CHICAGO -- Bob Dylan probably isn't picking up too many new fans these
days. Legends generally don't need to. But not too long after he took the stage
Saturday at Chicago's Cabaret Metro for the first of his two sold-out shows
there, he'd converted a cynic.
Oh, I have an excuse for my heretofore status as a cultural heathen. As I was
coming of age with my musical taste, the '60s folk-rock icon I heard so much
about growing up was at his low-point. He hadn't released a well-received album
in ages and his shows had degenerated into large-venue mumble-fests, with this
alleged legend fading fast into the shadows before the eyes of my generation.
While those around me called him a genius, I stood confounded.
I carried this Dylan chip on my shoulder for many years. But I'd come to
recognize the importance of the man and his early work in terms of helping to
establish contemporary music as a literate form of art. And I was somewhat
saddened that I wouldn't get to experience this first hand.
But that's changed. Time Out Of Mind was released to rave reviews. Every
critic heralded it as the best album since whatever album of his they last
liked. So I checked my chip at the CD-store door and picked up a copy.
Impressions started to change rapidly, but I still wasn't completely sold.
Dylan announced a club tour and I set out to see the man at the height of
his resurgence in the best venue in Chicago with 1,100 diehards who braved
many hours in line on a blustery November morning for the tickets.
On the night of the show, fans again lined up early in order to get close to the
stage when the doors opened. Dylan sent out for coffee and donuts to keep them
warm in a show of generosity that surprised even the Metro's staff.
He led off with a reworked version of his classic "Maggie's Farm" that shone
with a blues/rock intensity that was unexpected for this jaded fan perched in
the center of the balcony. The next 15 songs didn't let up during a set that
clocked in at slightly under two hours.
His solid band carried him through new cuts such as "Cold Iron Bounds" and
"Til I Fell in Love with You" (RealAudio excerpt), as well as old Dylan
classics such as "Cocaine Blues" and "Sylvio," all with equal aplomb. Dylan
himself seemed to be enjoying himself as he clamped his polished square-toes
tightly together and leaned into his guitar solos as if taking a bow.
A three-song set of unplugged tunes highlighted his picking ability (outshone
only by his pedal-steel player's) and, for that moment, everything else fell
away but the lyric and his auburn acoustic guitar. It ended as the ever-popular
"Tangled Up In Blue" stretched into a languid jam and Dylan and company plugged
back in for a rousing version of "Memphis Blues Again."
Dylan smiled more with his eyes than his lips. He didn't interact much with the
small, exuberant crowd, but rather seemed to step back from the double mic-stand
and dig into his solos, as if to ask, "So, what do you think?" He lifted his
head only to read the reaction, raised his eyebrows and, knowing the answer,
continued with just the subtlest hint of a smile.
He played three encores, each one better than the next. The first brought the
crowd to a new level of energy with "Highway 61 Revisited." Then Dylan came back
out on acoustic guitar for "It Ain't Me Babe." And finally, he began the
two-song third encore with the lead track from his new disc, "Love Sick."
The house lights came up as he led the faithful through the folk-rock anthem,
"Rainy Day Women #12 & 35."
His fans (including an 11-year-old who'd seen him twice before), left with
their faith in this newly rediscovered master restored and confidence in his
continued artistry cemented.
I filed out among them, a new convert in their ranks. I couldn't name every tune
he played. I couldn't sing all the words.
But I know I'll be waiting anxiously the next time he swings through Chicago,
with his songs in my head and his poetry on my lips.
[Wed., Dec. 17, 1997, 9 a.m. PST]