When a well-known musician performs in Lewiston, it’s bound to cause a stir. This is especially true when that musician is Bob Dylan, the 72 year-old rock-and roll-pioneer, who performed in Lewiston’s Androscoggin Bank Colisee on April 10th. Dylan’s performance baffled many with his shoddy vocal performance, but ultimately satisfied concertgoers with a combination of new and old hits, bluesy performance style, and sheer power of reputation.
The first thing concertgoers noticed was Dylan’s voice. After nearly 50 years of performing, Dylan’s once-clear voice has degraded into a gravelly rasp. As a result, many of his songs were nearly unintelligible. Although there were some moments where his voice was high and clear, often Dylan sounded like a bullfrog attempting to sing in key. Dylan’s poetic lyrics—the source of his musical brilliance—were extremely tough for listeners to grasp.
Concertgoer Evan Molinari’16, worked hard to take the optimistic route on Dylan’s vocals: “I went into the concert not expecting to understand a word, but I understood it only slightly more than I expected.”
Despite his lackluster vocal performance, Dylan was still able to put on a show that was thoroughly enjoyable. Backed by a competent set of musicians, Dylan trundled through a set balanced with new material and old fan favorites.
Dylan released his 35th studio album, Tempest, in the fall, and some of that album’s more inspired material featured prominently in Dylan’s set. “Pay in Blood,” played early on in the set, featured some of Dylan’s most gleefully malicious lyrics in years. The chorus, “I pay in blood, but not my own” and other lyrics exhibited a fun nastiness and irony that harkened back to earlier hits like “Positively 4th Street” from the 1960’s.
Another new song, “Early Roman Kings,” was repetitive but sprightly, with a swinging instrumental refrain that was well juxtaposed for ironic effect with the song’s dark lyrics. “Scarlet Town,” another new number, had dark, allusive lyrics and shared features with Dylan’s famous “Desolation Row,” but was played a little slow and was unremarkable instrumentally. “Soon After Midnight,” another Tempest composition, also appeared early in the set.
Along with his new songs, Dylan played a veritable host of fan favorites, which, although sometimes tough to understand, were extremely satisfying. The best song of the night was by far “Tangled Up In Blue,” a forlorn 1974 ballad, altered just enough to accommodate Dylan’s weaker vocals and slower style.
Matt Bullard, ’16, described the song as a “high point” and that despite a “new delivery,” Dylan was “still hitting the notes soundly.”
Surprisingly, Dylan also performed his 1966 hit “Visions of Johanna,” which, with its long, surreal lines and strong intensity, might have seemed out of Dylan’s performance capacity. However, his band arranged it into a slower, soulful rendition, and his lyrics were intelligible enough to make it extremely entertaining.
For his closing tune before the inevitable encore, Dylan performed “All Along the Watchtower,” his traditional closer, which was performed as rocking as Dylan and his band could muster. His encore was “Ballad of a Thin Man,” augmented by blistering harmonica solos, to the crowd’s delight.
Staffing Dylan’s band was a group of veteran rock and blues performers that provided him with an authentic and organic blues sound. The band’s various instruments included acoustic guitar, electric guitar, electric bass, stand-up string bass, pedal steel guitar, mandolin, piano, and drums. In a departure from earlier tours, acoustic instruments were used quite frequently. “I really enjoyed the instrumental arrangements, especially the use of the upright bass,” Carly Peruccio ’16 said. “It really made a difference in the sound.”
Although known as rock-and-roll star, Dylan instead delivered bluesy, swinging arrangements of his songs, in a relaxed style that would have seemed more at home in a blues bar than a rock show. However, the arrangements accommodated Dylan’s voice well and seemed to help, not hurt his performance. Kelsey Schober ’16, who attended the concert, said that despite the musical differences and weak vocals, she thought Dylan still retained his “Dylan-esque feel” and that the show “had the atmosphere of when you put on a CD from his younger days.”
Overall, the general consensus seemed to be that despite the flaws in Dylan’s musical performance, the chance to see the aging musician perform was not one to pass up. Matt Bullard summed the feeling up, saying “I knew I would have to see him when they announced the concert” and described seeing Dylan as a “bucket list” item.