Bob Dylan; October 25, 2010; Overture Center
It’s an odd coincidence how many times I have seen Bob Dylan at the end of October. For some reason those late fall days bring him to the Midwest more years than not. I’ve seen him on Halloween, and on Halloween eve. I’ve seen him on my sister Liz’s birthday (October 24) and every day in between, and this is the third time I have seen him on my birthday. The last time he was in Madison it was at the Kohl Center. The Foo Fighters opened (and stole the show), it didn’t sell out, and I know someone lost a lot of money. Because of the poor turn-out that night, I was surprised to hear that Bob was coming back. While the smaller Overture Center made more sense, it also seemed too small. The 7 PM show sold out immediately and a late show was added. Despite the fact that I love Bob and he remains one of the more reasonably priced big names, I couldn’t see spending another $65 for the late show, even as I suspected it would probably be worth it.
I knew the set lists would be different; I just wasn’t sure how different. A quick glance the next day showed only a third of his fifteen song set was the same. While I was jealous of the late show’s “Visions of Johanna” and “Lay Lady Lay,” I was quite happy with “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” and an inspired version of “Cold Irons Bound,” which unlike his earlier material still bore a resemblance to the recorded version. “Lay Lady Lay” remains one of my absolute favorite Dylan songs, but I console myself with the knowledge that it couldn’t possibly have been as good as the time I saw him play it in Milwaukee where I dropped to my knees and cried afterward (one of those things is the truth, the other a slight exaggeration). At the risk of blaspheming, there are songs I don’t need to hear again, for instance the tired “Tangled Up in Blue” and perennial encore songs “Like a Rolling Stone” and “All Along the Watchtower,” but I realize that he needs to play those for the people who haven’t seen him forty some odd times.
That last Madison show and what should have been an amazing Milwaukee show at the intimate Riverside Theater in 2008 had been lackluster enough that I thought maybe I was done seeing Dylan every time. Or perhaps that he was done. I almost skipped the Summerfest show in 2009 only to have my mind blown that night. When tall, dark and handsome guitarist Charlie Sexton rejoined the band later that year, Dylan seemed even more revitalized, and those late October shows last year (October 27 and 29) were some of the best I’ve seen him do in a long time. Sexton’s presence seems to have an invigorating effect on Dylan and he is playing guitar again for the first time in years. Tonight he played it on the first three songs, then put it away in favor of the keyboard and harmonica. In fact the only thing missing seemed to be the Oscar he won for “Things Have Changed.” It usually sits perched on an amp at every show. I remembered to look for it when he played the Academy Award winning song but couldn’t find it.
Its absence certainly didn’t affect the quality of the show. The only thing that could have made it better is if I’d been able to afford to turn around and go right back in.