When the discussion turns to living rock ‘n roll icons, few have made more of an impact on the scene than Bob Dylan.
The 78-year-old converted folk singer continues to tour and perform around the world on what has been called his “Never Ending Tour,” a title that reportedly makes him cringe. My older brother, Ned, who has seen Dylan four times, warned me that I may be in for a lemon show with no direction home when I headed to Pinnacle Bank Arena to watch his favorite artist perform on Saturday.
Having seen him three times within the last few years, he said it seemed his performances had been on the decline from one to the next, with his most recent as the worst of them all.
In that show, he said Dylan’s voice was shot. His set list included more than one cover of Frank Sinatra tunes. And arthritis prevented him from playing guitar. He looked lost on stage as he stood with microphone in hand, his hands searching for something to do.
By all accounts, he’d become a train wreck with little left in his arsenal worth hearing.
I decided I would try to salvage the potentially awful experience at least by securing a Dylan autograph for my brother. Once an aspiring artist, he had done two paintings of Dylan in high school circa 1968-69 that I always thought were pretty darn good. So I asked him to send me photos of them and had one of them made into a wooden wall art panel. The idea was to give it to Dylan and get the second signed for my brother.
Well, the folks at Pinnacle Bank Arena were as helpful as they could be, but it seems Dylan just doesn’t sign autographs for anybody. After several chats with security personnel, media personnel, and one fan who’d seen him 14 times, I was convinced it wasn’t going to happen. And as it turned out, I was right.
That said, the night was far from the train wreck I had anticipated. Dylan, as it turned out, was in fine form. Just why, no one seemed to know. Perhaps it was because he stopped smoking. Or maybe he got steroid shots to numb his arthritic hands. But whatever the reason — and I’m sure the answer is blowing in the wind — he came out wielding an electric guitar and never looked back Saturday, putting on a show heralded by the Lincoln Journal Star reviewer and fan who’d seen him 14 times as one of his best in some time.
Not being a rabid Dylan fan myself, I only recognized a few songs from the entire set. As my brother had warned, even those were revamped beyond immediate recognition. That said, the songs were still solidly performed, especially, “Gotta Serve Somebody,” a personal favorite from his “Christian phase” that evoked quite a response from the audience as his closing number prior to the encore.
What I found even more amazing was that his voice was still intact, showing a confidence that caught me completely off guard. He even pulled off a couple ballads, exhibiting actual melody and emotion in his boldly up-front deliveries, something I hadn’t heard much from the usually gravelly and somewhat monotone singer/songwriter.
Yes, it was certainly a show to see, and I felt fortunate to have been there to witness it. Not sure if that’s what fans should be expecting going forward or if I just happened to capture an iconic artist on an especially good night, but at least on this night, Dylan and his ultra-capable band didn’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blew.