Does Bob Dylan put on a good show?
August 11, 2016 5:44 AM   Subscribe

Trying to decide how much I'm willing to spend on tickets at a 3000 seat venue here in town. I love Dylan but haven't seen him in 20 years... are his concerts especially entertaining or am I better off investing in CD's and bourbon for home listening? Presale starts at 10am EST - thank you in advance for any input!
posted by ftm to Media & Arts (37 answers total)
Go! I have seen Bob several times and am currently on another Bob Binge with listening to music. I would kill to see him again and in fact looked up to see where he was touring and found nothing but a show in Oct with other people.

He puts on a great show and he is an icon and not going to be around forever. You can always make more money- you cannot make more time, love or experiences like seeing Bob do his thing.
posted by shaarog at 6:09 AM on August 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

I paid to see him once, regretted it ever since - he sounds like he has marbles in his mouth and it's super hard to understand him. This was a few years ago so I'd place money on it getting worse now. I'd save the money and listen to it at home.
posted by lpcxa0 at 6:09 AM on August 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

It's hard to predict what you'll get. He might play piano all night. Or take a bunch of guitar solos. He might do rockabilly versions of everything. Or not.

If what you mainly want is a bunch of his greatest hits, done about like they sounded on the record, then you'll probably not get that.
posted by thelonius at 6:10 AM on August 11, 2016 [11 favorites]

He likes to switch things up and play his stuff in different time signatures etc during concerts, so if you want to hear his greatest hits as they were, you will want a CD for that. But I saw Dylan about 10 years ago (and have also been on a listening kick for no particular reason lately) and I say go - he puts on a really fun show. Just don't expect to recognize the tunes, even when he's playing one of his greatest hits.
posted by sockermom at 6:18 AM on August 11, 2016 [8 favorites]

Never seen him, but have always heard a resounding 'meh' from people who have.
posted by greta simone at 6:18 AM on August 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

He's famously inconsistent nowadays. I saw him a few years ago and it was pretty bad though I've heard some talk about great recent shows of his.

The important thing on this tour is - how do you feel about him playing the American Songbook/Sinatra? If you really dug his last two Sinatra cover albums, you should probably go. If you're not into that and want to hear the hits, don't bother. Even when he plays the hits, they're often in a different key and totally different cadence and his voice is pretty limited/growly/incomprehensible these days.

What if he died next year? Would you feel a lot of regret that you didn't see him one last time? Or would you think, "ah, well, I got to see him 20 years ago at least..." Think on that and read some reviews of his current tour and you'll find your answer.
posted by saul wright at 6:21 AM on August 11, 2016 [8 favorites]

I've seen him a few times and would not buy tickets to see him again. His band is great, but he mumbles and is borderline unintelligible. With that said, my mom loved the show and I fully expect to see him again next time she wants to see him. On reread, my answers probably not much help.
posted by phil at 6:21 AM on August 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Depends on what you are going for. If you want his greatest hits, do not waste your time. He may play a bunch of them, but he rearranges them and they will not sound like you remember them from his albums. However, if you saw him 20 years ago and liked it, he was doing that back then, so you might like him now. I have seen him about 12 times, but only 5 of them in the last say 10 years. I found his shows to be very inconsistent. Some are very entertaining and some are what I would describe as bewildering. At one show, which I enjoyed, on the way out, my friend sauid something like, "What did you think of that killer, Like a Rolling Stone"? Like sockermom above, I did not realize he had even played it.
posted by AugustWest at 6:21 AM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

He is notoriously spotty in concert. Sometimes great, sometimes meh. I saw him a few years back and he was pretty meh.
posted by lunasol at 6:21 AM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine invited me to go see Dylan a couple of years ago, and I thought he was kidding, but he talked me into it, and it was an amazingly great show. He has a fantastic live band, and they do funky new arrangements of the songs, so they don't really sound like the records at all (and it's certainly not about his singing). So don't go expecting the same experience as listening to the records.
posted by Umami Dearest at 6:24 AM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

We saw him in concert in June. The first few songs, he was obviously not into it at all - leaning up against a stool, mumbling lyrics, and basically phoning it in. Then he took a long intermission, and came back more enthusiastically. He played a great version of "Tangled Up in Blue," and then a few off the newer American Songbook albums. I'd never seen him in concert and was glad I went; my fiance is a bigger fan and had seen him years before and was somewhat disappointed.
posted by writermcwriterson at 6:27 AM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I saw him once, at a Dylan/Dead show in the mid-late 80s. It sounded like a great idea, but in fact it was just croaky and underwhelming. If it was anybody else you'd just come out and say it was bad, but because it's Dylan you go 'oo, he must be doing something brilliant and subtle that's over my head'.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 6:32 AM on August 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

