Bob Dylan's most memorable Minnesota performances (1998-2008)
Photo By Kevin Winter
As Minnesota prepares to welcome our most famous native son, Bob Dylan, back to the Xcel Energy Center tonight for what surely will be a celebratory performance given the election results yesterday, longtime fans certainly let their minds wander to the countless times they've seen Dylan over the years. While his relationship with the state has been a complicated one at times, Bob has continued to make regular tour stops to the Twin Cities over the last 20 years and beyond, even though in recent years the local shows have grown more infrequent (tonight's show is Dylan's first in the Twin Cities since playing Northrup Auditorium on Election Night 2008).
But no matter how many times Dylan graces a stage here in the future, he's given us plenty of indelible memories over the years--through memorable live shows that always give fans some new twists on old favorites, or Bob dusting off classics that we never thought we'd hear live, while working in new songs that add a spark to his ever growing catalog. Here's a few of my memories of Dylan's more unforgettable local live shows in the recent past.
While I made it to two shows during Dylan's historic five-night stand at the Orpheum in 1992, as well as his Target Center show in 1995 with the Jayhawks opening, and Bob's jubilant Midway Stadium show with Ani DiFranco in '97, due to it being my college years, my memories of those performances are admittedly quite hazy, but I obviously enjoyed myself and the music I was hearing. The first local Dylan show I have concrete memories of was--
Bob Dylan with Joni Mitchell, Target Center, October 23, 1998:
After playing Duluth the previous evening, Dylan brought his continuing Time Out of Mind tour to the city, and seemed totally energized by the warm, enthusiastic Minneapolis crowd, as most of the 15,000 people stayed standing throughout the entire show. Dylan played some sprightly harp lines during the show and was in fine voice throughout, but it was the acoustic portion that truly sticks out. "Masters of War," "Tangled Up In Blue," and an absolutely crushing version of "My Back Pages" truly made the show for me. "Love Sick" kicking off the encore, followed by the always festive "Rainy Day Women" brought it home strong, and everyone sang along in full voice to the stirring closer, "Forever Young," which elegantly ended the night. A wonderful show, with an incredible opening set from Joni Mitchell as well.
After a truly legendary performance at Canterbury Park with Paul Simon in 1999 (where they sang "Sound Of Silence," "I Walk the Line," and "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" together!!), Dylan next hit Minneapolis in July of 2000, in what would end up being one of my worst concert-going experiences ever.
Bob Dylan with Phil Lesh, Target Center, July 14, 2000:
I was heading into the show with a bunch of friends (and my future wife) who were decidedly not fans of the Grateful Dead, so we fought our way through the chaos of the Hennepin Avenue Block Party (remember those?), planning to show up to catch maybe a song or two of the opener, and get a good spot on the floor for Bob. Well, Dylan flipped the script on a good majority of his fans that night, and came out first (something he had done on other stops of the tour, but surely he wouldn't do that in Minnesota?!). So, we walked in to the ending of "Like A Rolling Stone" during the encore. I calmed down a bit during a lovely acoustic take on "Girl of the North Country" and a spirited run through of "Highway 61 Revisited," but left the venue during Lesh's interminable set feeling like I had been cheated. But my next Dylan show more than made up for it.
An Evening With Bob Dylan, Xcel Energy Center, October 25, 2001:
Dylan brought his Love and Theft tour to St. Paul, and with no opening act, this proved to be a lengthy, engaging performance from Bob and company. Not only was the setlist a wild mix of songs I haven't heard Dylan play before (or since), like "Wait For the Light to Shine," "If Dogs Run Free," and "Sugar Baby," but the old standards were scorching as well, with "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" and "Positively 4th Street" both standing out. We got a generous 21-song set on this evening, with a triumphant second encore of "All Along the Watchtower" following a stirring five-song first encore. It seemed that Dylan was making amends for his previous Twin Cities show, and after this dynamic performance all was indeed forgiven.
Dylan came back to the X almost exactly one year later on October 30, 2002, and that performance had a definite somber tone to it, given the recent death of Paul Wellstone. Dylan endearingly made mention of his passing when he dedicated a tender version of "High Water (For Charlie Patton" to, "My man who came to the end of the road in Eveleth." It was a truly touching moment, but the performance ultimately didn't hold a candle to the show the year prior. Plus, I don't ever need to hear Dylan cover Don Henley's "The End of the Innocence" ever again, thank you.
There were rumors that Dylan was going to perform at First Avenue in the days prior to this show, but plans sadly fell through. And while I wasn't too enthused about the prospect of seeing someone as decidedly hit-or-miss as Dylan in the cavernous Roy Wilkins, where good sound typically goes to die, this show proved to be a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would be. Bob played piano/keys throughout the entire show, hiding under his big white cowboy hat, and the band was tight behind him, and the setlist leaned toward the rocking side of Dylan's catalog. We got a second encore, plenty of songs with Minnesota threads ("North Country," "Highway 61" and a terrific "Blind Willie McTell"), and Bob was in a decidedly great mood, perhaps due to Hibbing advancing earlier that night in the State Hockey Tournament right next door.
Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, Midway Stadium, July 12, 2005:
This show was part of a co-headlining tour with Willie, so both acts got the same amount of time on stage (which meant a much shorter Dylan set than his recent shows). It was a hot night in St. Paul, and Willie started out with a terrific opening set which sounded fantastic on that summer night. Dylan's set didn't hold too many surprises, but it was cool to hear him play with Willie's son Lucas on "Lonesome Day Blues." "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" is still a tour-de-force, and "Stuck Inside of Mobile" had a great swing to it, but the night was ultimately made memorable just by seeing Willie and Bob outdoors at a baseball park in the middle of summer. You can't beat that.
Bob Dylan with Foo Fighters, Xcel Energy Center, October 29, 2006:
After a lively acoustic set from Foo Fighters, where it was quite evident that Dave Grohl was truly thrilled to be opening for one of his musical heroes (Grohl even dressed up in suit jacket for the occasion), Dylan and the band seemed energized straight from the start by the young group's early energy. "Maggie's Farm" got the night off to a boisterous start, and hearing "Masters of War," "Tangled Up In Blue," "Don't Think Twice It's All Right" and "Highway 61 Revisited" just can't be topped by any other musician making music today. Dylan seemed buoyed by the youthful spirit of the Foos during the show as well as his just released Modern Times, and it clearly showed in their vibrant performance.
An Evening With Bob Dylan, Northrup Auditorium, November 4, 2008:
Dylan's triumphant return to the U of M campus was made even more memorable by the night's historic election results. Dylan even spoke to the rapturous crowd on a few different occasions, with Bob saying "Thanks friends" following a loud, lasting ovation after "Like A Rolling Stone," and after he made his customary band intros, Dylan brought up the night's historical undercurrents. ""I was born the year Pearl Harbor was attacked, and I've seen some pretty dark days since then. It looks like things are going to change now." And while the performance wasn't the best I've heard Dylan sound by any means, the setting and the magnitude of the evening both added some weight and lasting significance to the memorable performance.
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