Tangled Up in Bob

Simon Spungin
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U.S. singer-songwriter Bob Dylan performing on at ‘Les Vieilles Charrues’ Festival in Carhaix, western France. Credit: AP
Simon Spungin

Writing about Bob Dylan is a little like listening to a sunset. And writing about a Dylan concert is like listening to a blind man describe a sunset.

Dylan is the ultimate "what you see is what you get" musician. His live performances are exactly that: they are not shows. He chooses a dozen or so songs, creates new versions of them in whatever style grabs his fancy at the time on Monday night, his bluesy versions of "Tangled Up In Blue" and "Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" were so far removed from the original than many in the audience didn't recognize them until the chorus and if you don't like it, tough.

There's no singing along at a Dylan concert. He changes the words, the rhythm and often the melody of even his most anthemic songs. There's nothing sacred here: "carpenters' wives" becomes "truck drivers' wives," long notes are cut short and expectations are consciously confounded.

When Dylan went electric incorporating, for the first time, an electric guitar in his performances many of his die-hard fans were shattered. At concerts, he was jeered and called "Judas" for forsaking his folk roots.

But Dylan owes his five-decade career to his ability to reinvent himself. It doesn't matter to him if "Simple Twist of Fate" is rock, blues, reggae or brass band; sometime he sings it in the first person, sometime in the third person.

That may annoy those fans who own a CD of his greatest hits and expected a faithful rendition of his most famous songs, but Dylan doesn't play for them.

I can understand why some were disappointed by Monday's concert. To play for 90 minutes without acknowledging the audience even once is unusual. Some would say rude. But Dylan lets his music speak for him. He has never wooed or wowed; take him or leave him. And he doesn't care which.