Spontaneous as the waves, the troubadour washes over the Borgata on Sunday
By Jeff Schwachter
AS BOB DYLAN IS ONCE again set to roll into the Jersey Shore this weekend, I got to thinking about the similarities between the legendary performer and this, his coastal destination. What immediately comes to mind is how, like the coastline, Dylan's music has shifted and fluctuated throughout his 40-plus year career. His constant transformations as an artist are what have helped him become such a unique one.
From 1963's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" to 2001's Oscar-winning track from the film, The Wonder Boys, "Things Have Changed," Dylan's music has evolved again and again. Yet, like the sand on the beach, the enduring and ineffable qualities of his work remain.
Like the coastline, Dylan, who just turned 63 last month, has always symbolized the edge of things -- with one foot on land and the other in the fluid supernatural. His ability to stand between the two for so many years is his gift. Whether he was fusing the writing style of the beat poets with the popular sounds of rock 'n' roll or combining the elements of early American mountain music with the "wild, thin mercury sound" he heard in his head in the mid-60s, Dylan has been a master at pulling together seemingly disparate strains of music and making them sound like a marriage made in heaven.
The prolific songwriter's tower of songs -- the largest sandcastle ever built on the shores of modern music -- includes bits and pieces from musical styles from all across the board: blues, country, rock, jazz, gospel and pop. This melding of musical styles has been a constant from his self-titled debut in 1962 to his last studio album from 2001, Love and Theft.
THE OLD BLUES AND FOLK SONGS are to Dylan like shells are to the beach. Sometimes he rescues them from long forgotten and mysterious places. Chipped and beautiful, he displays them for his audiences to experience and appreciate both on record and night after night in concert. He's a collector of songs. Through his own songs as well as interpretations of other writer's works over the years, he has cast new light on an array of artists who would otherwise be forgotten or lost at sea. He's not only helped bring the Mississippi Sheiks, Lonnie Johnson, Blind Willie McTell and Charley Patton up to the surface, but has exposed little known pearls by his contemporaries, like Warren Zevon ("Mutineer") and Van Morrison ("Carrying a Torch"), in concert.
Whether it was folk-rock, blues-rock, country-rock, gospel-rock, or whatever critics have labeled the various types of music Dylan helped to bring to wider audiences over the years, one thing is certain: he's always been unpredictable. As with the coastline, you know that change is inevitable with Dylan, but you can't imagine exactly what it will look like. That's one of the things that has made Dylan's musical journey so amazing.
And it's what continues to make Dylan's live performances so thrilling. Always in motion, always heading for another joint, Dylan's been on the road for the better part of the last 16 years on what has been dubbed the "Never Ending Tour." Never playing the same show twice or even the same song the same way twice, you never know what to expect at a Dylan show. Much the same as the tide is ruled by the sun and moon, you could say Dylan's performances are ruled by higher powers. It's the spontaneity of his concerts that keeps fans flocking to them. It's also what keeps Dylan, a man who has always lived in the moment, on the road for more than 100 dates a year.
Like vacationers to the shore, people go see Dylan perform for a fresh experience, to reminisce, get in touch with their spiritual side and ultimately have a good time. The all-out rocking rendition of his song, "Summer Nights," has become an energized high point of his recent shows, bringing small club and stadium-packed audiences alike to their feet for some good old shakin' and boppin'.
BOLD, ECCENTRIC AND HILARIOUS as ever -- did you see that Victoria's Secret commercial? -- Dylan usually mixes his set lists with well-known songs and more obscure ones from deep beneath the waves of his catalog. You might hear songs like "Like A Rolling Stone" and "Forever Young" as well as ones such as "In The Summertime" and "Saving Grace."
For those who have never seen Dylan live, now's your chance. Just imagine what it would be like living in London in the late 16th century and not going to see a Shakespearean play. Or being of age in the 1940s in New York City and not going to see Bird, Diz or Miles playing in the after-hours clubs if you had the chance. For those who caught Dylan here last year at the Atlantic City Hilton you have to wonder: will he still be playing keyboards during the whole show or will he grab hold of the guitar again?
EITHER WAY, IT'S NICE TO KNOW that you don't know what to expect at a Dylan show. Like a dream that's not totally forgotten or wholly remembered, Dylan's music is something that you can't quite enunciate. Like standing out on the beach, listening to the hum of waves crashing against the coast -- time stops at a Dylan show. You can exist in the moment. Our moment is Sunday night at the Borgata. Maybe Bob will uncover some new pearls.
Bob Dylan performs at Borgata's Event Center Sunday, June 6 at 8pm. Tickets are $97 and can be purchased through Ticketmaster at 1-800-736-1420 or by going to the Borgata Box Office.
For the first family of American folk, Ocean City is a traditional stop on a nationwide tour that’s filled with late-night highways, city skylines and crowds of music lovers both new and old.
President Barack Obama on Bob Dylan: "The guy is so steeped in this stuff that he can just come up with some new arrangement, and the song sounds completely different. Finishes the song, steps off the stage — I'm sitting right in the front row — comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves. And that was it — then he left. That was our only interaction"
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