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Issue:June 1996 Year: 1996

Bob Dylan's Evil Twin Takes the Night Off

Bob Dylan fans are all too well aware that his concerts can suck. The course of a Dylan concert seems to hinge on if he connects with the audience. Sometimes he doesn't seem to care that there are people out there screaming their heads off for him. Sometimes he gets fired up by the response of the crowd.

Dylan's May 7 show at the Palace Theatre was one in which he clearly did care – in fact, he wallowed in the love of his fans quite literally when a dancing horde of primarily female audience members stormed the stage during the encore. Far from being put off by the up-close and public display of affection, Dylan returned for two more songs, including the immensely popular "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," which prompted the lighting of illegal cigarettes throughout the building (as he sang "Everybody must get stoooned").

The concert built momentum from the very start, a sprite version of "Drifter's Escape" that answered the night's first question: Will Dylan be singing tonight? Or mumbling?

Actually, it was more like a goose honking, but it was relatively intelligible and contained a bit of emotion. That's absolute pay dirt, in Dylan concert terms. Die-hard fans swooned when he next pulled out "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here with You," then the entire audience roared at "All Along the Watchtower," which had more life than it's had since it's performance on Dylan's 1987 tour. And with that guitar-oriented tune another of the night's questions was answered: Will his band, specifically his guitarist, be able to hang with the unpredictable legend?

Dylan's touring band was obviously a well-rehearsed, patient and sympathetic crew. The guitarist would be in the middle of a rootsy little solo and Dylan, true to form, would interrupt with a guitar solo of his own. The guitarist would gracefully back down and slide into a rhythm role, and Dylan would treat us to another lengthy, one-octave meandering. Several guitarists in Dylan's past bands couldn't quite get a handle on Dylan's mercurial playing, and the result was apprehension and chaos. Only G.E. Smith seemed able to walk through the minefield of Dylan's spontaneous stage directions in the past.

Guitar jams were the flavor of the night on May 7, almost all of them led or punctured by the playing of the Billings, Montana boy. The most successful one was in the middle of "Friend of the Devil," a Grateful Dead song that offers a more interesting and challenging chord progression than 90% of Dylan's blues-based songs. Even Dylan got up for that song and busted his one-octave barrier.

Acoustic versions of "Masters of War" and "Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man" brought riotous applause, and great renditions of "Silvio," "Never Gonna Be the Same Again" and a grooving "Maggie's Farm" rounded out one of the most solid sets Dylan has given Louisville in years. The encore began with a second nod to Dylan's old friend Jerry Garcia, the Dead tune "Alabama Getaway." The patchouli-anointed devotees swarmed the stage, but Dylan returned for an acoustic (but nevertheless rock-star like) version of "It Ain't Me Babe," featuring a harmonica solo that was pushed over the top when Dylan pointed at different areas of the Palace while he blew his harp.

Dylan concerts themselves are contradictions. Every Dylan fan is a fan because of his lyrics, but for over a decade, his idiosyncratic singing has obscured the words to some extent. People now go to see a legend, and they sing along with the songs that they already know by heart. Thus, it's Dylan's spirit that carries or buries a show. Louisville fans exulted in this show, because Dylan exulted in it.

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