One does not go to Bob Dylan for the singing -- although the phlegmy gravel of often indecipherable consonants and vowels could be construed true stylist’s work. Emotions surge and wane, brio ripples, quixotic suggestion add humor beyond what is literally delivered, the tone and velocity of notes conveying perhaps more than even good diction could.
In some ways, perhaps, being intelligible is redundant. With gems like the set-opening “Things Have Changed,” the plucky “Duquesne Whistle” or “She Belongs To Me,” the words are indelible to the subconscious – and what is known expands with the more impressionistic approach to pronunciation. Indeed, “Tangled Up In Blue,” with its push and recede rhythms, had the audience on its feet, echoing the money line back to the master as the evening’s first set came to a close.
Dylan for the faithful in attendance is an affirmation of their younger, more idealistic selves. Eyes flashing, they took in the joker-poet-iconoclast, who represents their own unwillingness to completely relinquish who they were – even if life has sobered their way of facing the world.
Three quarters of a century old, dressed as Farmer Brown goes matador with Bolero hat setting staunchly, Dylan remains singular. Balancing four Sinatra songs (“The Night We Called It A Day,” “Melancholy Mood,” “I Could Have Told You,” “All of Nothing At All”) with Cy Coleman’s “Why Try To Change Me Now” and Shep Fields & His Rippling Rhythm Orchestra’s “That Old Feeling” showed a classicism and yearning apropos of his age, but also the grace of his own “Long and Wasted Years,” “Pay In Blood” and “Early Roman Kings.”
While the obvious emotional highpoint was the encore’s “Blowin’ In The Wind,” a song still pertinent in this election year, the night’s emotional defining moment came at the close of the second set. Yves Montand’s “Autumn Leaves” offered the sheerest veil across emotional cragginess and recognition. Dylan is not a young man, but in knowing that, in considering all that has been lived, he also shimmers in the notion that awareness is its own set of wings.
Dylan is not a young man, but in knowing that, in considering all that has been lived, he also shimmers in the notion that awareness is its own set of wings
Dubbed “The Never Ending Tour,” his seemingly unstoppable trek suggests the bluesmen of old, playing not just because they have to, but for the enjoyment of making music. Dressed in tan ranch casual suits with black shirts, the band was a bolt of silken cloth, bunching around instrumental breaks then smoothing back into the melody – offering pools of steel guitar, ladders of upright bass notes to climb and crisp high hat strikes that never forced the rhythms.
Indeed, once wunderkind guitarist Charlie Sexton has matured into a player of slow burn and appropriate tone. As a foil who coils around these songs with the right amount of acid or shimmer, his playing gilded a timeless repertoire at Forest Hills Stadium. His playing seemed effortless, a seasoned musician seeking to ignite without pyrotechnics.
Dylan, too, defied expectation. At the piano, his musicality pressed hardest: left hand pumping rhythm while his right cheekily found revival or grindhouse motifs to enjoy. A bit randy, a bit naughty old fox, he’d dance stiff legged at the mic or side-eye from the piano to suggest there’s still plenty of steam pumping. Another perfect reflection of the audience gathered on a balmy July evening, Dylan’s appearance wasn’t a ratification of what was, nor a protest against time, but more a revel of where we are right now.