Bloomington, Indiana

Indiana University
Indiana University Auditorium

November 7, 2021

[Luke M. Jacobus], [John Haas]

Review by Luke M. Jacobus

Bob Dylan made one of his several circa Halloween trips to central Indiana
again this year. The moon and Venus were low in the hazy southwest sky as
I walked across campus through the autumn chill and fallen leaves. In
front of the IU Auditorium, near the fountain, a street entertainer, who
seemed to have imbibed more than a little liquid inspiration, serenaded
the crowds entering the venue with what seemed to be humorous parodies of
Bob Dylan songs. The efforts seemed to be in vain, but it did add to the
surreal air that is a Bob Dylan concert. Today being the first day of the
winter time change added to that sense. This was probably my ninth show in
a 25 year period.

Once inside, I perused merchandise, headed past the Thomas Hart Benton
mural, and went up to my seat in the balcony. This vantage proved to be a
good view.

The stage had a raised platform that was floor for the band. Think of a
giant light box. The arrangement of musicians was closer together than
I've seen in the past. Also, I did not see the Academy Award, nor the
usual bust that is on stage. It was very sparse by recent standards. It
was nice to hear people talking about music and ideas and experiences
before the show. At one point, while the stage was particularly dark, I
was looking it over with my binoculars. A man in a dark suit and gray,
poofy hair, who appeared to be shorter stature came and looked over the
stage from the back, giving a nod of approval to several busy people
around him. Not 100% sure who that was or wasn't.

The show started at about 8:03pm EST by my watch. What followed was one of
the most interactive Bob Dylan concerts I've seen.

He came out strong and seemed very energized. A slight stoop I noticed two
years ago was all but gone. He seemed proud to stand straight and tall,
even striking a number of Elvis-like poses and making moves evocative of
the King. At one point he ran quickly backwards about half the width of
the stage, a stunt people half his age would think twice about. Any rumors
of his demise are grossly exaggerated.

I counted four times between songs that he took time to thank the audience
and sometimes made other comments. I think it was after To Be Alone With
You, he heartily thanked us and said he about forgot the words to that
one. It struck me as a genuine confession. During the Band introductions,
he remarked about performing at a university and that it was good to be at
a place where everybody thinks for themselves. This small talk may be the
new schtick, but it really came across as genuine. I've listened to some
of the other shows this tour, and I have not noticed this level of
engagement. I was very surprised. Even between songs, he responded to
audience banter with an occasional "ok!", "yeah", or other small
acknowledgment. I think I detected a little eye-roll with at least one of

The performances were amazing. Words were clear and strong (except at the
start of a few verses). The sound mix and overall volume in the auditorium
was excellent, nearly ideal. Great, great care was given to the execution
of these songs, with extreme vocal control demonstrated. I think he's won
at least one best vocal Grammy for a lesser performance than some of those
tonight—and that was strong. His piano work mostly filled in gaps,
sometimes quite effectively with only a single note played at important
junctures. Other times, some deft playing was high in the mix. He played
harmonica just a few times. The vocals were front and center, which gave
clear access to some deeply emotional performances. Mics seemed to be kept
on and turned up the whole time (though possibly not without technical
glitches? See more below), which allowed some talk with the band to be
heard in the background (also more below), and at least one well-timed,
audible mic drop made me laugh.

He really inhabited the songs. A few of them had half chuckles at key
points, and one of them, I wish I remember which, had a verse that seemed
to be cried more than sung. I did notice a wiping of his eyes about a
verse and a half later, which made me wonder if he actually lost himself
in the work for a few lines.

I wish I could listen again to Gotta Serve Somebody. It seems one line had
words about being in a "nursing home or a honky tonk", but maybe I heard
it wrong.

When he wasn't playing piano, but behind it, I was elevated enough I could
see over the top. He was very alive with gestures when not pounding at the
keys, and he at least seemed to be giving direction to the band. At one
point I saw him leading with the motions of an orchestra conductor. This
was interesting to watch what appeared to be direct control of the musical
force backing him.

Most of the show, Bob Dylan was a shadow. You could not make out his face.
However, with I've Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You, this changed.
With this song, his face was illuminated, and it remained so, or at least
visible, during all the songs that followed. This, coupled with the
obvious effort given to this one song, and its quotation on the tour
promotion, emphasize its importance as centerpiece to this leg of the

The show was not without hiccups, though. As Black Rider started, there was
what seemed to be commotion and some degree of vociferation from the Man
in Charge. I wish I could have understood it all, because it played out
over an open mic. The last thing I heard, right before everything smoothed
out, sounded like "Play in F!" And that was said almost directly into the
mic. I didn't find any of this distracting, but rather intriguing.

