Bob Dylan at Midway Stadium, 7/10/13
Bob Dylan and his band, and a few filters
Photo by Reed Fischer
Bob Dylan's AmericanaramA tour
With Wilco, My Morning Jacket, and Richard Thompson
Midway Stadium, St. Paul
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Many among the 14,000 of us packed into a classic Americana symbol, a baseball stadium, to witness Bob Dylan were sentimental fools. Even if we tell ourselves daily that you can't bring it all back home again, the times have a-changed, and so forth, it's easy to give in to a familiar song. Even if that song is performed in an unfamiliar way.
But it turned out that Dylan would be counted among us holding onto those faded remnants of the past too. Before he took up his current nom de plume and became a fascination for generations to come, Bob Zimmerman was just a scrappy guy up north looking for work. He knew his way around the piano in the key of C, and this drew the attention of Fargo-based heartthrob Bobby Vee. While the rest of us were tangled up in signature Dylan material, he proved most present while immersed in a 54-year-old pop song called "Suzie Baby." It symbolized the days when he wasn't the center of attention on every stage he'd grace.
"I used to live here, and then I left," explained the wild-haired Dylan, who was dressed in a black suit with a few adornments on the edges of the jacket and down the legs. "I've shared the stage with everyone from Mick Jagger to Madonna, but the most beautiful person I've ever been on stage with is Bobby Vee. He used to sing a song called 'Suzie Baby.'" It turned out that 70-year-old Bobby Vee -- who last year announced that he was diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease -- was in attendance. "Please show your appreciation," Dylan told the crowd -- with a tightness in his throat -- and they obliged warmly.
By a simple -- or maybe a more complicated -- twist of fate, Bobby Vee can be held up as someone who made Zimmerman into a rock star instead of just a backing band musician. He did fire the guy, who was then known as Elston Gunn, after only a couple of gigs. Now, this was a time for the man with nothing more to prove to play something from a time when he had proved nothing.
Watching him glide -- well, as much as Dylan does these days -- on the piano with his legs bowed out and sing in his most dulcet tones for a few minutes of "Suzie Baby" was a hazy image of a simpler era. (Although it would feature five capable backing musicians dressed in matching gray suits and always watching their bandleader with intense devotion to his whims.) An encapsulation of teenage love gone wrong, "Suzie Baby" was far simpler than much of the tangled knots of our featured performer's typical lyrics, and all the more refreshing.
While much of Wednesday night's show proved the typical detective work of figuring out if Dylan was enjoying himself -- any non-essential movement like a clap, a hip-swivel, or a nod could be interpreted as such -- this was one moment in a set filled with talismans from our collective pasts when our rock grandfather let himself share a song talisman from his own attic.
The rest of Dylan's hour-and-a-half performance felt more like the typical mirage one finds when trying to approach his material in a live setting. It was almost always just out of reach. Consistent rhythm triumphed when familiar arrangements did not. Even when the familiar acoustic strains of "Tangled Up in Blue" played, the instinct was to defensively pause -- as he often does -- before letting oneself fully go to the place where the record originally led. Case in point, "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" proved easy to spot, but its upbeat arrangement -- contrary to the darkness of the words -- was hard to pin down.
Did such peering through a foggy, rockabilly mosaic -- what Dylan fans have expected for years -- make the performance any less enjoyable? Decidedly not.
Still, the gifts of Wilco and My Morning Jacket that came before were far easier to digest. First, the Kentucky-bred outfit led by exuberant Jim James split the sonic difference between Pink Floyd and the Band, and moved the early arrivals into dancing and flopping their visible or imagined dreadlocks.
Duluth buddies Trampled by Turtles joined in for three songs. "Holy shit, what are these guys doing here? Just kidding, we invited them," James exclaimed. My Trampled Jacket teamed for the soft-handed "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)," a cover of the Louvin Brothers' "There's a Higher Power," and TBT's own "Alone." The final of the three swelled to the power of one of the freight trains that rolled by behind the stage over the course of the experience. James later found his inner Marvin Gaye, and the set concluded with a wild, glitchy breakdown.
Here's Wilco and My Morning Jacket together for "Cinnamon Girl."
From Wilco's Twitter
"Please don't hold that cute kid up again and have him wave at me," Jeff Tweedy said to someone in the crowd during Wilco's mostly chilled-out set to follow. Perhaps it was for this kid's sensitive ears' benefit that many of the band's typical rocker numbers ("Always in Love," "Heavy Metal Drummer") were left out of this performance, which gave way for "It's Just That Simple" featuring bassist John Stirratt on lead vocals, and a cover of Uncle Tupelo's "New Madrid." Tweedy cracked a joke about how he didn't pander to the crowd during the latter by subbing in "Twin Cities," but seemed comfortable to absorb some adulation at that moment.
Things finally ramped up during "Art of Almost," complete with what could've been bass drops. Soon after, My Morning Jacket returned to tear satisfyingly into Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl." Nothing about the Wilco performance felt like pandering, but it also didn't explore the same range of textures as a typical headlining slot.
In all, the AmericanaramA experience conjured yet another sentimental staple, Martin Scorsese's concert film The Last Waltz. Dylan himself appeared in the lush, high-budget documentation of the "farewell" performance by the Band back in '76, and Wednesday was absolutely amplified by the choice of bright spotlights onstage that made his show look like it was taking place on a movie set. But largely, the day did feel like a concert film for its organization, timed surprises, and the expected level of emotional depth for such a large percentage of the attendees.
Americana isn't what any of these bands set out to make, but the tour's name suggests that's what they know the fans are looking for. (A lot more on that here.) The hours of collaborative music celebrated a fleeting time that has been already long gone -- if it ever was -- before the harmonica-drenched "Blowin' in the Wind" closed out the night.
From a couple dozen feet away it was hard to tell if Dylan had actually nodded to the crowd, or if it was just an incidental jerk of his head before he left the stage. For him, it appeared that the impact of the earlier moments had already dissolved back into the swell of shouting, drunken bodies. Sentimentality in the present was replaced with a memory of it as it lit onto the wind and drifted up into the cool summer night.
Critic's Bias: This was the second Bob Dylan show, the second MMJ show, and the seventh Wilco show for yours truly. I was theoretically prepared for how it would come together, but the perfect weather in Midway Stadium made it easy to ignore any possible shortcomings of the night. It was better than the Dylan show I witnessed in Brooklyn five years ago, but last year's Wilco performance in Duluth made me absolutely dizzy with delight.
The Crowd: Summed up by a hipster-looking guy talking to his hipster-looking friend: "There are so many hipsters here!" And there were also some folks from the suburban reaches of our Twin Cities.
Random Notebook Dump: It smells like Bath + Body Works and weed out here.
Bob Dylan's Setlist
Things Have Changed
High Water (For Charley Patton)
Soon After Midnight
Early Roman Kings
Tangled Up in Blue
She Belongs to Me
Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
Blind Willie McTell
Simple Twist of Fate
Suzie Baby (Bobby Vee cover)
All Along the Watchtower
Blowin' in the Wind
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