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Issues of the Day Bob Dylan, Anti-Social

(Ramat Gan, Israel) - I hadn't been to an arena concert since I was a teenager; I never liked the scene. But given that the prophet, Bob Dylan, has recently passed his 70th birthday and was coming to the homeland, I decided to fork up a not insignificant amount of money and buy tickets for my wife and I to the concert at Ramat Gan Stadium. While I am not a Dylan fanatic, I have the highest regard for his music and poetry, the social vision they express, and his stature as a cultural icon in the 20th century and continuing into the twenty-first. 

Which is why I don't like railing against the concert I attended last night. But decry I must.

It wasn't that the music wasn't up to par. In fact, anticipating considerable mellowing in the repertoire of a man who is no longer young in age, I was surprised and pleased to see that the maestro had brought an oeuvre of full-blooded rock to play for us. And while there wasn't enough blues in his program, Dylan did play enough to make me realize how bloody good he is in that genre as well. Less satisfying for me, he ventured pretty darn close to rockabilly at several points, which was cute though hardly exalting. 

That, I'm afraid, is about it for the more favorable comments on the Dylan Israel Experience 2011.

The Downside

Dylan performed some pieces he had substantially retooled. "Tangled Up in Blue" (perhaps my favorite Dylan song), and "Like a Rolling Stone" were reasonably well done. "All Along the Watchtower," though was transmogrified, offered in a virtually unrecognizable format. It was mauled by its composer. 

Experimentation is permissible, even welcomed, especially with classic songs. Not for this was the concert so disappointing. What irked me most about the evening was that Dylan didn't have the grace, the basic human courtesy, to greet his audience, wish us well, even acknowledge our presence. Forget that he is a tribesman and that he would be welcomed as a returning son by those who had paid good morning to hear him in Ramat Gan. Simply saying "hi, enjoy the evening" to those who had come to sit at his feet  would have greatly improved the ambiance and preempted the angst that many of the largely middle-aged listeners expressed once the concert ended. An additional snub was his refusal to consider an encore.

Also, Dylan performs as if in his own solitary world: He seems to suffer from solipsism. Unlike the years when he played with The Band and regarded them as mortals, if not equals, the other musicians on the stage last night appeared to be at best courtiers and attendants whose role it was to be heard but kept in check. This affected the  music: the evening was structured exclusively to showcase Mr. Bob. The performance was highly controlled as if the players had been given instructions not to demonstrate their talents but only decorate Mr. Dylan's preeminence. There were no spontaneous riffs, no improvised departures from script. That script seemed canned, as if conceived to throw the audience a bone so no one could complain that they hadn't been given their money's worth. The calculators seemed to have run things according to the principle, "give 'em enough, and not a modicum more."  

I visited three great art museums (The Ft. Lauderdale Art Museum, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC) over the past month for a sum total of $30. I did not pay the rough equivalent of $125 dollars a ticket to see an anti-social artifact on the display screen at Ramat Gan.

And Mr. Dylan, though his music in the past has approached the divine, demonstrated nothing but aloofness during last night's gig. 

Why Bob? You have shaped the lives of millions for decades and will have an impact beyond our lifetimes. Don't you need to be heard as much as we need to listen?

By the way, kudos to Ricky Lee Jones who opened for Dylan. Her music is enticing and she was gracious. I would like to see her again in a more intimate venue.

© Yosef Gotlieb, . All rights reserved