stage before they return for what is, in fact, a planned part of the regular show. Dylan kept the fans waiting in the dark for a full three minutes. That was enough time for the faint-hearted to start for the exits, but his final songs were worth waiting for.

Indeed, for fans who remember Dylan from the day when he was a young and hungry social activist, happy to be playing for an audience larger than the clientele of a Greenwich Village bar, the “encore” numbers were the most interesting. First, because “All Along The Watchtower” and “Blowin’ In The Wind” were the only selections from his career-defining work in the ‘60s.

Second, because Dylan and his anonymous band presented them in bold, imaginative alternative arrangements. Dylan’s classic works have been rearranged by countless artists over the past half-century — the Byrds, the Turtles and Jimi Hendrix, to name three of the pioneers. Nothing compares to hearing Dylan himself revisit his work in the company of such talented sidemen, turning familiar songs inside out and upside down to create something unique.

For many people on Tuesday, from old-time fans who remember Dylan from the ‘60s and the young curiosity seekers alike, the main thing about being there was to see and hear Dylan, 72, in what could be the last show he’ll play in Honolulu.

Whatever the future holds, decades from now it will still mean something to say, “I saw Dylan at the Blaisdell in 2014.”
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John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at jberger@staradvertiser.com.

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