Bob Dylan at Midway Stadium, 7/10/13
|Photo by Reed Fischer|
|Bob Dylan and his band, and a few filters|
Bob Dylan's AmericanaramA tour
With Wilco, My Morning Jacket, and Richard Thompson
Midway Stadium, St. Paul
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Many among the 14,000 of us packed into a classic Americana symbol, a baseball stadium, to witness Bob Dylan were sentimental fools. Even if we tell ourselves daily that you can't bring it all back home again, the times have a-changed, and so forth, it's easy to give in to a familiar song. Even if that song is performed in an unfamiliar way.
But it turned out that Dylan would be counted among us holding onto those faded remnants of the past too. Before he took up his current nom de plume and became a fascination for generations to come, Bob Zimmerman was just a scrappy guy up north looking for work. He knew his way around the piano in the key of C, and this drew the attention of Fargo-based heartthrob Bobby Vee. While the rest of us were tangled up in signature Dylan material, he proved most present while immersed in a 54-year-old pop song called "Suzie Baby." It symbolized the days when he wasn't the center of attention on every stage he'd grace.
"I used to live here, and then I left," explained the wild-haired Dylan, who was dressed in a black suit with a few adornments on the edges of the jacket and down the legs. "I've shared the stage with everyone from Mick Jagger to Madonna, but the most beautiful person I've ever been on stage with is Bobby Vee. He used to sing a song called 'Suzie Baby.'" It turned out that 70-year-old Bobby Vee -- who last year announced that he was diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease -- was in attendance. "Please show your appreciation," Dylan told the crowd -- with a tightness in his throat -- and they obliged warmly.
By a simple -- or maybe a more complicated -- twist of fate, Bobby Vee can be held up as someone who made Zimmerman into a rock star instead of just a backing band musician. He did fire the guy, who was then known as Elston Gunn, after only a couple of gigs. Now, this was a time for the man with nothing more to prove to play something from a time when he had proved nothing.
Watching him glide -- well, as much as Dylan does these days -- on the piano with his legs bowed out and sing in his most dulcet tones for a few minutes of "Suzie Baby" was a hazy image of a simpler era. (Although it would feature five capable backing musicians dressed in matching gray suits and always watching their bandleader with intense devotion to his whims.) An encapsulation of teenage love gone wrong, "Suzie Baby" was far simpler than much of the tangled knots of our featured performer's typical lyrics, and all the more refreshing.
While much of Wednesday night's show proved the typical detective work of figuring out if Dylan was enjoying himself -- any non-essential movement like a clap, a hip-swivel, or a nod could be interpreted as such -- this was one moment in a set filled with talismans from our collective pasts when our rock grandfather let himself share a song talisman from his own attic.
The rest of Dylan's hour-and-a-half performance felt more like the typical mirage one finds when trying to approach his material in a live setting. It was almost always just out of reach. Consistent rhythm triumphed when familiar arrangements did not. Even when the familiar acoustic strains of "Tangled Up in Blue" played, the instinct was to defensively pause -- as he often does -- before letting oneself fully go to the place where the record originally led. Case in point, "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" proved easy to spot, but its upbeat arrangement -- contrary to the darkness of the words -- was hard to pin down.
Did such peering through a foggy, rockabilly mosaic -- what Dylan fans have expected for years -- make the performance any less enjoyable? Decidedly not.