Tuesday, July 13, 1999

Dylan gives Bogart's crowd peek at legend

Career retrospective thrills fans of all ages

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Bob Dylan's secret fantasy?

        He wants to be lead guitarist in a bar band. That's one reason he came to Cincinnati, where last year he drew 5,000 people to Cincinnati Gardens. This year it was Bogart's, capacity 1,464.

        Sunday, he shouldered a Stratocaster and a Gibson acoustic and did almost as much picking as singing at his hour-and-55-minute concert at the Corryville club.

        But he was also there to get sweaty in a very small space with a fanatical crowd that really, really wanted to be there. The $25.25 tickets had been snatched up in minutes. Because the show was general admission, the people in the front row weren't there because they could afford scalpers' prices; they were there because they'd been waiting outside the club since early Sunday morning.

        By the time Dylan and his crack four-man band hit the stage at 8 p.m., half an hour after the scheduled start, the fanatical crowd was more than ready. After a quick, ragged gospel tune, “Somebody Touched Me,” they got what they waited for — an acoustic “My Back Pages.” Like so many other Dylan songs, its lyrics have become part of the language, “I was so much older then. I'm younger than that now.”

Turning back the clock
        It's taken him a long time to get that young. At 58, he seems to have turned back the clock 40 years to his pre-folk, rockabilly roots. Sunday he was the Rocking Dylan, cool in a black suit, taking the splayed-leg, pigeon-toed pose of the young Elvis as he tore off “Johnny B. Goode” licks up the neck of his sunburst Gibson.

        His voice remains the raspy, challenging instrument it has always been. But he was so energetic, so obviously having such a great time that there was no question he still belongs in the spotlight.

        Having Dylan play in such a small room would have been historic enough, but he gave the multi-generational audience a classic show.

        There was a starkly understated “Desolation Row”; a “To Ramona” that moved like a mariachi waltz to the tremolo of Larry Campbell's mandolin; an impassioned “Tangled Up in Blue”; an aching, regretful “Girl From the North Country.”

        Then, just as he did 34 years ago this summer at the Newport Folk Festival, Mr. Dylan and his band went electric, opening a new world of possibilities. There was a rocking “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine” and a gently swinging “You Ain't Goin' Nowhere,” in which Mr. Campbell's lyrical fiddling stole the spotlight.

Continued creativity
        Even more than his youthful enthusiasm, what makes Mr. Dylan a compelling artist as he nears 60 is his continued creativity.

        He played his ominous “Not Dark Yet,” from 1997's Grammy-winning Time Out Of Mind and, even in the middle of that greatest-hits set, it was one of the night's best songs. It echoed in the mind even after Mr. Dylan and his hot band — multi-instrumentalist Mr. Campbell, new guitarist Charlie Sexton, bassist Tony Garnier and drummer David Kemper — careened into the roller-coaster ride of “Highway 61 Revisited.”

        Then it was time for 40 minutes of encores, from “Love Sick,” another fine new song, to one of his earliest and most powerful works, “Blowin' In the Wind.”

        Along the way there was a jaunty “It Ain't Me Babe,” a swampy, churning “Not Fade Away,” and best of all, the rocking, majestic anthem, “Like a Rolling Stone.”

        Given his dozens of great songs, no Bob Dylan concert could ever be long enough. Even so, his nearly two hours onstage barely scratched the surface. Fortunately, he seems in no danger of fading away anytime soon. His lead guitar playing is coming along nicely, too.


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