I saw him play at the ACC in Toronto, probably close to a decade ago and thought he was terrible. Mechanical, uninspired performance and literally ZERO interaction with the crowd.
posted by Sleddog_Afterburn at 6:39 AM on August 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

If I were you I'd take a pass. I also have heard a lot of "not worth it" grumblings. Save your money, relisten to his Live at Budokan album. God I love that album, and it has both tempted me to see him live but also dissuaded me because I know anything he does now won't live up to his performance on that album.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:42 AM on August 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've seen him 3 times here in Augusta, most recently on his minor league stadium tour. (I can't believe that was 10 years ago already) He played keyboards on that one; guitar on the prior two time I saw him. Most of his set was classics that everyone knows, but then again it would be hard for him not to do that. And as others have mentioned he changes them up a lot of times, sometimes so much that it takes a while to recognize them. For me that is part of the reason to see him; you don't know what to expect. I am a big fan of his and would love to see him again. One of the few legendary artists of that generation still out there. He could sound awful and I would still talk about how great he was. If you are a casual fan you may not want to see him again and again, but I would say go at least once. From what I hear the Beatles sounded pretty bad at Shea Stadium, but I know few people who wouldn't have wanted to be there.
posted by TedW at 6:47 AM on August 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Being from MN, I have a lot of close friends and relatives who see Dylan every chance he is here.

All the comments before mine except one are reports of seeing him in concert many years/decades ago. I bring this up because Dylan has "cleaned up his act" within the past year or so: He is intentionally making himself easier to understand, he is mixing up the songs he plays old and new, no two shows are the same, so you can see several shows and not experience the rehearsed consistency, etc, etc.

I have heard from friends/family that this is actually true, and Dylan himself talks about it in interviews (you can Google).
posted by TinWhistle at 6:49 AM on August 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I saw him play at the ACC in Toronto, probably close to a decade ago and thought he was terrible. Mechanical, uninspired performance and literally ZERO interaction with the crowd.

I can see that viewpoint, but a took it more as workmanlike, come out and play the set without a lot of theatrics to distract from the music.
posted by TedW at 6:49 AM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Dylan show in 2014 is the only show I've walked out of in the last 15 years. In addition to all the above complaints, he performed with his back to the audience when he wasn't at the piano.
posted by kimdog at 6:57 AM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well, I tend have a super short attention span anyway and find myself looking at my watch at concerts unless it's REALLY engaging, so I think I have enough to make my decision here. Thank you all for the helpful input all around!
posted by ftm at 7:24 AM on August 11, 2016

So don't go expecting the same experience as listening to the records.

This is very true, and may be the most interesting aspect of seeing him live. Bob doesn't need to do this, and reinventing his huge catalogue is probably his main creative outlet these days.

I've seen him a few times, and it all depends what kind of mood he's in. I've seen some great shows of his, I've seen some terrible shows of his, and you never know what you're going to get.

That said, the last couple of ones I've seen were pretty terrible -- not so much because of Bob, but because of the arena audience. But you never know about that, either. I swore off from ever seeing him again. But now... I would, for the simple reason that he's DYLAN, and he's not going to be doing this much longer. There will come an end to the Neverending Tour.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:25 AM on August 11, 2016

I saw him in June. Way different than what I expected. But once you get used to his 'new' voice and different arrangements, it was a pretty enjoyable show.

His band is excellent. If you like pedal steel guitar, he's got a guy who makes a 6 piece band sound like an orchestra. I'd go.
posted by MrKellyBlah at 7:34 AM on August 11, 2016

a friend just put it like this< "If you go expecting Dylan from the 60s or 70s, you will be disappointed, but if you go just expecting to hear a really good band play music you may or may not be familiar with, it will not disappoint but don't ask me, ask Watson, they seem to be friends."
posted by AugustWest at 7:48 AM on August 11, 2016

Big fan, but for live show resounding meh.
Saw him last year.
posted by elf27 at 7:58 AM on August 11, 2016

His band is really, really good. His voice, well, if you're a fan you probably already know what you're going to get, but I've seen him every few years for 25 years and his voice is better now than it has been in 15-20 years. There have been periods during which it's really hard to recognize what song he's doing. This is no longer the case and hasn't been for ten years. Go, go!
posted by Occula at 8:05 AM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Didn't enjoy him in Portugal, sounded like someone doing a bad Dylan impression :/
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:10 AM on August 11, 2016

There seem to be two general types of reactions to modern-day Bob Dylan concerts: enjoyment for those who appreciated that a musician so deep into his career is continuing to try and reinvent his catalogue and sound, and disappointment for those who were hoping to maybe hear and enjoy some Bob Dylan songs. I fell decidedly into the second group when I saw him 5 or 6(?) years ago.
posted by joelhunt at 8:19 AM on August 11, 2016

In the last fifteen years, Bob Dylan has given the best concert I attended in that time period and also the worst. Inconsistent is an understatement.
posted by raisingsand at 8:21 AM on August 11, 2016

He was amazing when I saw him last year. The stage lighting and rules against taking photos managed to make the auditorium feel like an intimate venue. He sounded great and the set was designed to let him rest by taking breaks at the piano. I am so glad I saw him again.

