Thursday, August 30, 2012
With a voice that has grown even more distinctive with age, Bob Dylan still has them following his lead.
The Mahoning Valley got a chance to catch Dylan and his band Tuesday night when the 71-year-old folk hero and music legend brought his never- ending tour to Covelli Centre.
Dylan opened the show by growling out a bluesy version of “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.” His deep, raspy voice and clipped cadence set the tone for the night.
The five-piece band was assembled to complement Dylan in this phase of his career.
Led by guitarist Charlie Sexton, it was bursting with rhythm and rootsy chops. The brilliant unit added a layer of musicality within a timeless Americana sound, bouncing from blues to boogie.
But its greatest accomplishment might just be following along to Dylan’s halting singing style while the master turns his musical canon inside-out. Tempo and melody are changed as he sees fit, even if a song is rendered barely recognizable.
Of course by now, everyone knows that a Dylan concert is not a note-for-note greatest-hits show. Not even close.
All but the diehards often found themselves asking, “What song is this?” But even those diehards — and there were many — might have found themselves listening for a familiar riff or lyric as they played their own game of “name that tune.”
Tuesday’s concert was a bare-bones affair, with an unadorned stage and a simple backdrop. Dylan never addressed the crowd and only departed from his 17-song set list to introduce the band.
With his fried hair glowing like an aura under a spotlight, Dylan spent most of the night on keyboards. He did occasionally step to center stage, and embellished several songs with his trademark harmonica. Just once did he strap on a guitar to make some noise.
He drew waves of applause when he wailed into his harmonica on “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”
Ever the showman, Dylan worked his songs, including a lively version of “Tangled Up in Blue.” Half song and half saga, the classic number was given a fresh and bouncy vibe, although it was robbed of its sense of wonder.
The same could be said for “Like A Rolling Stone,” although the power of the lyrics — and the song’s place in history — was not lost on anyone.
While Dylan and his band were in a groove all night, they were most in their element on “Thunder on the Mountain,” from the bellwether 2006 album “Modern Times.”
The set also included “Things Have Changed,” “Highway 61 Revisited” and “All Along the Watchtower.”
The Covelli crowd — about 4,000, maybe more — was one of the most-appreciative I’ve ever seen there, calling out long and loud for encores.
It was treated to an exquisite reworking of “Blowin’ In the Wind,” with Dylan donning his trademark dressy Western hat.