Bob Dylan - Bob Links - Review - 04/28/97

Wheeling,West Virginia

April 28, 1997

Capitol Music Hall

Review provided by  John Whitehead:

Capitol Music Hall
Wheeling, West Virginia
April 28. 1997

Enwrapped in an off-white go-to-meeting suit circa 1875 
West-of-the-Mississippi, Bob Dylan came out on stage with his six-piece 
band and, defying all expectations encrusted by nearly forty years of 
sullen, isolate performances, proceeded to have a good time.  Or, he had 
as good a time as an undemonstrative iconoclast whose concert anthem "It 
Ain't Me, Babe" has always served as a consecrated wedge between himself 
and his audience can have (it is true that, though he seemed more at 
ease, he never spoke a word, not even to introduce and thank his band, 
who followed him all night with a pleasing mixture of respect and 
playfulness).  Resting a funny, penguin-like paunch on his rhythm guitar 
between verses, he seemed at ease with himself, with his precarious 
place center-stage, and with a near-capacity Capitol Music Hall audience 
(well-represented by three generations of Dylan faithful) who only 
wanted to tell him that he could do no wrong.

Dylan in 1997 seems at peace with large tracts of his song catalog, 
which is good news: at times in the past, he has grown suspicious of the 
pre-Newport Dylan, or pre-motorcycle-accident Dylan, or Woodstock Dylan, 
or Hurricane Carter/Joey Gallo Dylan who spent a couple of strange years 
co-writing with the otherwise-mortal Jacques Levy, who has slipped once 
again into obscurity.  Yet from the outset, with a three-song overture 
that included "Absolutely Sweet Marie," "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here 
With You" (an intentionally gracious concert-counterpoint to the 
more-typical sentiments of "It Ain't Me, Babe"), and an obligatory "All 
Along the Watchtower," Dylan gave hints that he is comfortable in his 
role, long his for the taking but only recently embraced, of elder 
statesman, granddaddy of rock attitude, conscience, and roots (he even, 
late in the show, did a modified duckwalk during the fine instrumental 
passage of "Ballad of a Thin Man").

Better late than never, Dylan seems finally to have recognized that, 
despite his Capitol Music Hall introduction as "Columbia Records' 
recording artist Bob Dylan," no one is expecting him to break new ground 
with his recordings.  He's broken more ground than most builders; people 
come to see and hear Dylan these days to shower him with the approbation 
that, for many years, Dylan simply wouldn't accept.  He's relaxed into 
middle-age, and it's provided a new level of rapport between Dylan and 
his audience.  He still doesn't talk to us, but he seems to trust us 
enough to allow that he's having a good time.  Hearing "Silvio," a 
middling studio rocker, in concert serves as an indicator of what has 
happened to Dylan as he's gotten older.  Taking a cue from his late 
friend Jerry Garcia (who received tribute in "Alabama Getaway," the 
first encore), Dylan has begun writing songs he can take out on the road 
with him.  Dylan and his band woke themselves up from a sleepy, 
two-ballad set with the rockin' opening chords, and the Capitol crowd 
caught a rare glimpse of the spotlit Dylan, smiling.

Again, in "Ballad of a Thin Man," with its traditionally interior 
swagger and arch exclusivity undercut by his duckwalking and mugging 
(his face contorting into sudden, silly grinning, almost like a newborn 
with gas), Dylan suggested a new openness to his audience, offering them 
songs that might well once have been spat at them with the same contempt 
afforded Mr. Jones.  And in "It Ain't Me, Babe," the second encore, 
Dylan gave us an unforseeably charming, down-home, somehow-affectionate 
reading of his most dismissive song, the legendary message to the 
Newport Folk Festival traditionalists and all the would-be acolytes 
thereafter.  Between the neo-Nashville acoustic jamming in the breaks of 
"It Ain't Me, Babe" and the white, 10-gallon hat he donned for the final 
encore (a meticulously-sloppy take on "Rainy Day Women, #12 & 35"), 
Dylan was standing in what he knew was the Capitol of Country Music, 
speaking the musical language he knew we wanted to hear, and telling us 
how it feels, after all these years, to be a rolling stone.

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