(I am a week late in posting this, but here is a review I wrote for Seattle Weekly of Bob Dylan & His Band at WaMu Theatre in Seattle. The review generated almost 40 comments in agreement with me that the show was indeed one of the man’s finest. A truly magical night that my wife and I are still reeling from.)
There he stood, leering at the crowd from under the wide brim of his black hat, lips twitching into a smirk as he growled those classic words: “Lay lady lay…lay across my big brass bed.” And the women standing behind me complained to each other, loudly: “God, his voice! He sounds awful!”
Not the Dylan I heard. He sounded better than I’d ever heard him sound in a live setting. That voice of his now proudly amplified, Dylan lets his ashen throat do all the work. Lyrics perhaps once sung sweetly are now bitten off syllable-by-syllable, chewed up, spit out, exhaled through an old rusty tailpipe. He’s a better singer now than ever before. He is not a 28-year old folk darling, but a 68-year old bluesman who dresses like a cross between Zorro and a Civil War general and sings old songs in weird jazzy mutations and new songs as if it were still the 1950s…or the 1920s, depending. The fucker is weird and a total enigma. But he’s always been that way. It’s just that he’s even weirder now.
Dylan opened last night’s WaMu Theatre show the same way he opened the previous night’s set at The Moore, by launching into the bluesy stomp of “Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking” from Slow Train Coming. He stood behind his keyboard, hunched over it like a vulture, looking up now and again to give cues to his band. With Texas guitar ace Charlie Sexton back again as a member of Dylan’s crack quintet, Dylan seemed very much alive, throwing himself into every song, heaving his shoulders and swiveling his hips from behind the keyboard. When he stepped out from behind the keyboard, he sometimes played guitar and other times took the microphone like a Vegas lounge singer, reaching his arms out to the crowd to deliver lyrics like “Oh well I love ya pretty baby,” from Together Through Life‘s swingin’ single “Beyond Here Lies Nothing”, or “You see somebody naked and you say ‘Who is that man?'” from his menacing “Ballad of A Thin Man”.
Over the 100-minute set, he played a big chunk of songs from his last two albums, 2006’s Modern Times and this year’s Together Through Life, croaking his way through “Spirit On The Water”, “If You Ever Go To Houston”, and “My Wife’s Hometown”. A particularly aching “Forgetful Heart” was performed with flourishes of harmonica so haunting and vocals so peppered it sounded like it could’ve been an outtake from 1989’s Oh Mercy. As great as he was, though, you could still sense disappointment from certain fans, like the aforementioned women behind me. They want young, handsome and giddy Dylan, not old, wizened, raspy Dylan. Too bad, because today’s Dylan is pure bizarre magic and the appeal lies in the subtlety of the performances. The way he twists and mangles verses like a jazzman. The way he squints at the crowd in a way that makes you question everything you thought you knew. The way he smirks occasionally during songs in a way that makes you wonder if the entire show is some kind of inside joke you’re not a part of. Like I said before, the fucker is weird and a total mystery. But Bob is still Bob spelled backwards.