Bob Dylan at Xcel Energy Center, 11/7/12
Mark Knopfler: Knopfler opened the night with a set of tunes derived largely from his solo stuff, with Dire Straits' "So Far Away" both closing his portion of the evening and serving as his only familiar offering to casual fans (he'd later play two songs with Dylan). He and his eight-man band have a largely acoustic sound heavily influenced by bluegrass and Celtic music, which is fine, but as with Dylan, he could've pleased the crowd by tossing in a couple more Dire Straits classics for old times' sake. In fairness, for both Knopfler and Dylan, finding a balance between old and new has to be an almost nightly challenge.
Knopfler also supplied the only on-stage anecdote of the night, sharing a story about the last time he was in town, which was to play Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion. Knopfler, doing a remarkably strong Keillor impression, said Garrison told him 'Move here, we can find you a house,' and he suggested he considered his friend's proposal for at least a couple seconds. "There's a very special feeling in this place," Knopfler told the crowd.
Personal bias: I first saw Dylan when I was a wee lad, no older than six or seven, at the Orpheum in downtown Minneapolis. It was a cold winter's evening, but nonetheless, my dad and I headed behind the venue after the show was through to try and catch a glimpse of Dylan as he walked back to his bus. My dad grew up in Chisholm, just a few miles down the road from Dylan's native Hibbing, and my dad's band played at Dylan's 10-year high school reunion in the late 60s -- and Bobby actually showed! Dylan, already an established rock star at that point, had a brief conversation with my dad and complimented his band. As you can imagine, my dad never forgot it, and Dylan, along with the Beatles and classical music, was the soundtrack of my childhood.
Anyway, we're standing with a crowd out behind the Orpheum, it's dark and late, and I remember looking around and realizing I was the only kid out there. Eventually, a guy emerged from one of the idling buses and approached us. He walked up to me and said, simply, "Bob wants you to have this," then handed me a laminated folder containing the night's handwritten setlist and a guitar pick. Those items, 20 years later, are still proudly on display in my parents' house, and it'll go down as one of the first unforgettable moments of my life.
The second time I saw Dylan was in the summer 2005 at Midway Stadium during his tour with Willie Nelson. It was a warm, beautiful summer evening, and there was something uniquely awesome about the crescendos of "Like a Rolling Stone" played as the sun went down to the backdrop of passing trains. I again went with my dad, and it was another unforgettable evening, albeit one that's a little hard to remember in detail in hindsight (Willie Nelson was playing, after all!). And the third time I saw Dylan was when he broke the news about the tight 2008 presidential election to my dad and I and most everybody else at the Northrup.
So yeah, my standards when it comes to Dylan shows are high. This was the fourth time I've seen him, and while all the shows have been special, the first three were on a different level.
The crowd: From where we were at in the (relatively) cheap seats, the crowd was subdued and almost entirely seated throughout the show, but we were surrounded by lots of older folks who looked like they'd have trouble standing if they tried. Meanwhile, during the classic tunes at least, most of the people on the floor stood. But on the whole, there seemed to be a reciprocity between band and concertgoers -- the band turned in a performance that felt mailed in, and in turn the audience was far and away the least enthusiastic I've experienced at any Dylan show I've attended.
Overheard: At one point early in Dylan's set, a guy sitting a couple rows in front of us turned and yelled at the lower-bowl crowd: "Stand up and dance you bunch of wallflowers!" Mind you, he was sitting when he said this and remained so throughout the rest of the set.
The middle-aged woman behind us wanted to dance. Like really, really wanted to dance. Even during ballads, she couldn't resist the urge to get up and shake it, but eventually one of the ushers saw her standing by her lonesome and asked her to either to sit or to move to the floor-level area behind the soundboard where folks were standing. "I'll shut up about it, but this is the last time I'm going to a show at the Xcel Center," she later told her husband, who repeatedly reiterated to her that he had no interest in standing through the show. Eventually she couldn't take it anymore and bolted for the floor, with her man following behind her not long after. We were thrilled about that development, as the annoying snapping and clapping we'd been begrudgingly tolerating came to an end. But apparently she forgot something when she headed for the floor -- as we started climbing up the stairs after the show ended, we caught one last glimpse of her frantically looking for the purse she'd left under her seat.
1. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight
2. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right
3. Things Have Changed
4. Tangled Up in Blue
5. Early Roman Kings
6. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
7. Summer Days
8. Blind Willie McTell
9. Highway 61 Revisited
10. Spirit on the Water
11. Thunder on the Mountain
12. Ballad of a Thin Man
13. Like a Rolling Stone
14. All Along the Watchtower
15. Blowin' in the Wind
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