Photo courtesy of John Buckley
There was massive outcry from Bob Dylan’s fans when during the 1965 Newport Folk Festival he enlisted Mike Bloomfield of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band to play electric guitar. Dylan himself “plugged in” not long after, and even though it led to two of the greatest records of all time (Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde) fans decried Dylan’s switch from acoustic to electric, even though the writing had been on the wall for some time.
Causing less of an uproar, apparently, is Dylan’s fairly recent decision to abandon guitar altogether. Not once during his 90 minute set at Verizon Center on Tuesday did he strum a guitar, sticking primarily to piano and occasionally blowing his harmonica. His formidable harmonica playing was the closest he got to sounding like “old” Dylan, as his voice, which was the focus of so many reviews of his most recent album, Tempest, often seemed to fail him in concert as much as it does on the album.
Which isn’t to say his performance was bad – even after 50 years of performing, Dylan still seems to enjoy himself, even though he rarely acknowledges he’s performing in front of an actual audience. His band was stellar, old songs are reworked in both good and bad ways, his vocal flourishes – such as adding the occasional “how ‘bout that” and “I’ll tell ya” to lyrics everyone knows – bring a smile, and the riverboat gambler appearance he’s cultivated since the late 90s (wide-brimmed hat, bolo tie, pants with a flaming red stripe down the side) make him look like the legend he is.