(image cred: http://3.bp.blogspot.com)
It’s 9:30 pm Monday night, and Dylan has just taken the stage at Wells Fargo, accompanied by the cacophonous warm-up of his band. Moments earlier Mark Knopfler had encored, offering perhaps his only appeal to the greatest hits crowd in his set for evening. The tone for the night had been set: this was to be a show for true fans and diehards, not for casual fans and listeners desiring a nostalgic experience.
For most of the set, Mark Knopfler played to the aficionado, favoring deep tracks and solo material to radio smashes. Dylan snarled material from all five decades of music, from the appropriate opener of “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” to the always-venerable closer, “Blowing in the Wind”. Whereas Knopfler’s band was always together and aurally well-supplemented by an exemplary auxiliary section featuring a flutist, violinist, and accordionist, Dylan’s was more of a rag-tag crew; fitting, perhaps, considering the large number of selections from Dylan’s breakaway Highway 61 Revisited.
As Mark Knopfler unleashed a sonic storm of Celtic strains and proficient guitar flurries, he made it clear to audience hecklers early that he was not going to be playing “Money for Nothing”. Meanwhile, Dylan pounded on his piano, crooning and growling and snarling through favorites and obscure cuts alike, much to the surprise of some unseasoned audience members doubtless expecting to see their 60’s idol appear clad saintly in suede boots, dark shades with a harmonica around his neck, unworn by time and harsh reality.
Despite physical limitations, Dylan appeared genuinely well-spirited, especially on the harmonica and piano during extended jams and on special occasions, such as when he stepped away from the piano to deliver an absolutely stunning and terrible rendition of “Ballad of a Thin Man”. As Dylan’s set progressed, there were some who giggled through the performer’s crooning, while there were others who left early or stayed involuntarily, spending the rest of evening drinking $13 beers while browsing Facebook on their iPhones. But, by the final song of the evening, all but the true believers had filed out, and Dylan received a strong standing ovation from an arena of true believers.
Those who left the arena early ought to be disappointed with themselves for turning their backs on a legend. But, they probably would have been disappointed with Dylan anyway, even if the performance were given by a Dylan in prime health.
They probably wanted Dylan to sing something pretty for them.