Bob Dylan barely decipherable at Vancouver show

At GM Place on Friday, October 24

Wise-asses of the world, your time is now—at least when it comes to Bob Dylan, who’s been the butt of philistine jokes ever since he first crawled onto the streets of New York City toting a guitar and wearing that little Greek fisherman’s cap. Just last week, for instance, one of my more sarcastic colleagues had this to say about His Bobness: “Whuzzz gizzzz a zzzhit ee caaaaan uzzastanzz a sinnggg wuuuuud hee szzzzz.”

Once upon a time I would have felt compelled to come to Mr. Zimmerman’s defence, but that was before I went to GM Place and spent the first few minutes of “Like a Rolling Stone” thinking it was “Positively 4th Street”. Seriously. And I’m such a Dylan fan that I’ve even been known to enjoy his harmonica playing.

Still, the man’s latest Vancouver appearance had me verging on apostasy. Halfway through Dylan’s show I was ready to face east and pray—not to Mecca, but to Hamilton, Ontario, home of Bob’s erstwhile producer Daniel Lanois.

The French-Canadian guitarist and studio wizard has gotten a lot of stick for his tendency to overproduce—including, obliquely, in Dylan’s otherwise revelatory memoir, Chronicles Volume 1. But spend some time with Dylan’s latest collection of outtakes and one-offs, Tell Tale Signs, and it quickly becomes apparent that Lanois is the one who made 1997’s Time Out of Mind an indelible triumph. Dylan wrote the tunes, but it was his producer who carved them in marble. Left to his own devices, the singer all too often renders his work in quicksand, as he did, distractingly, at the Garage.

Why, for instance, did he employ the same murky blues backdrop no fewer than three times? “Highway 61 Revisited”, “Summer Days”, and “Thunder on the Mountain” were all set to a blandly generic shuffle—which might be fine at the Yale on a Saturday afternoon, but not when the price of a concert ticket would cover a week’s gas or groceries.

Similarly, “Tangled Up In Blue”—one of Dylan’s finest mid-career melodies—was given a rinky-dink arrangement that was 80 percent Neil Diamond and 20 percent unidentifiable fluff. The cotton-batting average was even higher on an unbearably mawkish “Make You Feel My Love”, while the exhilarating word-rush that was the original “Visions of Johanna” was reconstituted as a rheumy and largely undecipherable complaint.

Not all was wrong in Dylan’s world, though. The last time he was here—at the Orpheum in 2005—he cut a stiff and remote figure. Standing nearly motionless at an electric keyboard, sweat or something worse pooling at the end of his nose, he looked ill and sounded cranky, spitting out nearly every phrase with the same relentless, rising cadence.

This time around, he was far more relaxed, grinning at his backing musicians and stabbing at a Hammond organ with evident enjoyment. Dylan even sang well, at times, with real emotional force and surprising melodic fluidity. Too bad we cudddn unnnastan a sinnggg wuuuuud hee sdddd.




Oct 25, 2008 at 5:45pm

Hear, here...glad I'm not alone in thinking it was kinda sad that Mr. D has gotten so commercial that he relegated some obviously, very fine musicians to (matching-suited) repetitive back-up for the most part. Didn't expect decipherable especially, so not too hung up on that, although the levels could have done with better separation. However, I hadn't remembered Mr. Dylan as being so musically stingy - from the last concert of his I attended, in 1998 w/Van Morrison & Mitchell.

Otherwise, very glad, to have taken my adult son to Neil Young's offering - such a fresh, energetic and collaborative evening. Neil's intensity and professionalism hasn't changed a bit. I last heard him play in person at the 4D coffee house in Ft. Wm. ca. '63. Flash forward - Thanks Neil, Pegi et al., it was truly awesome!


Oct 25, 2008 at 6:00pm

Not for nothing I call him the Minnesota Mumbler.
Evvvvvvvery body must get stonnnnnned.


Oct 25, 2008 at 11:12pm

It was a pleasure to attend the Dylan Vancouver show. For those attending any Dylan show expecting to hear a studio album I would suggest they would be wiser to stay at home and listen to a greatest hits CD. To me attending a Dylan show and seeing how he wants to present his music is the beauty and enjoyment. Who knew we would get his music presented in the Blues... Who knew in past Vancouver concerts tempos, lyrics etc would be changed. I would suggest only Dylan knew and that is the reason in itself to attend.

Oct 26, 2008 at 9:35pm

After watching Scorcese's documentary "No Direction Home", I came away with the distinct impression that Dylan's regard for any given audience ranges from indifference to contempt. The disconnect with the audience that the reviewer noticed goes back to the 60s. Even the "going electric" concert seemed more about pissing off the crowd with a shambolic performance. The way he sprung it on a crowd expecting folk music was all about being unpredictable, but nothing to do with entertaining those who bought tickets. Based on the review, seems Dylan still carries a chip on his shoulder toward being an entertainer for those who genuinely like his music.


Oct 31, 2008 at 5:57pm

The relevance of Like a Rolling Stone today makes it great art.
Today it is about all the people around the world that are loosing their homes.
“How does it feel to be without a home?”
It is about all the high rollers loosing their precious gifts.
Now they don’t talk so loud!

Dylan always starts his encore with Like a Rolling Stone, thinking it was Positively 4th Street for “a few minutes” shows how little you know.

Little boy lost. Alex you probably had the weak premise for your article before you even went to the show. You should have tried to see how the message was relevant to you.

On that night Dylan sang:
Writers and critics ”¦ keep your eyes wide the chance won’t come again.
But you still don’t get it do you Mr. Varty.

jim the pim

Jan 17, 2010 at 3:44am

saw the travelling bobs at the orpheum. great 3 chord organ playin". the one harmonica solo attempted, stevie wonder probably played at the age of nine way better. didn't really get " it". i thought maybe bobarino's arm was broken. then i heard the tempo changes and the changed inflections and i probably would have been better off at the howard johnson's listenin' to sonny and terry, dr. john and leon russell. at least their music had my dick twitching. stop playing your that old stuff . bob its a new 1000 years, everybody gets to restart. write a song about your harley, your truck or your dog. at least play the piano and an old martin
and have some fun. dude, you gotta get over yourself. i can only watch reruns for so long. i read your book,it was simple. so simply put, 10 songs ,8 of yours, 2 of somebody else's , buy lanois a 6 pk of brador and cut an album called back to bob and have some laughs.go to an indian rez. at least you'll have some laughs, bob, yessiree bob we do laugh at ourselves. open invitation from all us first nations people in vancouver b.c to bring joy to the bobman, the bobster and we got some logging roads here that make that olympic luge look like a carnival ride. anyhow i know 3 chords maybe we can do some of wilco's interpretation of woody guthrie or maybe not.