Aidin Vaziri, Chronicle Pop Music Critic
Monday, October 12, 2009
Bob Dylan's return to Berkeley, where he played one of his first
electric shows with the Hawks more than four decades ago, clearly
meant a great deal to Saturday's standing-room-only audience at the
Greek Theatre. Where else were you going to find more people whose
lives are so wholly entwined with the 68-year-old folk singer's songs
of politics and personal liberation than in the city that gave the
world both the Free Speech Movement and backyard hot tubs?
But for Dylan, who has basically been on the road since around the
time they erected the Easter Island statues, this was clearly just
another stop on the way to the next state fair.
While the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney have chosen the mercenary
route - big tours jammed with big hits every few years - Dylan has
chosen to do whatever the hell he wants. If that means dressing up
like Jack White's smarmy uncle, positioning himself behind the
electric keyboards and leading his unruly band through a 100-minute
show packed with songs seemingly pulled out of his flat-brimmed
Spanish hat, so be it.
Nothing much has changed since the last time Dylan was in the Bay
Area, or the time before that. The encore once again saw his band
burning through bludgeoning renditions of "Like a Rolling Stone" and
"All Along the Watchtower," while everything else - from 1964's "The
Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," all the way through to "Jolene,"
from this year's "Together Through Life" - was delivered as a
lolloping death march wrapped up in loud guitars and abrasive horn
blasts, with Dylan not so much singing the lyrics as coughing up the
words through his nose.
His defiance is as invigorating as it is frustrating. The farcical
blast of strings and booming voice that snidely introduced him as
"the voice of 1960s counterculture" at the top of the show made it
clear that Dylan wasn't going to take the same nostalgia trip as his
fans. As long as they sat through the sweet-natured love songs and
stifled harmonica solos from his most recent work, though, then he
seemed willing to indulge them - as long as it was on his terms.
E-Mail Aidin Vaziri at firstname.lastname@example.org.