The author recalls the thrill of watching Bob Dylan live in Minnesota earlier this month.
When a cheerful concert-goer in true Minnesota nice said “The scary white guy at the end of the rainbow is Bob Dylan”, it resonated in a gazillion different ways. This was Dylan — the conscience of a generation and all the rest of it — in the flesh. While the naysayers insist that Bob barks rather than sings nowadays and he doesn’t interact with the audience, the chance of listening to the legend live was too good to be passed up.
Performing as part of the Americanarama tour in St. Paul, Minnesota, the troubadour presented another side of Dylan. “I used to play here,” he said with a laugh referring to his roots in Hibbing, Minnesota. He went on to say how he had played with every musician from “Mick Jagger to Madonna” but none more important than Bobby Vee, referring to the man who gave Dylan his first paying job as a teenager playing the piano with his band. Dylan performed a cover of Vee’s hit ‘Suzie Baby.’ For someone who chooses to be obscure and ambiguous, the tribute to Vee, who was in the audience, was revealing and touching.
Dylan and his band were performing with Wilco and My Morning Jacket. The choice of venue — The Midway Stadium, the home of the minor league St Paul Saints baseball team — seemed serendipitous with the rattle and clank of freight trains providing a background score to the proceedings and underlining the theme of return to roots. While the queues for food and drinks were insanely long, there was a homey bonhomie and a laidback vibe that made everything seem quite all right.
The picnic feel to the sold-out crowd of 14,000, thanks to the stand-anywhere-you-want policy, had me weaving my way to the front of the stage. By the time I reached 15 rows from the stage, the gentleman who told me about Dylan at the end of the rainbow urged me to “ski through the crowd” right to the front.
My friend, a concert regular, suggested standing in front of the sound booth instead. Sitting on a railing around the booth, I got to listen to Dylan’s re-imaging and reinventing of his classic songs. And he did not bark at all! In fact he sounded good, vigorous and on top of things — with his band providing ample support with their tight sound.
It was a long journey that brought me to enjoy the concert on that perfect summer evening. When toying with a plan to visit a friend in Minneapolis, there came the news of Dylan playing in the twin cities. All thoughts of heat and increased holiday air fare were pushed to the back of the mind as I bought the plane tickets for Minneapolis. When I reached Bangalore airport, I was told that, since my flight plan included two stops in Europe, I would need a Schengen visa (remind me never to book flight tickets through ticketing websites). Attempts to reroute the flight to any other city in the U.S. came to nought as the flights were over booked. Fighting thoughts of despair of never being able to watch the man live, I checked for flights for Tuesday (the concert was on Wednesday) and got the last available seat.
Sitting in the Paris-New York flight, I thought nothing could go wrong now. Murphy’s Law was fully operational; the flight was delayed due to bad weather and I missed my connecting flight to Minneapolis. That was the last flight to Minneapolis and I was booked onto a morning flight on Wednesday. On the flight that morning, I was hoping there would be no further delays and thankfully there weren’t.
There was also the metaphoric journey to the concert that began many moons ago — listening to a scratchy tape recording in university where a man with a strange nasal voice insisted that everybody must get stoned. Then followed a steeping in all things Dylan, where every phase of growing up, out and in had a corresponding song. If you were filled with righteous anger or were playfully flirting, had your mind altered and were dallying with borderline paranoia, had your heart broken or wanted to walk away from a relationship you had a Bob Dylan song for it.
Cassettes gave way to CDs, MP3s and the iPod, and music tastes moved to electronica and House, but there would always be the long dark teatime of the soul when you would return to the troubadour to have him make sense of your latest crisis. And Dylan serenely continued to be the still centre of our rapidly changeful lives — performing on his neverending tour (the man has issues with the nomenclature) from June 7, 1988 and releasing albums — the most recent being Tempest last September.
Dylan’s set list for the evening included a mix of old and new including ‘Duquesne Whistle’ from Tempest to the surreal ‘She Belongs to Me’ from his 1965 album Bringing it all Back Home. As one woman in the crowd commented, part of the fun in a Dylan concert is recognising the songs from his reinventions. By the time Dylan performed ‘Tangled up In Blue’ (a version of it, anyway) the crowd was grooving along. When he ended with ‘All Along the Watchtower’ from his 1967 album John Wesley Harding, there was a clamour for an encore. And Dylan obliged with ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’.
As Dylan’s voice curled around and caressed the doggedly inscrutable lyrics of the 1963 masterpiece, I heaved a sigh of relief that the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow was not fool’s gold but the real thing.