BY GLENN GAMBOA
Newsday Staff Writer
November 16, 2006
Part of the thrill of a Bob Dylan concert is never knowing what to expect.
His moods, his musical approaches and his set lists all vary so wildly that trying to predict one of his shows is like trying to pick election winners two years in advance. Dylan's live shows are known for their volatility, so how does he shake that up? He delivers a show so amiable, so avuncular that you keep waiting for a sharpened twist that never comes.
His 110-minute show at Nassau Coliseum Monday night was stylish and pretty, occasionally rocking in an elegant, gentlemanly way befitting a band dressed in suits and hats. It was also like waiting for the sky to fall. And what could be a more accurate metaphor for our "Modern Times" than that?
Dylan and his impressive five-piece band opened with a "Maggie's Farm" that was polished and devoid of protest. "I ain't gonna work on Maggie's Farm no more," was more of a dinner-table declaration than a slogan for marchers in the streets.
The encores "Like a Rolling Stone" and "All Along the Watchtower" confounded those who wanted to sing along because Dylan's delivery was so light and understated that the screaming audience would blow right past him. While the audience bellowed "How does it feel?" in ham-fisted 4/4 time, Dylan's voice fluttered around the lyrics and the expected timing, as if he was just fooling around, as if he was asking the audience, "How does that feel?"
Even the arrangements were musical head fakes, as the usual fiery guitar solos on "Watchtower" were replaced by Denny Freeman's scratch guitar which owed more to '60s soul than the raucous '60s rock Dylan helped build.
One of Dylan's major victories in recent years is his ability to escape audience expectations. "You think I'm over the hill, you think I'm past my prime," he sang in "Spirit on the Water," from his new album, "Modern Times" (Columbia). "Let me see what you got. We can have a whoppin' good time."
Dylan isn't interested in giving his audience what they want. He gives them what they need.
He doesn't want them to dwell in the past. He doesn't want to give them flashbacks to their wild, radical youth. His interest is in the present, and his unpredictable live show is designed to make them appreciate their current surroundings, even if it means easing back on "Tangled Up in Blue" or filling "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" with some Chicago blues.
Dylan provided a healthy sampling of the excellent "Modern Times," though he did stick with the more listener-friendly songs ("Spirit on the Water") instead of the more controversial ones ("Workingman's Blues #2" and "The Levee's Gonna Break").
Maybe he will tackle those -- just as masterfully, no doubt -- when he's in a different mood.
BOB DYLAN. Putting up signs of "Modern Times." With the Raconteurs. Thursday night at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J.; Next Monday at City Center in Manhattan. Seen Monday night at Nassau Coliseum.
Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.