Poetry in Motion

Bob Dylan - Paul Simon

New World Music Theatre - Tinley Park

July 9, 1999

First Appeared in The Music Box, August 1999, Volume 6, #8

Written by John Metzger

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Both Bob Dylan and Paul Simon have had the type of careers that should allow them to headline their own individual concerts. It's almost certain that they would find themselves stepping onto the stage in smaller venues, but these more intimate locations would much better suit their music than the spacious outdoor amphitheatres that they are playing this summer. These days, though, the rule seems to be "bigger is better," and concert promoters are feeding massive monetary rewards to artists who are willing to jump onto these blockbuster tours. Therefore, Chicago-area fans of both wordsmiths were forced to endure the pitiful acoustics of the New World Music Theatre in Tinley Park when the duo dropped in to perform on July 9.

Of course, we're not talking about just anyone we're talking about Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. While many artists have failed to connect genuinely with their audience at the gargantuan New World Music Theatre, these two magicians masterfully turned the event into an intimate party for 35,000.

Dylan and Simon are both veteran performers who for decades have managed to defy the odds by not only continuing to create vital music but also seemingly to improve with age. Their musical and lyrical genius is shared by only a scarce few, and every time their critics have written them off, they've come back stronger than ever.

Simon is in the process of recovering from his noble attempt to buck the system on Broadway, where his short-lived musical was virtually ignored or unjustifiably bashed by the status-quo press. His subsequent album Songs from The Capeman is a solid effort, though it doesn't quite live up to the music on Rhythm of the Saints or Graceland. For whatever reason, he chose to perform only one song from the new disc, a beautiful rendition of Trailways Bus, which was a perfect fit stylistically with his other recent material.

Unfortunately some of the subtle textures of Simon's performance were lost in the sonic black hole of the amphitheater, but he did his best to overcome the venue's deficiencies by allowing the grooves to carry the songs. Augmented by a band that included four percussionists, two keyboard players, two guitarists, a bass player, and a three-piece horn section, Simon fused multi-cultural cadences with jazz and folk music. Since his work on Graceland, he has come to understand truly the power and mysticism of rhythmic beats, and as expected, many of his songs drifted into a whirlwind of drums and percussion.

Not surprisingly, more than half of Simon's material came from his three most recent albums, and the audience latched strongly onto the material from Graceland, dancing and singing gleefully along with the band. With as many times as it's been played and heard, it's amazing that You Can Call Me Al still sounded fresh and vibrant and was delivered with dynamic intensity. The Cool, Cool River from Rhythm of the Saints, was the strongest song of the set and built to a majestic climax while exploring an exquisite jazzy terrain.

In addition, Simon also reinvented several of his classic songs. Mrs. Robinson drifted along a slower-paced country groove and contained a '60s surf-pop synthesizer solo as kaleidoscopic images flashed on the screen behind the band. Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard benefited from its driving rhythm and its percussion interlude.

Dylan has been riding high since the release of his Grammy-winning Time Out of Mind, and his recent concert performances have been solid affairs that touch upon the dynamic range of his back catalog. A lot of hype had been made in regard to the anticipated collaboration between Dylan and Simon taking place on this tour so much so that it was impossible to not be a little skeptical. Nevertheless, it succeeded brilliantly and at least appeared to be a true partnership. Sounds of Silence was revamped, with Dylan providing an acoustic guitar line straight from the songbook of Johnny Cash. Dylan's Knockin' on Heaven's Door was refitted with a reggae beat la the Jerry Garcia Band, and this particular rendition was especially moving. The final Grateful Dead concert took place exactly four years ago tonight in Chicago, and after a quick glance through Dylan's set list, it's hard to imagine this wasn't in the back of his mind. His song selection seemed to tend towards those songs that the Grateful Dead or the Jerry Garcia Band had covered, including It's All Over Now, Baby Blue, All Along the Watchtower, Tangled Up in Blue, Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again, and even a cover of Buddy Holly's Not Fade Away. As usual, the gifted bard toyed with his phrasing and recreated several of his most familiar songs, refusing to allow them to become stale. In addition, the recent departure of Bucky Baxter didn't seem to faze the group one bit, and they managed to paradoxically straddle the fence between being a tightly- and loosely-knit outfit. A few songs, like All Along the Watchtower and Not Fade Away, seemed to be cut short most likely due to time-constraints. For the most part though, the group pushed each selection for maximum effect by stretching them out into lengthy, full-blown jams, anchored by the dependable cadence of David Kemper.

Highway 61 Revisited raged as the dual guitar assault of Dylan and Larry Campbell became a fiery tempest of unyielding energy. Their twin leads intertwined and folded into each other, constantly changing the shape and texture of the song. Likewise, Tangled Up in Blue simmered upon an acoustic-tinged groove as Dylan peppered the jam with his unique harmonica style. Even the leisurely flow of Not Dark Yet, the only song in Dylan's set that was less than 25 years old, connected to a haunting and powerful spiritual presence.

Dylan seemed unwilling to let the evening end, returning to the stage to scatter five songs over two encores and blowing the venue's usual curfew by nearly 30 minutes. He finally relented after delivering a stunning rendition of his anthem Blowin' in the Wind that brought the emotionally exhausting evening to a rousing conclusion.

Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!

Paul Simon's Songs from The Capeman is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!

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Copyright 1999 The Music Box