The only real problem I could point out about the evening would be that
several verses spread throughout the show had what seemed to be muted,
false, whisper or stutter starts. I thought he struggled with using the
microphone and holding it the right distance from his mouth when he
started singing or speaking, in order to have the sound right, or else
there was some kind of technical problem with one of the mics, leading to
sound quieting or cutting out. Additionally, it seemed to be that either
the singer or the band hadn't worked out all the mutual timings quite yet,
which came across as hesitancy and uncertainty. There is also the question
of remembering the words. Given the number of new and dusted-off songs,
the early stage of the tour, and the fact they've been off the road for a
year, all is entirely forgivable.

The audience seemed to lend extra support at these times, which is what I
think evoked the extra thanks and a level of genuine gratitude that you
just don't experience at most Bob Dylan concerts. I also think it
encouraged extra effort on the songs. Tonight seemed to offer glimpses of
the human being behind the Bob Dylan character. I talked to my daughter
after the show, and I think she put it best when she said the show's
imperfections are what made it perfect to me. She may be right.

As just a personal preference, I would like to have heard harmonica on the
closing song, Every Grain of Sand. It's a song I always wanted to hear
live, though, and I got that gift tonight; so, thank you so much!

After the show, I chatted with one of the young people who worked for the
auditorium. She said that they had 2500 of the 3200 seats filled. That was
up from 2353 tickets sold the day before. One might think this a sparse
turnout, but she said it was the largest crowd they'd had since the
pandemic. We chatted more, and talked about everyone wearing masks. She
emphasized that it was the policy of the University, the Auditorium, and
Bob Dylan(!) that masks be required. Most people did a good job of
respecting that tonight.

As I left the show, I walked past a university building with the smoke
alarms blaring and firetrucks around it. Reminded me of lyrics from
Shooting Star and sure hoping tonight is not the last. The din soon
quieted, but it provided an odd bookend to the night's Bob Dylan
experience, which struck me as so very honest. Yet so often, one's
interpretation of Bob Dylan says more about the interpreter than it does
Bob Dylan. And I guess that's where some of the genius lies. "Sometimes I
turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me." Good night,
and godspeed.
Luke M. Jacobus, PhD
Associate Prof., Biology
Indiana Univ. Purdue Univ. Columbus


Review by John Haas

Gorgeous low sixties weather here in Indiana for a few days, the trees all
ablaze with color, as if heralding ... well, it sure ain't morning in
America, but, hey, it could be worse.

We're finally devoting some money to infrastructure, we've got vaccines
for those that want them, kids are back in school, life is humming along,
no one's assaulting the capitol at the moment, we ended a 20-year war (not
that that's the end of sorrow for the Afghans, by any means), gas is
expensive but nowheres near as expensive as it's been at times in the last
50 years, and Bob Dylan's still on the road.

Still heading to another joint.  And then another.  And eventually, one
near you.  Amazing, isn't it?

It's probably not hard travelin' as Woody and Cisco knew it, but no one
can say he's slacking. Not at 80. Not at any age.

I spent my first near decade of Bobism (1966-73, aged 10 to 17) believing
he'd never tour again, like the Beatles.  So every concert is like a
miracle, now.

The setlist was the same as the last several nights, 17 songs, no encore,
per se.

What a strange set-list it is!  The older songs are known to Bobists of
course--all the songs are known to Bobists--but they aren't his huge hits,
by any means.  One only released as a single.  One from the gospel period
(but yeah, he won a Grammy for it).  A couple country romps from '67 and
'69, one of those entirely--and I mean entirely!--rewritten (and each
"deep cuts" from their albums).  A song from Tempest, but none from TOOM,
L&T, the Oscar winner of yore, and nothing from H61R, FWBD, or most of his
back catalog in fact.  All of which is so, so great, I could hug him.  We
Bobists want Bob to be Bob.  If he was trying to be someone else, that
other person would do that better, but we wouldn't like it half as much.
Go, Bob!  You do you.  That's why you got to where you are today, in fact.
They don't just toss Nobel Prizes at folk for playing it safe, after all.

It was all good.  All of it.  Bob's piano playing is outstanding at times,
especially False Prophet.  His singing kills it, as everyone says.  Could
hear every word. The songs I was expecting to just endure from R&RW
shined.  Those I expected to love--Key West, eg--I loved (thanks, Donnie,
for that accordion).  All the playing was stellar.

Great concert.  Moody, intricate, precise, beautiful.

Nice to see some young people in the crowd, some really losing it with
excitement.  He writes poems that make strong men lose their minds,
indeed.  Always has, and *still* does.


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