Listener’s Guide to a Bob Dylan Concert
First thing you have to understand is, he’s not going to sing to you. He snarls.
That’s what you paid to hear—some 70-year-old guy dressed up in a band uniform with a fancy cowboy hat, snarling at you like a cross between James Dean and Artur Rimbaud. The thing is that guy also happens to be the best poet this country has heard since Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. His songs were the anthems of a protest movement that started with sit-ins in the South, moved to try to stop the war in Vietnam and helped to redefine acceptable relationships between men and women. And Dylan was there through all of it, cheering us on and denying he had anything to do with it.
A poet doesn’t have to have a great voice. But he or she has to have a great ear.
They have to be able to hear what people are saying. They have to hear the cadence in street talk. They have to hear shouts and whispers. They have to find the right rhythm to unlock the hidden secrets in the souls of all of us. Dylan hears what we are saying, and he knows better than we do what we’re thinking. And he’s been singing our dreams out loud for more than 50 years.
But it might be off-putting if you don’t know what he’s saying when he’s snarling, so, here’s a set list of what he snarled when he played Rochester on Aug. 22:
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
Love Minus Zero/No Limit
Things Have Changed
Tangled Up in Blue
Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
Spirit on the Water
Rollin’ And Tumblin’
Visions of Johanna
Highway 61 Revisited
Simple Twist of Fate
Thunder on the Mountain
Ballad of a Thin Man
Like a Rolling Stone
All Along the Watchtower
For this part of his “Never Ending Tour,” Dylan has pretty consistently started with “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat.” He might vary the second song, but he generally always sings “Tangled Up In Blue,” “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum” and “Thunder on the Mountain.” He might include “Visions of Johanna,” “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” and “Simple Twist of Fate.” He almost certainly will conclude with “Thunder on the Mountain,” “Ballad of a Thin Man,” “Like a Rolling Stone” and “All Along the Watchtower.” He will probably do “Blowin’ in the Wind” as an encore.
To get the most out of the concert you should listen to those songs and look at the lyrics before you go to the Nov. 7 concert at Xcel. If you’re lucky, Dylan’s grandkids might be in the audience and he might want them to understand what he’s saying. I was at a concert at Xcel a few years back when I could hear and understand every song he sang, and I’m sure he was singing to his grandkids.
My cruel weapons have been put on the shelf
Come sit down on my knee
You are dearer to me than myself
As you yourself can see
(From “Working Man’s Blues, #2”)