New York, NY -- Nov 23 - Dec 6, 2019

“So I’ll make my Stand,
And remain as I am
And say farewell and not give a damn”

Bob Dylan’s residency at The Beacon was a disaster, he should throw in the towel, give it up Bob. Leave us with the memories. Said no-one.

In fact, to say it was a triumph is to damn with faint praise. It was kind of extraordinary but in way that elongates the meaning of that word, akin to the way Dylan has been extending “Beauuuuuuutiful” on Masterpiece, turning it onomatopoeic as it lands.
To achieve the extraordinary is no mean feat. I ended up seeing 9 shows and at no point did Dylan lose his ability to hold the attention. His performance standard is so consistent now that one would assume a danger of falling into the territory for both singer and repeat watcher where it becomes rote, especially given the bane of Dylan nostalgists-yearning for the thrill of unpredictability-the fixed set list. I humbly submit that anyone prone to think that a change of song line up is necessary to enjoy multiple shows is missing out on what seems to be the point of Dylan’s current offering.

We are now witnessing an artist so deep into the delivery of his music as to make set variety irrelevant. It’s a cliche to say he reinvents himself continuously,and one that doesn’t quite get to the heart of what he is doing. He is the great explorer, the savant engaged in continuously re-examining the premise of his artistic project. If you listen to some of these arrangements they are not re-inventions of songs they are revisiting from a shifted perspective, one of more time on the road, a necessity to keep doing this for whatever reason that exists. To see Dylan at the piano, eyes closed, his face contemplative between lines, pouting, raising his eyebrows slightly as if he’s surprised himself with the realization of what comes next, chewing at the meaning, the 78 years of existence layered into his face, is to witness the personification of necessity. The impression it gives is that he could no more not do this than breathe.

So to use Masterpiece as an example again,the arrangement is not dissimilar in feeling than that found on the Another Self Portrait Bootleg Series 10 but in the context where Dylan is approaching it from 50 years on (let that sink in for a moment), its role in the set list, his movement from piano to center stage, the patina of age in his voice, the harp, it doesn’t need to be a re-invention to be profoundly different. It’s a re-evaluation not a re-invention. In fact re-invention (and I have used that word many times in the context of Dylan) now seems to me to negate the thread of continuity that runs through his career. It suggests that something has gone stale or is no longer functioning. Dylan’s career has ever moved forward to something new (and of course not always “better”) but it is all contingent on the consistency of that desire to explore the truth in the songs, how it can be excavated with a different tool. I think if you asked Dylan about the shift from acoustic to electric he would say, “so what”, not that he re-invented himself. Everything that has gone before is there to inform the present if Dylan chooses.

The fact that he has just found something new after 6 decades of that journey cannot truly be captured with any given word. The fact that it’s a new layer on the last 5 years of the piano centric shows that were a shift themselves is something on top of that for sure. Extraordinary will have to do but that word needs to be savored and not just tossed around if it is to be of service. Greil Marcus wrote a whole book about Like a Rolling Stone so no short review can do anything but scratch the surface of what Dylan delivered in NYC over 10 nights. Amazing stuff but he’s already moved on.
I am glad I didn’t “dare miss it”.

Review Location: 
Beacon Theatre, New York City
Review Date: 
Saturday, November 23, 2019
Review Author: 
Philip Hale