Bob Dylan At Dolby Theatre
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By Jamie Wayt
Set in the grit of Hollywood Boulevard, the Dolby Theatre, the glamourous venue that hosts the Academy Awards, is akin to an indoor Hollywood Bowl, but on a much smaller scale. A giant half-moon-shaped stage sits in front of rows of seats, with opera-style boxes hanging magically on the sides. It was perhaps the perfect place to see 2015 MusiCares Person of the Year Bob Dylan on Oct. 26.
This was my third Dylan show; my first concert was in 1999 at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. Even at a young age, I grasped onto Dylan's songwriting (he wrote "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," which was later covered by Guns N' Roses), his rebellion (he controversially played electric guitar at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival), his personas (John Wesley Harding), his mystery (a 1966 motorcycle accident led him to take some time off from performing, which resulted in some of the first bootleg tapes from diehard fans), and his knack for cultural commentary ("Hurricane," a protest song he co-wrote about the imprisonment of boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter). I subsequently bought a greatest hits album and educated myself on his tales — some of the best songs ever written — marveling at the transformation of his voice over time.
But Dylan barely played any of those greatest hits on this evening.
A loud gong made everyone jump, and the lights quickly dimmed as the band came onstage wearing matching red coats, which immediately signaled they were a class act. Dylan wore a hat reminiscent of his period with the Rolling Thunder Revue in the '70s and a unique Western suit comprised of a long black jacket and pants with stripes down the sides that were tucked into short white-topped boots.
Dylan's voice always invites much discussion; he is perhaps the most renowned artist who isn't a skilled vocalist. But his voice morphes into another instrument onstage, cutting and turning around the guitars, drums and bass unlike any instrument made of wood or brass could do. The first time I saw Dylan he was still strumming a guitar; on this night he oscillated between commandeering the microphone, a harmonica and playing keyboards.
With no cell phones or professional photographers allowed, the show felt suspended in time, a truly special moment. This was his third show of a three-night stint at the Dolby Theatre, and in my mind the other two nights must have just been warm-ups for this. Dylan stood at the mic with the conviction of his early years and the wisdom of his later ones, a wide-legged stance as his words careened across the crowd. Occasionally he would bring a harmonica to his lips, the pitch piercing our ears.
This show was a stop of the Never Ending Tour, but Dylan's command of the stage showed no signs of a farewell tour, an obligatory money grab or a compulsory showing of face. This was a demonstration of an artist who has been in his prime for decades and shows no signs of rusting, except for that patina on his voice. But some would call that "character."
After a single song encore, "Stay With Me" by Jerome Moross and Carolyn Leigh, I was not only glad to have been an excellent show, but to have experienced the work of a legend once again. A man near me in a Cream T-shirt reminded me of the passing of Jack Bruce, and how important it is to see the shining stars while we still can.
"Things Have Changed"
"She Belongs To Me"
"Beyond Here Lies Nothin'"
"Workingman's Blues #2"
"Waiting For You"
"Pay In Blood"
"Tangled Up In Blue"
"High Water (For Charley Patton)"
"Simple Twist Of Fate"
"Early Roman Kings"
"Spirit On The Water"
"Soon After Midnight"
"Long And Wasted Years"
"Stay With Me"
(Jamie Wayt lives in Los Angeles and is the rock community blogger for GRAMMY.com. She has attended and written about more than 700 shows since 2007. You can follow her musical adventures at www.hardrockchick.com.)