July 15, 2011
Attending a Bob Dylan concert isn't what it used to be. It's not so much about the music anymore. His voice is raspier and his words more slurred than ever. In many of the songs he performed last night, the opening night of the Orange County Fair, the lyrics are entirely indistinguishable. But it was Bob fuckin' Dylan. No one would have cared if he just made up words as he went along. As one man in the audience mentioned, “It's okay if Bob Dylan forgets some words to his own songs, we can't understand him anyway!”
A Dylan concert is about being in the presence of a music legend, and commemorating a man who's contributions to music are vast and irreplaceable. Well, there was plenty of celebrating at the Pacific Amphitheatre, enough to surely make a musician years beyond his prime feel welcome. (Not that he needs the convincing.)
At the strike of 8 p.m., the lights in the stadium went low, the stage lit up, and Dylan appeared from stage left. Wearing a black suit with green trim and a barbershop quartet-like hat, he stepped to the microphone and said, “Thank you for coming out,” and his five-man band cued the first notes of “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking.”
Dylan was the opening performance of the 2011 Summer Concert Series at PacAmp. The venue was sold out, including the lawn section, which seemed to be the place to be on this night. Couples swayed from the comfort of their blankets, while others chose to stand and dance along with the faster pieces.
Song after song, even though most weren't Dylan classics, the crowd reacted appreciatively. Particularly raucous reactions came after Dylan's various harmonica solos. The man's voice may have left him, but he can still wail on his trusty harmonica.
People knew what they were to expect. They knew Dylan is now 70, that he has 50 years of music-making and smoking that have worn his vocal chords thin. Some expressed disappointment that even when his popular tunes were played–“Like a Rolling Stone” and “All Along the Watchtower” in the encore–the band didn't use the original tune, opting for something with more pace that, some assume, could help mask the vocals.
By the end of the nearly two-hour show, much of the lawn crowd was on its feet, fans were still dancing and the doobies were being burned down to the last bit of smokable substance. The final three songs were ones the crowd, from longtime fans to newbee hipsters could recognize. He closed with “Blowin' In the Wind.”
After Dylan had taken a bow and his band had left the stage for a second time, the applause continued. The audience didn't lose hope that he would return once more. The “encore” chants carried from the stage back to the lawn, but alas, it didn't happen. But everyone had their story of seeing Bob Dylan live in concert.
Personal Bias: I came to see Bob Dylan in the flesh. He could have motored out in a Rascal scooter and coughed up flew between songs into the microphone and I would have still left pleased.
The Crowd: Every seat was filled. The lawn was covered. Young and old. Clean-cut and hippy. Rich and poor. And local surf star Alex Knost.
Overheard in the Crowd: “I don't know what he's saying, but I don't give a shit! Woo!” and “YOU'RE A GOD!” The lawn had nothing but appreciation for Bob Dylan to still be doing what he does at 70.
Random Notebook Dump: Does Dylan still perform because he loves it? Because he needs the money? What possesses the man these days, especially considering he's had a bit of harsh press in recent years.
“Gonna Change My Way of Thinking”
“Don't Think Twice, It's Alright”
“Things Have Changed”
“Tangled Up In Blue”
“Beyond Here Lies Nothin'”
“Tryin' To Get To Heaven”
“A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall”
“Highway 61 Revisited”
“Thunder On the Mountain”
“Ballad of a Thin Man”
“Like a Rolling Stone”
“All Along the Watchtower”
“Blowin' In the Wind”