Monday, August 17, 2009

Dylan, the Coug, and Willie - Stockton, CA - 08/15/09

Given that Bob Dylan's minor league ballpark tour didn't make it through Colorado, I was pretty excited to find that the tour would be stopping in Stockton, CA while I was in the area. I won't be too long winded reviewing this show, given that there are tons of reviews of this tour all over the internets. Nonetheless, a few thoughts below.

The Wiyos opened the show, and on this tour they have probably played for more people in a month than all their past shows combined (and maybe all their future shows too). I generally try not to be terribly critical of independent bands, but knowing that Dylan's people chose them to open the tour, the band was a pretty substantial disappointment. They were a great example of what happens when people in Brooklyn think they can pick a kitschy style of music and make it authentic. Really nothing of interest came out of their set.

Willie was next, and Willie was...well, Willie. Willie doesn't throw curveballs these days. He makes the crowd happy by playing almost all of the hits. He plays some great guitar solos, and when it comes down to it, he is just good at being Willie. This guy was wearing headbands back when today's hipsters were still listening to Blues Traveler and/or Fine Young Cannibals, so you really can't fault him for being a crowd pleaser now.

John Mellencamp (Johnny Cougar as my uncle used to call him) came on next and put on the stadium rock show most of the crowd was wanting. Besides not playing "Jack and Diane" this show (or any other show on the tour, apparently), he made his way through high energy hits and really got the crowd going. While I don't typically enjoy stadium rock shows, his set made the crowd happy and I can't blame him for doing so. No, this wasn't a Grizzly Bear show, but no one came for that, so it was fun. Sure I get a little annoyed the way big acts make guitar/instrument solos seem like they are more impressive than they really are, but once again, they knew their audience and they put on a good show.

Going into this show, I had heard many many accounts of Dylan's performances, most notably that people began leaving in droves soon after they realized that he wasn't going to do a set of greatest hits. Dylan's show is the antithesis of Willie's, for the most part. He started off with "Ballad of a Thin Man," similar to the recorded version, followed by "Forever Young," but the show soon digressed into a long line of songs that musically sounded the same as all the rest. For reasons out of my control, I wasn't able to stay for the full show, but set lists for this and most other shows can be found here. While Dylan apparently never talks to the crowd anymore other than to introduce the band, I was pretty impressed to hear that he played "Not Fade Away" at his Lubbock show, which was a pretty cool tribute even if he is a bit of a curmudgeonly old man.

(Note to all, tangent begins here, it would be a good idea to stop reading)

This Dylan show left me fairly troubled as far as wondering what I really thought about the man and his music, especially his efforts to keep his music original and to continue to play new songs that crowds are far less interested in hearing than "The Times They Are A'Changin." I don't think any single songwriter has written as many good songs (by my subjective definition) as Bob Dylan has. That said, I think he's just been famous for way too long. For someone who got famous in his early twenties and then continues to make new music over 40 years later, Dylan is in an almost unprecendented position. Think about every time you've heard "Hurricane" and/or anyone's cover of "All Along the Watchtower" and how Bob gets a check every time they are played. How do you continue to make new music when your royalty checks are larger than the GDP of a number of countries?

The man at times performs almost as though he doesn't want to be Bob Dylan. And while I'm okay with that, I think he would be better off playing to an appreciative theater audience rather than stadiums of 10,000 people who just want to hear "Like a Rolling Stone" just like it is found on their ipod. In a way, I think Dylan's continued efforts at making new music at the age of 68 are the only thing that keeps him sane. If he relied on being a caricature of 60s Bob Dylan, his life would just be a miserable reminder of how popular he was then, and how he is no longer important. So few people who ever reached the iconic level that Dylan did have lived 45+ years afterwards, and I think what sets him even further apart is the fact that he was big all by himself. He wasn't a Beatle or a Beach Boy, just Bob Dylan. For those of us who thought we wanted to be the next big rock star when we were 21, looking at Bob Dylan today can maybe help us realize how lucky we are that that didn't come true.

Where am I going with all of this? Exactly. However, what I can conclude is that I'm Not There really couldn't have been a more accurate and appropriate depiction of Dylan's many faces, and I guess maybe gives some insight into why he's not Willie or the Coug, but rather, he's Dylan, just not the Dylan that most of the 50- and 60-somethings at his shows want him to be.

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

No comments: