Live: Bob Dylan Revisited

The folk-rock legend makes believers out of the cynics at memorable show in the Windy City.

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.

Me.

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

set-closer

"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]