It might also help to look at recent setlists and decide if what he's playing appeals to you.
posted by missmerrymack at 8:29 AM on August 11, 2016

Also saw him in June - seeing him was kind of a bucket list item for me and figured I better do it while I had the chance. So a couple of things: Bob has been performing the same setlist for about 3 years now. You can look it up, but I wouldn't expect anything different. It's heavy on new stuff, with only a few older tracks in there, and they were reinterpretations. However, it's still good, and performing the same setlist night after night means the band is incredibly tight and sounds marvelous. His voice is ... Dylan. Don't go expecting him to suddenly sound like Roy Orbison. :-) If you like his newer stuff and have the money to spare, do it. But if you want a greatest hits show, put on Greatest Hits and kick back with some quality scotch and save yourself the money.
posted by jferg at 9:23 AM on August 11, 2016

As others have said, you never know what you're going to get. He didn't play his hits (which I fully expected to be honest) and did not interact with the crowd at all, except to introduce his band (who were stellar).

Easily the most boring show I have ever been to and I wouldn't see him a second time. Then again, I'm not really a big fan but a friend wanted to go so I went with her. Keep in mind that a friend of mine who is a huge, huge fan of his entire catalog was at the same show and said it's one of the best shows he has ever seen.
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:12 AM on August 11, 2016

I had a good time when I saw him in 2008; the setlist was as close to a greatest hits as you could hope for, though the rearrangements made it hard for me to remember too many specifics. Not complaining mind you, if I wanted to hear the hits how they were recorded I would have stayed home and listened to the record. The band is tight, Dylan's voice is his voice, they seemed to have fun and I did too. I don't know if I'd see him again soon, as the recent setlists seem heavy on the Sinatra stuff. I'd second checking out the setlists and checking clips of recent shows on YouTube to get an idea of what you could expect.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:34 AM on August 11, 2016

I saw him in early July this year, on a program with Mavis Staples. As jferg said above, it wasn't a greatest hits show by any means, and that was fine. For me, it was enough just to be there, breathing the same air. . . we're all older now, I'm so conscious of the passing of time, and I was there to pay homage. And I will remember the different arrangement of Blowin' in the Wind that he did as an encore.

After the concert, I found secondhand copies of Biograph on CD that I've been playing and remembering.
posted by apartment dweller at 11:23 AM on August 11, 2016

I saw him 4 years ago and was disappointed because of 2 things: the different time signatures and at a venue (Byron Bay Blues Fest) where every other performer had the screens beside the stage in use so short people / short-sighted people could actually see, he wouldn't. If i hadn't been so annoyed by those two things, i might have been impressed with the quality and expression of his music, because ...Dylan. But yeah, for me, it was like going to see a band I'd never heard of doing very different covers, so unfamiliar.
posted by b33j at 3:06 PM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I saw him play in Sydney maybe ten years ago.

My favourite moment was when a fight broke out during 'Blowing in the wind'.

How many rows must a man climb over to punch-on with another man?

Three. The answer is three.
posted by fonetik at 7:01 PM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also saw him in July with Staples opening. She was fantastic but he was so disappointing.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:57 PM on August 11, 2016

"Drunken Dylan impersonator" is definitely the mood he was in when I saw him live. I wouldn't call it a good show, exactly, but it was worth it for his hilarious, bizarre reinterpretations of his back catalogue, as well as some more sincere takes on his recent work. I think the man gets bored.

Here's my transcription of his live "Just Like A Woman":
She takes [snotty mocking teenager voice] jesss like a woomon, yes she does
And she MAKES! LUUUUVV! jes like a wooomon, yes she does!!
She ACHES! [mocking nasal voice] jesss like a woomon
But she breaks juslialilguuuuuuurl
After seeing him live, this is the only way my partner and I sing the song.
posted by thetortoise at 12:12 AM on August 12, 2016

Saw him in 1965. First half was acoustic. Second half backed by The Hawks. Hard standard to live up to.

The man has been performing for over fifty years. He's entitled to change things. Some people don't like it.

Interesting that though he's a true icon, it seems like he'll play for the opening of a laundromat. Good for him for keeping going.
posted by John Borrowman at 8:18 AM on August 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

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