He Opened His Heart To The World And The World Came In - Palace Theatre, Columbus OH, Nov 6 2021

Girlofthenorcalcountry's picture

What a fun and fabulous blend of the old and the new, the familiar and the first-time, this trip to Bob encompassed! More than two years apart from him, and three years gone since I last was with Kait (could that be possible?). It was a mad dash from my home behind the redwood curtain to SE Ohio and back, for one show – but, when Bob announced a Saturday night in Columbus just an hour and a half from Kait's home, I felt like he was calling us in, arranging it so that the Fan Club Co-Directors could attend a show together for the first time since 2018, and I had no other choice except but for to go!

From the minute I landed in Columbus until the moment Kait dropped me back off at the airport some 48 hours later, it was the best time. Friday night was good eats and drinks and some good rest, too, since my trip there had necessitated a 3:00 AM wake up. Saturday saw more good eats around the fine local dining of picturesque Athens, OH; a gorgeous sun-dappled hike in autumn woods; and a late afternoon departure for Columbus, the Fan Club meet-up (great to see Greg and Erika and to meet Peg!), and BOB.

Running The Bob Dylan Fan Club makes it not really possible to avoid seeing what Bob is playing if I wanted to be surprised, and I'm not sure I'd ever have the self-control to do that anyway. This tour, however, since my first show was so early on, I did make it a point to avoid listening to any of the recordings before actually being present in the room. I really wanted my first experience with the Rough And Rowdy Ways songs to be in person..

As if it wasn't exciting enough to be seeing Bob for the first time in 2 years, to witness a show where he plays 8 out of 10 songs off his most recent album is all that much more so. If I had to use just one word to describe this current show it might be 'deep.' The music is quiet, even relatively so on the rocking numbers. There is no back drop and no stage lights, save for the lit-up floor that dims and brightens during the show. The focus is, even more than usual, on Bob. The backing band is subdued. There are no mannequins, no busts on the piano; I didn't even see the Oscar, though it could have been there somewhere. There weren't really any solos, no flashy playing, just an almost jazz-club quiet musical background, a stage set for Bob to do his thing.

And what a thing it is, from start to finish. The show kicks off in a jaunty way with the rollicking, bluesy Watching the River Flow. Bob comes out blazing, banging on the keys in a honky tonk fashion. Is it a sly joke that the first words out of Bob's mouth after the enforced Covid hiatus are, “What's the matter with me, I don't have much to say?” As with all of the classic songs Bob is playing on this tour, he's fiddled with the words or the arrangements or both.

Masterpiece is a cool version. It's got a bounce to it, and Donnie's violin playing behind the leaping beat. Bob's singing is creative, slinging out the lines with well-placed pauses that add emphatic delivery to each one. He gives a little laugh after, “Someday, everything's gonna be beautiful.” And that really cool little false ending before the real ending. It seems to be something Bob enjoys doing with his older songs these days – switching up the tempo as it gets to the end for dramatic effect.

As one who never fails to surprise, what do you know, we are getting chatty Bob on this tour! Reports keep coming in of little asides and comments he is making between songs. Tonight we get the mysterious sharing that he “slept in a room last night that was haunted” and somehow that's connected with, “I can't seem to stay on my feet!” In actuality, he seems to be achieving that just fine, standing pretty much the entire time he's at the piano, and coming center stage for choice bits of microphone singing, signature hand gestures, and a little fancy footwork.

Perhaps the most drastic reworking takes place with I'll Be Your Baby Tonight. It starts a little like Gotta Serve Somebody later in the show. It's rompin' stompin' with a driving beat and plonking of the piano keys. Thankfully there are enough people in the audience scattered around who can't stay in their seats that we don't have to, on this and a few of the other fast numbers. Toniiiiigggghhht, I'm gonna try and make you mine! Then it goes into a swinging swaggering slow blues at the end. Very different and very fun.

But the soul of the show are the least rough and rowdy of the Rough And Rowdy Ways songs. Whether Bob is bringing someone to life with assorted scavenged body parts, letting us know he's made up his mind to give himself to us, or guiding us on a trip to the mythical soulscape that is his Key West, these songs ensconce you in their imagery and mesmerize you with their lilting melodies and singing. These songs take their time; Bob sings them with care and concentration, and I was happy to see that the audience went with him most admirably, hanging on each syllable and falling under the songs' spell, while wooping occasionally in appreciative recognition of one of the many cultural and popular references contained (I wooped for Liberace), or a particularly well-phrased line. I felt like these songs and THIS Bob, weaving his weird, dense musical tales from his latest record, was actually the Bob that people had most come to see.

Not to say they didn't cheer raucously and enthusiastically for the night's one harmonica solo, a drawn out intro to To Be Alone With You. This one too has a batch of new words including:

Some people just don't get it
They don't have a clue
They don't know what it's like
To be alone with you

And my favorite,

I wish the night were here
Without a doubt
I'd fall into your arms
I'd let it all hang out

(I might add, as Jack Fate said to Tom Friend, “It always has been hanging out.”)

Key West was thoroughly enchanting and mesmerizing. The performance felt like it stopped time and I left my body for a minute. It could have lasted a moment or a hundred years. I would have been happy for the haunting soothing melody and Bob's chanting of the mysterious lyrics to just go on and on, and I literally had to shake myself out of a trance when it was over.

The song that brought a tear to my eye, though, was Mother Of Muses. This is an instance of a song that came to life for me in concert; I enjoyed it upon listenings at home to Rough And Rowdy Ways, but it sort of blended into the album, for me. Here it stands out and is quietly powerful. With the lines about already outliving his life by far and then traveling light, slow comin' home... oh, man. Bob reflecting on his artistic immortality and then in the next breath his mortal destiny, right there on the stage before us, is a heady thing. For we who have followed along on his winding journey all these years, it is intense and emotional.

But he doesn't let that spell last long, bringing it all back to a tune of the type that no doubt electrified him the way he electrified the world, Jimmy Reed, a bluesy declaration shouted from the stage that is equally weighty. Bob testifying for that old time rocking religion, from which he himself sprung. It's quite a back-to-back of tunes!

And then, he sets it down gently. Tonight is the second night that the two song encore of Love Sick and It Takes A Lot To Laugh (It Takes A Train To Cry) is replaced by Every Grain Of Sand. A song of confession, awe, humility, and faith, sung simply at the piano with no altered lyrics, no tweaked melody or timing. It is a perfect statement to wrap it all up.

One more time, Bob has opened his heart to the world and we've gladly, gratefully come in.

We spend a few minutes outside the venue, shuffling around, dazed, thinking about saying goodbye to a few folks but as yet unable to really engage, still shrouded in a veil of Bob bliss. We settle for the one goodbye that we feel capable of, which is to stand on the curb, under the brightly lit marquee, with a few other souls and wave lovingly and longingly to the buses rolling by, rounding the corner and heading on up the avenue and into the night. I imagine Bob on the other side peering out to see who might be bidding him farewell, waving wistfully and blowing a few kisses into the cool night air. Parting is always such sweet sorrow. Then it's time for our own short drive home and a long night together; even with the time change and gaining an hour we stay up until almost 5, because we have drinks to drink and a few other things to help, music to listen to, a friendship to revel in with stories and reminiscences and plans and laughter, all live and in person for a precious few more hours.