Dylan Is Like Moxie

Sitting among thousands of people at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell tonight, witnessing Bob Dylan and his band lifting up the audience with powerful renditions of his songs, I had a thought: Dylan is like Moxie. In performance, he has become a completely singular mixture for which you either have the taste or you don’t. It would be difficult to talk someone into attending one of his concerts these days because without prior knowledge of the recordings and his history the novice would probably recoil at the crashing vocals and growling phrases wound around spectacular instrumental work by his band and him. I bring about 40 years of serious listening to his catalogue, which is a huge help when I see him live on the “endless tour.” Tonight, the culminating and darkly soaring  performance of “Ballad of a Thin Man” was worth the price of admission. It was the last song before the standard stage exit and then standard encore. The second of the two-song encore, “Like a Rolling Stone,” brought the audience near the peak of joy that it had reached just before with “Thin Man.”

I missed whole patches of lyrics and a few entire songs because I didn’t have a handy Dylan-song-finder in my pocket. Some of the other high points: “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” “Tangled Up in Blue,” “Not Dark Yet,” “Simple Twist of Fate,” “Visions of Johanna,” “Highway 61,” and “Jolene.”

For a few songs, Dylan pulled out the iconic harmonica, which always sends his crowds into a frenzy. He spent most of the night behind an electric piano or organ, I don’t know the difference. He’s a master of the keyboard, reminding me of the “Highway 61” album sessions and his comment about wanting to achieve that aural moment that he calls “a thin wild mercury sound.” He played electric guitar on a few numbers early in the concert, and for a few songs stood without instrument as a raspy solo blues crooner.

He was dressed like a Mexican soldier at the Alamo with a light broad-brimmed hat, long dark jacket that looked like a uniform coat with bright buttons in front, dark pants with a silver stripe up the sides, and western boots. Through binoculars he looked his age, about 70. That said, he worked the keyboards and guitar neck with verve and intensity for two hours and showed a spry leg as he leaned into the music and words for effect, sometimes kicking up his knee to accent a run of notes.

Yes, he’s like Moxie, and he’s got Moxie. From Lowell, he’s on to three more shows in New York. Go, Bob, and thanks for stopping in Lowell. See you next time.

5 Responses to Dylan Is Like Moxie

  1. Steve says:

    I read the review of Dylan’s concert in Amherst that Paul linked yesterday, so I was forewarned that his voice might shock those who haven’t heard him live for a while. I had never heard him live,… but holy comole! He made Tom Waits sound like Mel Torme. There were long periods during which I wasn’t even sure he was singing in English. It sounded like his microphone had some horrible static. I heard the guy behind me say, “He must have laryngitis.”

    I take no joy in sounding so nasty about a guy who is in the Pantheon of song writers and performers of our generation, or any generation, a guy whose music has been part of the sound track of our lives for so many decades, “the poet laureate of the sixties” as he was introduced, but poetry is words, and what is it when you can’t even recognize the words? No matter how great your legend is, there does come a time when you have to let the legend speak for itself. If you had told me I’d ever leave a Dylan concert early I wouldn’t have believed you, but my wife and I left after about an hour and a half. The endless tour was really beginning to feel endless. Outside the arena another we met another couple who was leaving. The woman said, “I can’t listen to him butchering his own songs any more.”
    By the way, I was also forewarned that Dylan is eccentric and never talks to the audience, etc. I figured when you’re that overwhelming a figure you can do whatever you want. But seeing a concert in which not one member of the band ever says one word to the audience did begin to get on my nerves for some reason. Just struck me as bad manners, and maybe increased my impatience with his “laryngitis.”
    It gives me pain to say these things. I feel like I just shot an old faithful dog.

  2. PaulM says:

    Steve’s right. There were lots of people shaking their heads, trying to figure out if Dylan was speaking in tongues. I looked at http://www.boblinks.com this morning to see where he has been playing: France, Serbia, Wyoming, upstate New York, Florida, Japan. What do the audiences whose first languge is not English make of this? In a way it’s a tent meeting, a revival session for believers in the Church of Bob. Most people probably show up out of loyalty and faith, even if they know it’s going to be a rough go, hoping for a few transcendent moments. For those hoping to experience live what they know from the recordings, it is a major disappointment. I was hit with that in 2000 (2001?) when he played the Tsongas just as he was going into this bluesy swing band-string band phase. I didn’t like it, and haven’t bought a ticket for a show in ten years—but I wanted to see him in Lowell one more time.

  3. Dennis Shaughnessey says:

    Did anybody go see Ian Anderson at the Auditorium? I had tickets but was laid up at Lahey Hospital over the weekend. Story of my life. When my ship comes in I’ll be at the airport. Paul M., your Moxie analogy is spot on. I would love to have seen Dylan, but Ian won out. Actually, Lahey won out.

  4. PaulM says:

    Thanks, Dennis. Be well. Write more often. Tell us what’s up in Agumtocooke, er, Dracut, or “the place in the woods,” as it was known back in the day. I grew up in New Boston Village, over the hill and through the meadow from Shaw’s Farm.

  5. George DeLuca says:

    To answer Dennis’s question, I saw Ian Anderson at the Lowell Auditorium. Instead of reiterating, this is was my post on FB:

    “The Ian Anderson show was a great time … he’s the quintissential showman and kept the crowd entertained with his style of “duckwalks and moonwalks” and intimate connection with the crowd with stories of the early 70s. The highlight of the night was his tight rendition of “Thick as a Brick” an album side composition of the early 70s composed by Ian, and that the band covered flawlessly.”

    I saw Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in 2002. Here’s a photo of that show: http://www.copleymedia.com/music/NewportFolk2002/TheBobDylanBand.html .
    I saw him again a year or so after that at the Garden. The set list was pretty much the one Paul described, and as far as I know the band was the same as the one he’s currently touring with. It was a great show! Even though his voice wasn’t the greatest, the mix was superb. He smiled a lot into the encores and as he walked off with guitar raised, which was endearing. The ensemble really lifted the crowd! My favorite tune of the night was “Just Like a Woman” … it went on and on with each verse separated by that little keyboard bridge! It brought down the house!