Friday, November 2, 2012
Review: Bob Dylan’s singing at Verizon Theatre bordered on comic
Dylan never picked up a guitar once during the 90-minute set.
GRAND PRAIRIE The old saying that you should “Worship your heroes from afar -- contact withers them” could have been written about Bob Dylan in concert. No one in popular music is more worthy of hero worship than Dylan, and no one fails with such regularity to live up to it onstage.
His show Thursday at a two-thirds-full Verizon Theatre was pretty much what we’ve come to expect from the singer – a hodge-podge of daring arrangements, flashes of brilliance and a spectacular amount of aimlessness.
Anchored by the air-tight rhythm section of Tony Garnier (bass) and George Receli (drums), Dylan spent most of the 90-minute show behind the piano and never once picked up a guitar. He’s favored keys over frets since 2003, which seemed like a good idea at the time, considering the long, awkward electric guitar solos he used to play.
Problem is, Dylan’s piano solos often sounded like amateur hour at an old Western honky-tonk and killed the momentum in “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” and others. Meanwhile, electric guitarists Charlie Sexton and Stu Kimball were underutilized and pedal steel player Donnie Heron was barely audible.
Dylan’s gargling rasp of voice continues to decompose in unpredictable ways. At 71, he now sounds as eerie as a Delta bluesmen, but at other times, his singing bordered on comic. His recitation of “Girl from the North Country” sounded like William Shatner’s notorious reading of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”
The show turned intriguing during the rare moments when he moved to center stage, sans instrument, to sing “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “Things Have Changed,” featuring opening act Mark Knopfler on guitar. Standing splay-legged and dancing and emphasizing lyrics with hand gestures, Dylan looked like he was having a gas. Even his harmonica playing took on rich new shades as he held the harp with his hands instead of using his usual neck holder.
One of the most anticipated parts of any Dylan show is trying to identify his re-arranged classics. Thursday, “Name That Tune” spawned mixed results: The country-funk update of “Tangled Up In Blue” worked quite well, but his jaunty overhauls of “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” undermined the serious lyrics of two of his greatest protest songs.
He bypassed his new CD, Tempest, and stuck to the oldies, as well as a few more recent tunes such as 2006’s “Thunder on the Mountain.” But even the greatest-hits nature of the show didn’t please everyone: A small but steady stream of fans left as the show progressed -- satisfied to have seen their hero, but not worshipful enough to stick with him until the very end.
Thor Christensen is a Dallas freelance writer.
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