When I was a kid, my dad would occasionally drag my brother and me to a train museum out in the middle of the desert. Next to the train museum was the saddest zoo in the world. The only thing I remember about the zoo was an old disease-ridden monkey in a cage. Next to the monkey's cage was gumball-type vending machine that dispensed "monkey food" (suspiciously like dried dog chow) for a nickel. After getting our nickel's worth, we would throw some food in the cage and the monkey would squeal and scramble for it. Years later, while attending a Bob Dylan concert together in the Livestock Exhibition Hall at the Red Bluff, CA Fairgrounds, my brother and I both recalled that childhood memory. We anticipated the Bob Dylan show would be like the sad monkey we remembered from the train museum zoo - you put a nickel in the machine, it dispenses some monkey food (or a cigarette) to throw in Bob Dylan's cage, and he would respond by singing a song.
We were wrong. Bob Dylan has made a career out of defying expectations. Bob Dylan does not eat monkey food.
When Dylan's recent Albuquerque appearance was announced, I wasn't really interested, but as the date approached my interest grew. Finally, the day before the show, I broke down and bought the cheapest ticket in the house. Upon entry at the venue, I was given a free upgrade due to low ticket sales. I ended up not sitting in either place because there were enough empty seats for me to see the show from several different vantage points. I eventually ended up in about the third row. The only drawback to this prime location was a 70-ish woman who kept shouting "I love you, Bob!" That woman may or may not have been Joan Baez.
This was not a young crowd. In order to buy beer, you needed two forms of ID - a license and an AARP card (rim shot!). Not only that, but the bartenders would also check your file for possible interactions with your medication (rim shot! cymbal crash!).
You can tell that many people attend Bob Dylan shows to merely pay homage to what he used to be rather than to appreciate the artist that he is now. Many observers expecting a greatest hits revue are left dumbfounded. Dylan's voice is not much more than a hoarse croak these days, but he makes the most of it with masterful phrasing worthy of the smarmiest lounge singer. Here how the songs usually go: the band will launch into a loose-but-tight bluesy, jazzy jam based on some vaguely familiar riff and then Dylan will jump in at some seemingly random point. After a key line or a chorus, audience members will finally recognize the song and start applauding. Some will attempt to sing along before becoming hopelessly lost and giving up. Call it what you want, I call it damned fine entertainment. Bob Dylan's demented Southern Colonel suit, with white hat and shoes, was merely the icing on the cake.
Dylan didn't play much guitar. He spent most of the time either behind a keyboard or stepping out front - sans axe - to bleat with his voice or harmonica. Center stage was usually occupied by the still-handsome guitar whiz and former teen idol Charlie Sexton. It was nice of Bob to provide some eye candy for the ladies - all twelve of them.
It may be my imagination, but during Bob Dylan's harmonica solo in "Forever Young," it sounded like he was playing that horrible "Sing It Out Loud" song from that Heineken commercial. Side effects may include...