Next year the beautiful “Beacon Theatre” will have it´s 90th anniversary since the opening, first starting out as a theatre for movies and vaudeville. No wonder Bob Dylan returns to this place again and again. If this walls could speak, and maybe they can, Bob Dylan would listen. This is a real stage, and the magic is in the air even before this evenings performance. Then, the stage is set, the curtain rises, and we are ready to begin. Behind the curtain the band is ready to go, and the main character got his Bob Dylan mask on tonight. As we know, he only uses it when he has to.
A bit rusty and impatient version of “Things Have Changed” opens the set, like Dylan can´t wait to get started to night. This is also the one song that gave Dylan an Academy Award, which he received with this words: “I want to thank the members of the Academy who were bold enough to give me this award for this song, which obviously is a song that doesn’t pussyfoot around nor turn a blind eye to human nature.” That´s a possible slogan for more than one Bob Dylan song, as it is for this night in New York. Dylan´s replica of the Oscar behind him is a touching symbol both for his love of film and of this award. One could believe that this one means more than many Grammys to him. “I´m in the wrong town, I should be in Hollywood”, he sings. And tonight he is the director of the performance, he is the actor of the songs, he is the performing artist, taking us with him like he was the Pied Piper of Hamelin, casting his spell, and the audience follows him each step of the way.
Like when he recites, more than sings, the drama of “It Ain´t Me, Babe”, caressing every word, even throwing in an extra “No” with the three others, to make his point. Like when he takes us down Highway 61, the rocking and rolling wave of strong images is flickering over the stage, almost more than we can swallow, from the brutality of the God that demands the killing of a son to the obscure meeting between Mack The Finger and Louie The King and many more, all the way down the road. Dylan acts the young rocker in this one, before he tries a little tenderness in a beautiful rendition of “Simple Twist of Fate”, where we can close our eyes and see the couple sitting together in the park “as the evening sky grew dark”, a play inside the play, another stage drawn right in front of us. In “Cry Awhile” we can clearly see the nasty, dirty, double-crossin’, backstabbin’ phony, Mr Goldsmith pass by – is it maybe the same journalist Goldsmith that was after Søren Kierkegaard a long time ago? Or a relative of him, or of Mr Jones? Who knows?
This years version of “When I Paint My Masterpiece” is nothing less than majestic in all its splendor. As in “Simple Twist of Fate”, where several lyrical changes are made, the other “Masterpiece” changes, too – and the Coca Cola and gondola has disappeared from the bridge, and are replaced with the old man´s view and beautiful picture “Lookin´over the world full of crimson and clover, Sometimes I think that my cup´s runnin´over”, quoting Psalm 23. Mr Dylan takes us on a long trip with this carefully chosen set of songs, and he is eager to play them out as a well-carved story forged in iron, but in the same time his improvising, both in phrasing and in piano and harmonica playing, makes each show unique, making us feel that this night really is special. One could think he was afraid of getting fines for playing the same solo each night, and he never does – he is hunting for that new secret hidden inside the well known structure of the song, and its fascinating to watch his tireless pursuit after a new twist, risking a mistake rather than risking use of the safe and well-throdden path. We are witnessing a drama. And in the shows this fall it seems like he wants the participation of the audience, why else should he remake the arrangement of “Like A Rolling Stone” with pauses and shifts in tempo that makes the audience play the part of a greek choir while the singer waits them out. It´s part of the drama. This is just a few examples of changes that describes this artists eternal fighting against stagnation and endless repetition, so much that failing is considered more important than not trying.
Earlier in the set, the mystique and intensity of “Scarlet Town”, with slightly elements of eastern music and Dylan´s dramatic gestures, makes it one of this nights obvious highlights – his percussion-like vocal underlines the story, the drama and the melody and the film we can see beyond the words and the music. I´m reminded of Chronicles description of Dylan´s awakening seeing and listening to a.o. Brecht´s Pirate Jenny: “Each phrase comes at you from a 10-foot drop, scuttles across the road and then another comes like a punch on the chin” and “I could see that the type of songs I was leaning towards singing didn’t exist and I began playing with the form, trying to grasp it — trying to make a song that transcended the information in it, the character and plot.” Yes! You made it, Bob! Brecht would have been proud seeing the pupil overshadow the master in “Scarlet Town”, both the lyrics and the melody, but more than that, the fabulous performance tonight, both vocally and visually. In an interview some years ago, Dylan spoke of what he couldn´t do anymore, like writing “It´s Alright, Ma”, continuing: “But I can do other things now.” Well, “Scarlet Town” tonight is one example. Another is one more fabulous version of “Don´t Think Twice, It´s All Right”. The spotlight is on the main character in this play, he who told us that a poem is a naked person, and that some people say that he is a poet. The immeasurably braveness in this version is just unbelieavable, there is no safety net and there is high risk, but the audiences reaction builds line for line, verse for verse, the actor feeds them and they give him feed-back that leads to one of the nights most beautiful harmonica solos at the end of the song.
Dylan is over all in a very good mood tonight, he smiles openly and does his proud pinocchian “look, I got no strings”-maneuvre after many of the songs, his “I-take-a-lot-of-pride-in-who-I-am”-moves and small dance steps – it´s part of the role. And he plays it well, without missing a beat. I don´t know if he is hungry, but he sure is black and blue tonight – using his most beautiful black suit with the blue embroidery, wearing it like a general. The band got silver-colored jackets, and they are as tight as ever, Charlie Sexton impresses me each night, Tony and George are the rhythm twins and Donnie covers the rest in his never-resting multi-instrumentalist way. (Maybe he also could get Bob interested in playing some great BR5-49 songs one day?)
The great sculptor Brancusi, once said of Socrates: “Nothing escapes the great thinker. He knows all, he sees all, he hears all. His eyes are in his ears, his ears are in his eyes.” In one way or another I think this also applies to Dylan, even though he attacks his experiences, his views and impressions more like a poet and a sage than a traditional intellectual. Even more, tonight he also makes the audience see with their ears and listen with their eyes, as they are given a beautiful performance and an exciting drama as much as a concert. Beacon Theatre is the perfect frame.