July 15, 2011
Costa Mesa, CA
Review by Mateo Carlin
Photos by Jim McCluney
There was an air of excitement in Costa Mesa, not only for the grand opening of the 2011 Orange County Fair, but also for the headlining act at the Pacific Amphitheatre contained within- the one and only legendary folksinger-turned-rocker Robert Zimmerman — more commonly known as Bob Dylan.
There is never a doubt that a man of Dylan’s stature will play to a packed house no matter where he goes, and this show was no exception. While the majority of the concertgoers were definitely over 40, the eclectic crowd spanned from teenagers, whose parents were barely alive when Dylan was a young folksinger, to aging baby boomers reliving their younger days, and everything in between.
The multi-generational impact of the sound could be seen in those who brought their children and grandchildren together to see this living legend at work. When Dylan was introduced as the poet laureate of each decade since the 60s, both young and old gave him a rousing standing ovation. Even at the ripe old age of 70, the wiry old man still knows how to put on a show.
The set list was a good mix of old standbys and newer, more contemporary songs. The show opened up with “Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking” from the 1979 release Slow Train Coming, but it didn’t take long to break into the crowd-pleasing “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” a timeless classic from Dylan’s earlier folk years. This was followed shortly thereafter by the poetic “Tangled Up In Blue.”
Throughout the main set, there seemed to be a pattern of alternating between one or two tracks from Dylan’s latter-day catalog, followed by a couple of the lyrically powerful, folkier songs that he was so well known for in his early career.
The band, as always, complemented the leader’s shift between guitars and keyboards, and they did a more than adequate job of accepting their roles, realizing that the crowd was there to see the master.
Many of the show’s highlights came when the folksinger from a small town in Minnesota picked up his harmonica and wailed away into the midsummer night’s sky. Without fail, every time the harp was played, there would be a rumbling in the audience as they sat in awe and showed their approval with hoots and howls of delight.
While his voice may be a bit raspier than before, and the songs may sound unfamiliar at times, that is also part of the allure of the genius at work. To compare him to the Grateful Dead, you could hear a classic song like “All Along The Watchtower” at 10 different Dylan shows, and every time it is worth the price of admission because it sounds like something you have never heard before.
Although the show was a success overall, it wasn’t without its flaws. First of all, it didn’t seem right to have a Bob Dylan show without a small acoustic set thrown in for good measure, and some crowd members seemed to have longed for the Dylan of their youth. One baby boomer sitting in front of me mentioned she had seen Dylan at Town Hall and Carnegie Hall in the 1960s and Nassau Coliseum in the 1970s. She had seen the singer/songwriter go through many phases, and said she was, “disappointed he didn’t give us one acoustic solo,” but qualified it by saying that “Like A Rolling Stone” still sounds great and Dylan still plays “a mean guitar.”
One older fan noted, “It’s too bad Dylan just lets his songs do the talking and still doesn’t really talk to us about them.” His partner added, “I love the old songs even though the music and beats have changed. But I have a little trouble understanding the words of any of the new ones.”
It is true that Dylan’s lyrics have always been powerful, but he can sometimes leave the fans longing for a little more audience interaction. No one who has followed Dylan’s past performances, however, should expect the intricate storytelling of someone like James Taylor, who sits at the opposite side of the spectrum.
As great performers often do, Dylan seemed to save the best for last, as his encore included some of his most acclaimed work, opening up with “Like A Rolling Stone,” then making a smooth transition into the fan favorite “All Along the Watchtower,” where the front man and his lead guitarist took turns mesmerizing the crowd. He finished with a modernized version of “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
The staples of the great folksinger certainly did not disappoint, as he seemed to leave a little bit in the reserve tank to rock these songs as only he could. As the band left the stage to an overwhelming standing ovation, one was reminded of a sunset slipping away into the horizon. The crowd was left to wonder how many of these great performances Dylan still has in his system. They all seemed to leave with the impression that they were lucky to have caught a glimpse of greatness while it was still around.
Gonna Change My Way of Thinking / Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right / Things Have Changed / Tangled Up in Blue / Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ / Sugar Baby / High Water (For Charley Patton) / Tryin’ to Get to Heaven / Summer Days / A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall / Highway 61 Revisited / Forgetful Heart / Thunder on the Mountain / Ballad of a Thin Man
Encore: Like a Rolling Stone / All Along the Watchtower / Blowin’ in the Wind