Bob Dylan - Ani DiFranco - BR549
New World Music Theatre - Tinley Park
August 28, 1997
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 1997, Volume 4, #11
Written by John Metzger
On August 28, Bob Dylan closed out the summer concert season with a rousing performance at the New World Music Theatre in Tinley Park. Dylan is a poetic genius and talented songwriter whose countless offerings have influenced just about everyone. Yet, it's hard to find a good review of Dylan's performances, and tickets are always easy to find. At the massive New World Music Theatre, no lawns seats were sold, and seats remained in the pavilion. Many people left the arena in the middle of Dylan's set, and some of those who remained complained that his songs "didn't sound the way he used to play them."
Many critics have said that this is Dylan's problem. I prefer to view it as the audience's problem. Anyone who truly understands Dylan knows that he constantly is driven to reinvent his songs. He always pushes his fans, challenging them to adapt to his latest musical innovation. Yes, he's made his share of mistakes, but never is his material so drastically revamped that it becomes unidentifiable or inaccessible. The changes, more often than not, give Dylan a sense of rejuvenation allowing him to perform 30-year old songs with energy and conviction.
As Dylan took the stage, he immediately led his band through the solid, country romp through Absolutely Sweet Marie. After a standard version of It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry, Dylan pulled out funky Tough Mama that captured the spirit and essence of the Jerry Garcia Band's renditions of this song.
After introducing his forthcoming album, Dylan slowed down the evening's pace with a soulful What Good Am I? — a beautiful song from his 1989 masterpiece Oh Mercy. Dylan's vocals were solid, and everything began to fall into place. Silvio, a song co-written with Robert Hunter, concluded the initial electric portion of the set and included a spacy, Grateful Dead-like jam with purplish-blue lighting effects.
This evening's acoustic portion opened with Roving Gambler, but it was The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll that stole the set — and the show. The audience seemed to hang on every word, as Dylan told his story of rich society's corruption of the justice system. Each line was tenderly delivered as Dylan's vocals crept through the surprisingly strong sound system. As Dylan sang the final line — oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears, bury the rag deep in your face for now's the time for your tears — I half-expected to hear the audience burst into tears.
Tangled Up in Blue turned up in the acoustic set as well with a revamped rhythmic beat that gave Dylan an extra burst of energy. Cocaine, the Reverend Gary Davis song popularized by Jackson Browne in 1977, brought the acoustic set to a blues-y conclusion. A rousing pairing of Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again and Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat, which Dylan called his fashion statement, closed out the concert.
Dylan routinely performs three encores, and this evening was no exception, though the arena's management seemed to think otherwise. The band returned and tore through Like a Rolling Stone before donning the acoustic instruments one final time for a beautiful Forever Young. As Dylan returned for the final encore, for some unexplained reason the houselights went on. This only pushed Dylan harder as he shredded a series of guitar solos on Highway 61 Revisited.
It's hard to imagine being handpicked by Bob Dylan to open his concerts, but that is exactly what happened with BR549 and Ani DiFranco. BR549 put on a solid performance of country and rockabilly music, though its songs tended to become repetitive towards the end of its 30-minute set. Ani DiFranco is a talented songwriter whose music is deeply rooted in Bob Dylan's past. It was quite fitting that she picked up a banjo and launched into a very sweet rendition of Dylan's Most of the Time.
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Copyright © 1997 The Music Box