Bob Dylan Croaks the Blues at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, 10/18/12

Categories: Last Night

dylan-bgcivic.jpg
Bob Dylan and His Band
Mark Knopfler
Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012
Bill Graham Civic Auditorium

Better than: Cutting deep scratches in your CD copy of Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, and then trying to enjoy it.

Maybe the best part of seeing Bob Dylan in 2012 is getting to say you've seen Bob Dylan.

At 71, the songwriting titan shows no sign of slowing his relentless touring schedule, which includes three concerts in the Bay Area this week. But based on his performance last night at Bill Graham Civic, maybe he should consider it.

Dylan obviously has a vast catalog of magical, important songs, and a more than capable band to churn them out. What he doesn't have is a voice to make them anywhere near recognizable -- or at least he didn't onstage last night. The deathly croak Dylan produces on his latest album, Tempest, is already challenging and desolate. There, though, Dylan sings (we use that word loosely) more or less in time with the music. If his tone is harsh and scratchy, it arguably complements the themes of the songs. And his timing is on.

It wasn't last night. Especially when seated behind his black baby grand, Dylan sang off-rhythm so much that it seemed to throw off his otherwise quartz-precise backing musicians. We'd chalk it up to him being clever -- playing around with his tunes, as he's known to do live. But the hatted figure onstage would wait so long to sing the refrain to, say, "Tangled up in Blue" that when the charred mess of words finally tumbled out of his mouth, the band was already on to another part.

Whole verses of "Like a Rolling Stone" and "All Along the Watchtower" (and, frankly, most of the songs he played) came out impossible to parse, because Dylan phrased them as a monochrome mumble. So the concert experience felt like amateur archaeology, where listeners were left to stitch together the few recognizable snippets we heard with the songs as they existed in our memory. Which in many cases meant the fortysome-year-old recorded versions.

That didn't destroy all the joy of Dylan's major tunes, the ones we know well enough to sing on our own. But if you didn't have a sonic memory saved up to reference, you were shit out of luck trying to parse, say, "Love Minus Zero/ No Limit," or "Love Sick," or "Chimes of Freedom." And even if you recognized enough to name the songs, what's the point of hearing them without Dylan's enunciations? The man's a lyricist, a poet -- and we didn't get any great guitar or other solos to make up for the fact that most of the time we couldn't understand what he was saying.

All of which isn't to say that the show was a total failure. People go to see Dylan because of his aura, and that halo of greatness shone on a few tunes last night: "Ballad of a Thin Man" hit particularly well, with an eerie echo effect underscoring Dylan's charcoal delivery. His full-band take on "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" recast the song with the swooping groove at the forefront. The show-closing rendition of "Blowing in the Wind" was maybe the highlight of the night, with Dylan melding his old folk standard into the fiddle-and-bass folds of the band. And if you've never seen this man play before, there is an incomparable excitement that comes with it.

But still: Someone who tours as much (and charges as much) as Dylan owes more to his audiences than a slick backing band and a half-century's worth of premium cultural capital. We came to hear his songs -- whole songs, with words, not grainy shadows of them. Which it seemed was all Bob Dylan could muster last night.

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: This was my third time seeing Dylan, and his voice (or lack thereof) bothered me more than ever before.

Worth noting: Dylan's grayscale vocalizing seemed all the more impoverished after opener Mark Knopfler, whose deft seven-piece band mixed things up sonically much more than the headliner's did. Knopfler is kind of a one-trick vocalist, too, but he had the good sense to let his instrumentalists help out with the show. To be fair, Knopfler didn't have to shoulder the weight of issuing wordy tunes such as "Like a Rolling Stone." But even without the aura that surrounds Dylan, the support act gave the headliner a serious challenge.

