Bob Dylan live in Las Vegas
I’ve been listening to Bob Dylan far longer than I’ve been listening to Bob Dylan.
Growing up in the 1980s, Dylan was a songwriter who kept being covered by a lot of my favorite artists: Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians, Cowboy Junkies, U2, Bruce Springsteen, and Jimi Hendrix to name a few. When I finally sat down and listened to Dylan’s own recordings, it was a weird sensation. Perhaps this inverted introduction to his music made last night’s performance in Las Vegas all the more rewarding because I went in with no expectations.
Taking the stage in darkness, each instrument called out its own tune until the warm, yellow lights came up slowly and everything fell into place. It was a pattern that repeated itself all night. Each song ended in darkness and the sound of instruments being changed or tuned provided a gentle din as if a radio dial was slowly turning, searching for the next signal from the past century of American music. Despite his immense influence on popular music, Dylan seems content to take a backseat to his own legacy knowing that a set full of Dylan standards would ultimately yield nothing new or interesting for him or his audience.
In a city still coming to terms with an unspeakable act of evil, hearing Bob Dylan croon a selection of pop standards made famous by Frank Sinatra made Las Vegas feel magical again even if only for a few hours. With the mic stand tilted on its side, Dylan repeatedly receded to the back of the stage to take the focus off him and allow the songs to take the spotlight. Surrounded by a gifted collection of musicians, the band moved effortlessly between folk, country, rock, jazz, and pop; weaving each style into a larger tapestry that can only be called American music.
If you attended the show to sing along to “Blowin’ In the Wind”, you may have left disappointed but Dylan never promised to entertain us. The re-arrangements of his classic tunes allowed the show to flow evenly from decade to decade and between musical styles. This night belonged to the great tradition of American songwriting before music became an equation solved by algorithms. Dylan, in his raspy, detached style, re-affirmed that regardless of style, a great song will always be a great song even when trends and styles have moved on. At 76 years old, Dylan’s never ending tour will someday have to end but the songs will continue to live on if we choose to listen.