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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Not Yet Over the Hill


Bob Dylan is as much a part of the background music of our life as any musician. He regularly plays on our iPods, satellite radio, computers, and even on old-fashioned record albums in vinyl or on CD. On Sunday night we saw Bob Dylan perform at the PNC Pavilion in Cincinnati. Hearing his music and vocals on any of those media does not match his live performance.

But first, I must mention the icon, Leon Russell, who to the delight of the crowd, opened for Dylan. Russell energetically sang and played piano from his extensive repertoire.

Unfortunately, the PNC Pavilion suffers from acoustic problems and Russell’s excellent renditions were muffled by the time they reached us back in section 202. We have experienced the same musical muffling at this venue with a variety of other musicians. The sound seems to improve only outside the Pavilion, near the restrooms where you can no longer see the stage.

Dylan and his band were in good voice and performed with enthusiasm and clear sound. Dylan even sang with a surprisingly clear, non-guttural voice.  The highlight of Dylan’s 17 song performance, including one encore, for me was “Blind Willie McTell.”  My husband, a true Dylan fanatic, while also happy to hear “Blind Willie,” thought other highlights were “Visions of Johanna” and the revised lyrics to “Tangled Up in Blue.” He, and much of the crowd also relished shouting “No” when Bob sang, “You think I’m over the hill. You think I’m past my prime.” Indeed with Bob’s posturing and prancing throughout he proved he was neither.

The crowd was the usual Dylan-mix of aging baby boomers and young folks, who gave every indication of enjoying the show. But one baby boomer, gray-haired and attired in casual, yet dapper clothes, caught my eye in the midst of all sorts of behaviors and dress. Apparently he simply was unable to contain his dance steps while the music was playing. At one point, the gentleman, while standing in the wide corridor in front of our section was asked by security to return to his seat. Channeling Gene Kelly, without the rain or umbrella, he gracefully danced his way back to his row.

Dylan’s sound technicians evidently have mastered the acoustical challenges at the Pavilion. His performance was excellent, with none of the muffled, shushy sounds we have heard previously. I only wish the PNC Pavilion sound technicians would find out Dylan’s solution so in the future other performers too might avoid the annoying muffling sounds associated with that venue.

Dylan, singing and playing the harmonica, was joined by the McCrary Sisters, four female vocalists, as he ended with “Blowing in the Wind.”

All told, the evening was a delightful way to remind yourself just how talented Dylan, the so-called “Prophet of his generation,” actually is. We had a “whoppin’ good time.”


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