Live Review: Bob Dylan – His music is a monumental part of American culture in the 20th and 21st Centuries – Photos

Bob Dylan’s Rough and Rowdy Ways Tour at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, Florida in March 5, 2024. What can one say about Bob Dylan that has yet to be said? His name is closely associated with the ’60s, the civil rights movement, and traditional folk music.

His music is a monumental part of American culture in the 20th and 21st Centuries and has been covered by more artists than anyone. There are college courses dedicated to his body of work. Martin Scorsese directed films about his life, and in 2016, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Even though we know his art, the person “Dylan” is an enigma. He leads a private life, is a known curmudgeon, and scoffs at being touted as a “prophet.”

While he tours between 80 to 100 shows a year, the legend is in his eighth decade on this planet—and shows no signs of stopping. The only break he had was during the pandemic. He released the album Rough and Rowdy Ways in the summer of 2020, and when life began to normalize, he returned to touring in 2021 to showcase the album. Life on the road is rigorous at any age, so why does he do it? He doesn’t need the money, does he? In 2022, he sold his entire catalog to Sony Music Entertainment for a rumored $200 million. Like a true American troubadour, he is not finished telling stories. He needs to create and speak his voice in true artist form—to live and breathe. Listen to the 17-minute song “Murder Most Foul,” and you will get a history lesson about the 1960s, beginning with the Kennedy Assassination.

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When I heard his Rough and Rowdy Ways tour would arrive in Florida this year, I knew I had to see him. My last time was in 2006 in Tampa at the Sundome. I brought my mother with me as a ‘Mother’s Day’ gift—and she was beyond thrilled. After all, I was raised on Dylan. His vinyl records were often played in the evening, especially during contemplative and quiet moments. My mother would say, “Forget the voice. Listen to the lyrics. They are poetry.” His gravelly, raspy voice made him sound way beyond the years of a man in his 20s.

On March 5th, the Rough and Rowdy Ways tour rolled into Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, Florida, for a two-day stint. Walking from the car to the venue, I noticed people tailgating in the parking lot. A woman sat on the edge of her pickup truck, playing a guitar and singing. At the front entrance of the venue, people handed over their cell phones to be securely stored during the concert. No photography of any kind is allowed at Dylan concerts. (Do yourself a favor and leave the cell phone in the car.)

The venue lobby was crawling with silver-haired Baby Boomers—some in wheelchairs—and others shuffling to their seats. It sometimes is hard to believe many were “long-haired hippie freaks” who toked and enjoyed “free love,” thanks to the magic of birth control pills. Now, scoring a BOGO deal at Publix is a thrill.

I overheard a woman in the restroom saying, “I hope he plays ‘Like a Rolling Stone.” If people went to the concert expecting a catalog of greatest hits, they were disappointed. I knew he would highlight Rough and Rowdy Ways, a lyrical masterpiece. His music is not for the Top 40 crowd but is poetry rich in metaphors and references to literature, Greek mythology, religion, theater, and pop culture. He often pays homage to blues artists, poets, and authors and makes autobiographical references. If you’re wanting to hear “Maggie’s Farm,” I suggest attending Farm Aid or seeing a Dylan tribute band.

Modern Dylan Apologist on X: "Bob Dylan rumored to release EDM album in  early 2024. Yet another shocking turn in a career defined by radical  reinvention." / X

At exactly 8:00 p.m., the curtain rose while Dylan sat at a grand piano and the band stood behind him. The evening began with a couple of earlier songs as appetizers, “Watching the River Flow,” a song produced by Leon Russell, and “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine.” Dylan wore black pants, cream-colored shoes, and a sequin-embossed black suit. He is gifted with thick curly hair—the holy grail for a man that age. He was flanked by Tony Garnier (electric and standup bass), Jerry Pentecost (drums), Bob Britt and Doug Lancio (acoustic and electric guitar), and Donnie Herron (pedal steel, mandolin, violin). Subdued, they were not. The guitars sounded tinny and twangy at times, overpowering his voice and the piano. They needed to pull back a bit.

He then ventured into the main course—the music from Rough and Rowdy Ways. On recent songs like “I Contain Multitudes,” Dylan’s baritone voice appeared softer, smoother, and lilting—in contrast to his younger years—giving the music newfound emotion and sensitivity. “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You” and “Mother of Muses” were especially sentimental and poignant.

The 50’s-tinged bluesy “False Prophet” had heads bobbing and feet tapping. “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” with its jazzy Latin beat, had a mix between “Puttin’ On the Ritz” and Caribbean vibes.

“My Own Version of You,” which evokes images of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, is deliciously dark and melancholy, with its descending bass line. Similarly, “Black Rider” is understated, jazzy, and with an air of mystery—think film noir.

While I was taking in the moment of the concert and gazing around the room, it was heartwarming to not see any cell phones raised in the air. The audience was on the edge of their seats during the concert. Cheering and standing at the end of a tune and clapping to keep time with spirited ones.

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One would think the Baby Boomer crowd would be courteous of concertgoers—but this was not always the case. I had to dodge my head around a lone woman dancing. People were inebriated in the aisle and refused to sit in their seats. An unfortunate woman appeared to faint, a couple of rows in front of me. The security, who were very professional, were constantly babysitting and dealing with poor adult behavior. I frequent concerts every week and have observed rudeness by patrons at concerts of artists with hits from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Who scores a star for the best behavior? The crowd at Slipknot.

The gospel “Crossing the Rubicon” and rocking “To Be Alone With You” were sure joys, transporting me to the Apollo in the early 1960s. Actually, with the warmly lit stage and traditional instruments, the concert had an air of nostalgia—but not Americana at all. Dylan’s current style has evolved into full-blown jazzy blues from the 1950s.

To reinforce the blues theme, Dylan paid homage to Chicago bluesmen. The title of his album was derived from Jimmy Rogers’ tune “My Rough and Rowdy Ways.” Dylan’s voice was gritty and on point as if performing in a smoke-filled bar in the East Village while playing “Walking By Myself.” The audience was treated to Dylan performing on the harmonica during “Goodbye Jimmy Reed.” At one point, he stood while playing the piano—the first and only time during the concert.

Overall, seeing Dylan’s performance tonight exceeded my expectations. No, there was no banter and small talk with the audience. Like a classical pianist, he performed and delivered as a professional should.

He is a true American treasure whose body of work bridges the 20th Century and the Millennium. He is not an artist that remains stagnant or rests on the laurels of his early work. He constantly progresses, evolving, and keeping his audience on their toes. You never know what to expect—and that’s the way we like it.

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