June 27, 2013
Review by Wade Tatangelo
Bob Dylan distressing in Tampa
As much as it hurts me to say this, Bob Dylan needs to take a long hiatus from
touring. His performance Thursday at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in
Tampa, one of the better sounding sheds in the country, proved borderline painful
despite backing by five superb musicians including guitar great Duke Robillard.
Dylan's voice has deteriorated past the point of serviceable. As much as I admire
the rock poet for updating songs that are decades old with interesting new
arrangements, it was mostly impossible Thursday to get past the craggy, mumbled
vocals that poured through the speakers like rubble and rubbish.
Sure, no one has ever admired Dylan for his vocal range or the sonorous quality of
his singing. But for many phases of his career, the universally praised songwriter did
an outstanding job of making up for his vocal limitations with clever phrasing and
inflection. Those tools are no longer usable because his main instrument, his voice,
has been worn down to a thin, jagged, whimper. It sounded broken, in need of
medical attention, on Thursday, the second night of Dylan's Americanarama Festival
with Wilco, My Morning Jacket and Bob Weir.
And let's not give Dylan, probably the most important figure in the history of
rock 'n' roll after Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley, a pass because of his age. The man
is 72. That makes him about the same age as Paul McCartney, three years older
than Mick Jagger and almost a decade younger than Willie Nelson, three singers
who sound just fine these days when on stage. Plus, Dylan articulated his words
and imbued them with ample emotion on his brilliant 2012 album "Tempest."
So maybe if he just didn't tour so often, or took a much-needed vacation, Dylan's
voice would have time to heal and concert attendees could actually enjoy a true
musical presentation rather than, well a freak show. Watching Dylan stand center
stage, lurching around like a confused member of the audience, was as distressing
as his singing, pedestrian harmonica playing and barely audible keyboard
contributions. People cheered just to be in the same vicinity of the legend and
that's not the way it should be. It's not the way I ever imagined Dylan would
want to be viewed, as an attraction people see just to say they saw. Isn't that
how tickets were sold to the bearded lady?
At age 14, I went with my dad to see Dylan at Ruth Eckerd Hall in 1992. The
rockers often drowned out his voice but he sounded ragged but right on soft,
beautiful ballads like "Boots of Spanish Leather," "Girl from the North Country" and
"Shooting Star" -- plus it was fun to see Dylan bring a teenage Derek Trucks, the
opening act that night, up to play slide guitar on "Highway 61 Revisited." Each
subsequent Dylan show in the 1990s found him sounding better and better with
the 1999 shows he did with Paul Simon, which included a special set of duets,
probably being the greatest. By the time I saw Dylan in 2006 at the New Orleans
Jazz & Heritage Festival, though, his voice had begun to fade past the point of
being able to deliver the lyrics in any meaningful manner.
So, yeah, back to Thursday. Dylan played a bunch of songs I love -- the 2000 gem
"Things Have Changed," the new "Duquesne Whistle," the early 1980s outtake
"Blind Willie McTell," even the half-century old Cold War classic "A Hard Rain's
A-Gonna Fall" -- but not once did I feel anything but pity as Dylan grappled with
line after line. And the last thing I want to do is feel sorry for one of the most
important artists alive, an artist whose songs have been comforting me since I was
an awkward teenager and well into adulthood.
Grateful Dead cofounder Bob Weir, age 65, opened Americanarama Thursday with
a solo set that found him in strong voice but he came on so early, before the
5:30 p.m. starting time, it was hard to stay focused with all the people coming in
and yammering while searching for seats. Weir would return, though, for two
guest appearances that proved to be the most special events of the evening.
First, for a smart, emotive cover of The Beatles' "Dear Prudence" with My Morning
Jacket, the genre-hopping rockers that easily turned in the most potent and
rewarding set of the evening.
MMJ's Jim James might be the greatest rock vocalist around. When he stood up
there with his acoustic guitar and performed the slow-burning "Wonderful (The
Way I Feel)," which later found him backed by churchy organ, steel guitar and
gentle bass and drums, I found myself in a state of bliss even as thunder and rain
threatened and much of the Dylan crowd talked about what they heard on NPR
during their drive to the show or whatever else it was they found more important
than witnessing such sonic beauty. James can get all freak-out sexy, too, like he
did on the sticky funk rocker "First Light." Yeah, MMJ's first show in Tampa in
about a decade was impressive and I hope they return ASAP.
Wilco came on next and when the former-alt-country band wasn't trying to be
Radiohead, which was annoying, they were mildly entertaining. But really, the
Jeff Tweedy-led group's set only got exciting when Weir joined them for The
Rolling Stones chestnut "Dead Flowers" followed by "Friend of the Devil." Dylan
used to cover the Dead classic in the late 1990s, so hopes were high he would
jump on stage and sing along. Nope. Dylan didn't even bring Weir or anyone
from MMJ or Wilco up during his set -- and he sure could've used the help.
Wade Tatangelo contributed this review which first appeared
in the Tampa Herald-Tribune
Comments by Bill Royaloak
Bob offers awesome displays of his soul in fantastic art form. Lately he
has been producing some the most beautiful blues, mellow and exciting at
the same time. The band has played wonderfully, surrounding him with fresh
ingredients to add to each nights entries. You must experience the
richness of Duke’s guitar layered throughout the set list in just the
right helpings to drive the music into some of the most fantastic, fun
journeys you’ll ever take….sit back…really sit back and enjoy these
shows…they’re gifts from Bob….except them graciously….and have
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