Setlist
1. Watching the River Flow
2. Love Minus Zero/No Limit
3. Things Have Changed
4. Tangled Up in Blue
5. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
6. A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall
7. High Water (For Charley Patton)
8. Chimes of Freedom
9. Highway 61 Revisited
10. Love Sick
11. Thunder on the Mountain
12. Ballad of a Thin Man
13. Like a Rolling Stone
14. All Along the Watchtower
--
15. Blowin' in the Wind

-- @iPORT




Location Info

Venue

Map

Bill Graham Civic Auditorium

99 Grove, San Francisco, CA

Category: General

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35 comments
dharmabeachbum61
dharmabeachbum61

would someone give rick levy a binky so he quits whining?

dharmabeachbum61
dharmabeachbum61

Ricklevy, you have a massive ego. What makes you think you deserve to post so often to this forum with the same crap. You come across as the type of know-it-all who loves a mirror. I, too, have been following Dylan for over 30 years. So what?

dharmabeachbum61
dharmabeachbum61

 Deciphering the lead to this review was nearly impossible, so I tuned the rest out...blah, blah, blah..yada, yada, yada. Dylan is a 71-year-old legend.

gmeline
gmeline

@iPORT Minus some of the setlist, that could have been a verbatim review of the first time I saw him... in 1991.

Anil Pereira
Anil Pereira

Yeah, he was pretty croaky but Bob is, well, Bob. They are his songs and he can do whatever he damn well pleases with them. Not as bad as 1988--when he really stunk--not as good as the last couple of tours. But, hey--we got see THE Bob Dylan, man! And that Dylan-playing-Hendrix-Playing-Dylan version of All along the Watchtower--Wow!

michael
michael

Ian, obviously, you don't know Dylan, the  legend, the poet, the mystery, the magic, the evolution of time is in his voice. Five decades of history are in his lyrics.  His voice speaks to those who know him. You need more than 3 concerts to get Dylan, you also need an appreciation of his style to get his wit. Start listening, there is so much between the lines, he says it all perfectly.

cboots13
cboots13

What they don't know about Bob Dylan is that he is paying million to keep this out of mainstream. He has placed a gag/confidentiality order on James Damiano taking away his first amendment rights.  http://www.jamesdamiano.yolasite.com/

Karolinajohanna
Karolinajohanna

Hi Ian. I was at the show last night and it was amazing. You are an idiot. If you go to see a 70 year old man play and complain about his voice or even his timing, you don't know the first thing about the meaning of the word respect. Do the rest of us a favor and save your analysis for what Dylan owes his fans for somebody who gives a shit about your opinion.

iPORT
iPORT

@gmeline Huh. Maybe I was seduced by the aura - or just felt obligated - but I swear he sounded better when I first saw him in 02 or 03...

ricklevy
ricklevy

 @michael 

I know Dylan.  I am ten years younger than he and have lovingly followed him.  But it WAS awful hear him grunt out indecipherable words incoherently.  Although he had some cute movements around the stage.  The band was tight but his grunting and atonal Monk like piano playing was just goofy.  To me it was SAD since I have always been  a  fan-atic.

cboots13
cboots13

 @michael http://www.jamesdamiano.yolasite.com/ I guess you dont know Dylan very well.  He has paid million to date to keep this from mainstream.  Plus has a gag/confidentiality order on Damiano taking away his first amendment rights....Nice going Dylan!

ricklevy
ricklevy

 @Karolinajohanna It is not about respect.  His performance last night did damage to the word "Respect"

studiesincrap
studiesincrap

You can't claim not to give a shit about Ian's opinion while you are actually LEAVING A COMMENT TO TELL HIM HIS OPINION IS WRONG. And this talk that "respect" should be more important than the actual performance -- didn't a great man once warn not to follow leaders?

gmeline
gmeline

@iPORT He *did* sound better in '02 and '03! (Bill Graham Civic, 'Love & Theft" era? Great show.) You're not off. Roll with the punches.

ricklevy
ricklevy

 @michael somebody get back to me on that.  Who cares about Damiano I am just talking about the PRESENT.  It was a circus act, a surreal carnival, his high light was moving around the stage like a clown in slippers.

Karolinajohanna
Karolinajohanna

 @ricklevy I guess you came expecting something very different than what I came expecting. I appreciate Bob Dylan for everything he has been, and for who he is today. That's all.

Karolinajohanna
Karolinajohanna

 @studiesincrap The only reason I cared is that it was the first "news" that came up when I googled the concert this morning. You don't have to follow anybody. You don't have to appreciate anybody. But I went to the concert because I feel overwhelming appreciation for all the great music he made, and because I wanted for him to hear how much it has meant to me. My comment this morning was probably unnecessarily rude, but it makes not sense to me to complain about a 71 year old artist's voice and timing, especially when his voice was never his selling point anyway.

ricklevy3
ricklevy3

@Christy1043 Big fuckin' deal. It was awful.

