By Daniel Kohn
By Imade Nibokun
By Arrissia Owen
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
Friday, March 10 (early show)
Following his recent health hassles, a Zimmy gig is extra alluring now: you never know which show will be his last—"it's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there," indeed. So we went, thinking maybe he'd even do the big gurk! right there onstage—now, wouldn't that ticket stub bring in a bundle on eBay.
The sight of a somewhat glazed, leathery, disheveled man seated at our table, his Birkenstocked feet revealing a horrifying set of toenails that hadn't been clipped since Jerry Garcia walked the Earth, was upsetting and telling enough. But that the gent all-too-predictably asked us where the "joints" were (silly hippie—we call it "chronic" now) and that the air around us reeked a shocking reek of incense, as if the entire crowd had been dunked in a vat of patchouli oil, gave the room a strange, sickening '60s vibe —you know, as if punk never happened. A huge strike against the show, to be sure.
But of Mistah Dillin? His scraggly voice was much clearer than we've ever heard it, though we pay props to the Sun Theatre sound crew for that little miracle. "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleedin')" was okay, as was one of our faves, "Tangled up in Blue"—music in the cafés at night, revolution in the air, blah, blah, blah. He was pretty lost-looking onstage but tried to make things interesting by doing little scuttle-scuttle dance steps during "Highway 61," which was cute—cute like watching your touched grandpa do the same whenever a Britney Spears video comes across the TV, trying to appear relevant and "hip" for the grandkids. Dylan cracked odd, curdled smiles—was he blissfully stoned or just reeling from his heart meds? "Dignity," one of his best tunes of the '90s (actually an '80s holdover), was lopingly, blissfully grand, as much as "Not Dark Yet" was sad, moving, beautiful and too, too true. "Not Fade Away" was there to appease the Deadhead contingent, but it wasn't spectacular, just there—why cover Buddy Holly when you're Bob Frickin' Dylan, fer chrissake?!
It was basically a typical Dylan show for today's times, one that was too brief (75 minutes, including encores, but at 45 smackers a ticket, better than the going dollar-per-minute rate these days) and too scattershot.
Seeing Dylan now might be what it was like catching Elvis at the Las Vegas Hilton during his White Jumpsuit Era. You get the feeling that the man onstage isn't performing out of any real sense of artistry as much as he's trying to prostitute his legend (and his catalogue, natch). Dylan seems to want to try, but it doesn't really work as well as you think it oughta. Even so, it worked better on this night than when we saw him years ago at the old Costa Mesa Pacific Amphitheater with Tom Petty. Better than when we saw him with the Dead at Edison-Field-don't-call-it-Anaheim-Stadium in '87, when we were so faaaaaar back that it could have been an impersonated Zimmermania! tribute show, and we wouldn't have known the dif. Better than he was a few years after that at the Greek, when he appeared so disoriented that his family was rumored to have staged an intervention around that time. It wasn't a joke and could explain that Hearts of Fire movie he did with Fiona, and the "Wiggle Wiggle" song off Under the Red Sky.
That he's still out there at age 58, "on the road, headin' for another joint" is a feat in itself, but as this Great, Never-Ending Dylan Watch trudges on, we just expect more from the guy. We're not sure what we expect—more hits? Obscure cult favorites? Longer sets?
A nice, subdued show, but it honestly drained from our concert memory by the time we jaywalked across Katella back to our car—he may be a Dylan, but it's not like he's that dreamy, multitalented Jakob or anything. Yet, as living museum pieces go, it's hard to beat this traveling exhibition. Just ask the guy with the toenails, who, during the encores, closed his eyes, waved his arms, and mouthed along to every word, clearly transported back to some important life moment. Maybe at this point, that's the only kind of thing we can expect Dylan to deliver: nostalgia.