An older couple leaving the Bob Dylan concert at the SaskTel Centre on Friday night summarized the night almost perfectly.
“I didn’t hear one word he said,” the woman said.
“I’ve been to a lot better concerts than this one,” the man replied.
A blunt but not untrue review of the concert. Rough around the edges and at times entertaining, Dylan nonetheless didn’t stand out as spectacular — and he was particularly hard to understand all night.
Firstly, nobody is denying Dylan is a legend. He’s a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he’s won countless awards, sold millions of records, and just last year he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He is unquestionably one of the great music icons of the last hundred years.
That being said, this is a review of Bob Dylan in concert, not Bob Dylan the man. And the concert left something to be desired.
Dylan has a particularly unique vocal style, but the 76-year-old was definitely sounding his age on Friday night. His voice was very rough and raspy instead of the smoother and almost nasally quality that was a unique hallmark of his music.
Dylan has always been a bit mumbly in his singing, but when even some of his most famous songs like Blowin’ in the Wind were almost unrecognizable if not for the band playing with him it becomes a bit of a problem for the audience. And when one of Dylan’s best qualities is his unparalleled songwriting and lyrics, you want to hear every word.
On the other hand, there were people in the crowd that obviously loved everything about this concert. Intermittent cheering and clapping and shouts of “go Bob!” came and went throughout the show, and when he started That Old Black Magic near the end of the concert it seemed to energize a mostly sedentary audience.
It’s not as if the concert was 100-plus minutes of nothing. Dylan’s rendition of Autumn Leaves was genuinely heartwarming, a slower and more thoughtful version of the old classic. And the performance of Tangled Up In Blue was a lovely and nostalgic callback to the time of Dylan’s heyday as a musician and performer.
One side note: it wouldn’t have mattered who was performing, having ushers at the SaskTel Centre constantly patrolling the seats during the concert to enforce the strict “no cell phones out, no pictures, no video” restriction was terribly distracting — and one couldn’t afford to be distracted if you didn’t know the song and wanted to try to figure out the lyrics.
In the end, this felt like a performance that relied heavily on nostalgia for success. And as someone who likes Bob Dylan’s music, it felt a bit disappointing if only because Dylan’s vocals were so rough, and he and the band seemed determined to avoid the front and centre of the stage all night.
It was in some instances entertaining, because as was mentioned before, Bob Dylan is a legend. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say I couldn’t understand a word he said, I agree with the gentleman that left behind me: I’ve definitely been to better concerts than this one.