Christy1043
Christy1043

@gmeline None of you know him a gag/confidentiality order on Damiano taking away first amend rights Nice going Dylan! http://t.co/KwRIUb7Q

Karolinajohanna
Karolinajohanna

 @ricklevy I mean I guess I can understand that not everybody is really into the somewhat caricatured persona that he's adopted. But why complain about his voice. The timing criticism didn't make sense to me either because I liked hearing the song in a different way and the tension of the phrases being so delayed. Even the kind of grunted or less enunciated phrasing I kind of liked because it was rougher, and I mean, most people know all the words anyway. And going back to the style which I know you thought was kind of circus like, I don't feel like just because some people liked it and some people didn't that that means he crumbled. 

ricklevy
ricklevy

 @Karolinajohanna I certainly did not shit on him, I was merely trying to explain the sadness and heartbreaking disappointment that I felt after seeing my hero crumble

 

Karolinajohanna
Karolinajohanna

 @ricklevy Thanks for assuming that I'm a sophomore. And great job shitting all over the guy you've been glued to for 30 years.

ricklevy
ricklevy

 @Karolinajohanna   I have been with Bob through every change, tone, attitude, variation, how dare you deny my perception.  I have been glued to Bob for 30 years minimum soi I am not unfamiliar with his evolution and have enjoyed it up until last night's grunts and the indecipherable.  I have every song he has ever recorded and I listen them daily as in a prayer.  Thanks for the educational advice, sophomore.

Karolinajohanna
Karolinajohanna

 @ricklevy  @michael You know what, good artists goes through experimentation to find their voice and their style as they change and get older. Obviously, you didn't like the style he was going for. But that's nothing new in his career. He's gone through a lot of transitions and there have always been fans unsatisfied with changes. You seem to imply though that he did a half assed job, or didn't care about what he's doing, and that's what I think makes me angry when I read criticism like yours. Absolutely no appreciation. Just complaining.

ricklevy
ricklevy

 @michael wake up. that is just a fact from someone who knows every lyric, every incantation, It just made me sad like he should just put his feet up on a terrace in Venice

dharmabeachbum61
dharmabeachbum61

 @ricklevy  @Karolinajohanna

 christ all mighty, rick levy. I wish someone would just hand you the price you paid for your ticket so you would quit whining. what a cry baby you are. my god.

ricklevy
ricklevy

 @Karolinajohanna I get it.  It's just that he seemed like an angry retirement community in his pajamas and slippers although he was a pretty rockin' 71 yr old.  Did I really get saddened, heartbroken and energized for the price of admission I will never know.  If I would have heard a large sound byte from the show, I never would have paid to see the spectacle

Karolinajohanna
Karolinajohanna

 @ricklevy That's cool, and I like people who have strong opinions, so I actually enjoyed the conversation too. I think Bob Dylan has always been kind of a dick...I mean so much of his music is basically saying "fuck you" if you think about it. And hopefully I'm not getting into the realm of oversharing, but learning how to toughen up and say "fuck you" has been pretty useful for me. To me a dick is somebody who dictates what is happening around him, without pandering to every little sentiment and want....and maybe especially for guys the options sometimes are (and please excuse another dip into vulgarity. lol) either be a dick...or be a pussy...I don't know maybe because I was right in front of the stage, one of my biggest impressions was how much energy he was performing with.

ricklevy
ricklevy

@ricklevy@Karolinajohanna

 Karolinajohanna.  ricklevy. I am with you all the way.  Just don't discount my opinion.  As far as love and respect no one has more for me than.  I certainly have seen him recently enough not expecting him to sing like it was 1995 or whatever.  So I was not shocked by his gig, not expecting Rolling Thunder or MTV unplugged or Budokan but I did expect to know what song he was grunting.  Obviously Ballad of a Thin Man was great but such great songs like Tangled up in Blue were wrangled up in "are you kidding me"  I am 60 and I feel like we are closer than distant.

I have enjoyed our conversation. But it seemed like a hideous impersonation of himself from not that many years ago.  I know a guy who played bass on Knocked out Loaded and he said I will tell you two things about Bob.  One was he is a brilliant musician and two he is a bitch, as he put iy he is a prick.   Check out the credits for Knocked out Loaded and you will see my friend, Carl Sealove played bass  for that album.   So I am not inexperienced with his work.

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