Like all people with good taste in music, I love Bob Dylan. On November 11, 2023, I impulsively bought tickets to see him in Waterbury, Connecticut, at the Palace Theatre. He is currently touring for his Rough and Rowdy Ways album, which I truly recommend you take a listen to if you haven’t yet. I think each of his albums have a distinct style, and while the songs on this album are not necessarily rough nor rowdy, there is still a departure from his earlier work.
Interestingly enough, I was introduced to Bob Dylan in high school through a course titled, “The History of Rock and Roll.” Of course, the first song of his that I listened to was “All Along the Watchtower,” on his John Wesley Harding album, and then “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”
This course made me a casual listener of Bob Dylan, that is, until I encountered his true impact on culture and the music industry. At this time, I dove down the rabbit hole and became an avid listener.
I knew that I needed to see him in concert. To be blunt and to the point, Bob Dylan matters. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016 “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” and his lyrics have been analyzed for their commentary on politics and society by countless critics across several nations. His literary genius is coupled with an edgy and somewhat uneasy charisma, making him unforgettable.
All this to say, Bob Dylan is somewhat deified in my mind, so there was no hesitation to click the SUBMIT button on a $90.00 ticket.
Anyways, let’s get back to what’s truly important: not Bob Dylan, but my experience with Bob Dylan. I drove about an hour from Conn’s campus to the concert venue, but in hindsight, it was well worth the trip. I was so nervous joining the massive line stemming from the door. I clutched my ticket in one hand and smoothed my outfit repeatedly with my other hand. What if Bob Dylan saw me? I had to look presentable.
The marquee lit up with the poster for his tour, and underneath it was stamped a ‘SOLD OUT’ sign. There were people lining the sidewalk, begging for extra tickets (and some people shouting political propaganda and lighting up). This made me even more excited.
Finally, I reached the door. I showed my ticket, walked through the metal detectors, and then… was asked to put my cell-phone in a locked pouch? I learned that Bob Dylan wanted his concert to be a phone-free experience; if anyone was caught video-taping, they would be escorted out. Honestly, when I first heard this, I felt the initial disappointment that I would not be able to have even a moment of footage from the concert to go back to when it’s over. But, as soon as my phone was out of my hands, I realized that it was for the best, and I would have to actually pay attention.
Once I was inside the venue, my eyes were overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the crowd in this gorgeous space. The Palace Theatre is Baroque-inspired, with gold detailing in every crevice. I no longer knew what time it was, since I didn’t have my phone to check, so I rushed to my seat.
It’s a good thing I did, because the moment I sat down, the band came out and started to play. The stage was not decorated. In fact, there were equipment boxes clearly visible behind them, and the band was in a semi-circle playing around an empty piano. As the crowd started to cheer, I strained my eyes to see that Bob Dylan had not yet joined the band on stage. I was in the Upper Mezzanine, which is a theater term for, “so far up in the nosebleeds, they were passing out tissues.” I didn’t care though, I could hear them just fine. The band riffed for a couple of minutes, when all of a sudden, Bob appeared.
There were no theatrics. He simply walked onto the stage from the wings. His head was down, his hands were at his sides, and he made his way to the piano in the middle of the stage without acknowledging the audience with anything besides a nod. I loved it. He’s so rockstar sometimes.
The opening song was “Watching the River Flow.” Recorded and released in 1971, this was not one of the songs on his new album, but it is definitely one of his greatest hits, and I believe he re-released it on a different 2023 album titled Shadow Kingdom. There was so much vitality and juvenility on stage, despite Bob Dylan being 82 years old. All the members of the band were truly artists, able to build and improvise off one another, and, funnily enough, Bob seemed to be improvising most of all.
In order to maintain my integrity as a journalist, I must be truthful to you: I did not know every song that he played that night. I know, I’m a poser 🙁. However, he did play some of my favorite songs from Rough and Rowdy Ways, and many other songs from Shadow Kingdom. My absolute favorites were, “I Contain Multitudes,” “False Prophet,” “Black Rider,” “Crossing the Rubicon,” “Key West (Philosopher Pirate),” “Goodbye Jimmy Reed,” and of course, “Mother of Muses.”
I find it important to note that he didn’t play the songs as they were recorded. I don’t know very much about music theory (I know absolutely nothing about music theory), but the melody was different, the pace was different, and the delivery was different, which usually made me think I was listening to a totally unknown song until he sang the lyrics of the chorus. I will specify, it wasn’t an unwelcome or bad change. If anything, it made me think back to the fact that none of us in the audience could use our phones. The way he was singing this song would only be heard by those of us in the room. Already, the way his performance deviated from his recordings is escaping my memory, which is bitter-sweet.
I felt as if I were in a liminal space, so when the concert ended, I was abruptly brought back to reality. Bob Dylan stood up from the piano, where he had been all night, and thanked us for coming. I should let you know that he was dressed real spiffy that night, wearing a black suit with white floral trim (think western-cowboy-yellowstone-ranger-core), and a white fedora, which he took off to reveal his iconic curly hair. He took one bow, and then walked off the stage, just as ethereal and elusive as he had come. Immediately, the crew came out and started taking all the equipment off the stage: I knew it was truly over.
In all honesty, I loved the concert. I am not a harsh critic. Seeing Bob Dylan in concert was on my bucket-list, and it is the first thing on my bucket-list that I have been able to check off, which means it will always have a place in my heart. The only thing I wished I could have seen was Bob Dylan playing the harmonica. All throughout the concert, I anticipated the moment that he would pull one out and start playing, but it didn’t happen. I can’t fault him for this though, mostly because he is literally 82 years old. I think overall, this concert encompassed Bob Dylan’s style and philosophy. I mean, he has been active as an artist for over 60 years; he’s definitely doing something right.