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Well, Dylan last night at the Beacon in New York City did not look all that much like the sketch above, which hangs in Old Bear Studios in Batavia, New York, where I recorded my first new album in nearly 50 years a few weeks ago (details here). Nor did he sound all that much like he did in the early-mid sixties, either. Not even like the Dylan who sang at George Harrison's Bangladesh concert at Madison Square Garden in 1971. Not even like the Dylan who sang a verse of "My Back Pages" at the 30th anniversary concert in 1993, also at the Garden, with every conceivable Dylan-related singer and guitarist right there on stage with him and loving it.
The difference was that the melodies that Dylan sang of his iconic songs last night were almost unrecognizable. And the melodies of the songs I didn't recognize, I couldn't tell you. But you know what? I loved it! (Tina, who was with me, had a somewhat different opinion.)
Of his best-known songs, I enjoyed his renditions of "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Don't Think Twice" the most, with "Blowing in the Wind" a close runner-up. Of those I didn't know, I thought "Scarlet Town" (2012) and "Gotta Serve Somebody" (1979) were great. And I really enjoyed lots of the other songs, unknown to me before tonight, too.
Look, Dylan doesn't talk to the audience and didn't introduce his band, which was sharp and excellent. But he played a strong piano—no guitar—standing and sitting, and his trusty harmonica, too. And that was enough for me, more than enough. I've long considered him the greatest lyricist of our or any age—in rock, only John Lennon comes close to Dylan in sheer brilliance and output, but Dylan was so far ahead by the end of the 1960s that even Lennon with his great work in the 1970s couldn't catch up (maybe if his life hadn't been taken by a lunatic and a gun it would have been different, but we'll never know). Cole Porter in his own very different way could give Dylan a run for his money, but Porter lacked the anti-war social relevance of early Dylan and late Lennon.
I understand that in concerts some years ago, Dylan carried no tune and just mumbled his lyrics, not even in his trademarked cant. Tonight, he did give us some melody. If it wasn't the melody we heard back in the 1960s, that's fine with me. The lyrics, those extraordinary words, were always what made Dylan an unsurpassed genius anyway.
It was all an unforgettable thrill last night, and when I go to his next concert, and I'll know more of the songs.