Bob Dylan: A League of His Own
I needed a reminder. We all do. Because it’s easy to get lost in 21st-century pop music and forget that Bob Dylan is the most influential solo artist of all time. On Dec. 5, I attended a Dylan concert at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. True to his ever-changing performance style, in a 19-song set that predominantly drew from albums “Time Out of Mind,” “Tempest” and “Highway 61 Revisited,” Dylan repeated only three songs from when I last saw him in 2016.
It was during this concert that Dylan reminded me of my perhaps-unpopular opinion that he is among the greatest singers in the history of recorded music. During songs such as “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “Not Dark Yet,” he showcased his signature spacing of words and syllables, articulation and intonation, adding meaningful nuance and detail to his vocal performances that I would argue few — if any — other singers have ever communicated or even attempted. Is Dylan one of the best singers of all time? No, not even close. Being a skilled singer is distinctly different from being an iconic one, and even I — a singer-songwriter who idolizes Dylan’s work — would never look to his vocal style for useful singing techniques. But that shouldn’t detract from Dylan’s legendary songs and how his uniquely Dylanesque vocal approach has canonized those songs in the annals of timeless music.
The other aspect of Dylan’s performance that impressed me to the point of surprise was his poetry. During a few of his songs, namely “Things Have Changed” and “Make You Feel My Love,” it seemed like one lyric after another just blew me away — including lyrics I anticipated and was almost singing along with him. I would hear an exquisitely arranged string of words come out of his mouth and think: man, I wish I wrote something that clever... This, of course, is an irrational fantasy; the truth is Bob Dylan is in a league of his own. After all, this is a man who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 — as a songwriter. Still, watching Dylan in person, I welcomed the reminder of how poetic his lyricism has always been and just how much I owe to his influences on my own songwriting.
For me, the greatest moment of the entire show was witnessing Dylan come back on stage to play two encores, “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” both from “Highway 61 Revisited.” Putting nostalgia itself aside, knowing that I grew up on these songs just the same as the couples in their 50s, 60s and 70s who surrounded me — and now, together with these people from a completely different era of music and history, seeing Bob Dylan play those very songs — fueled a moment of incredible awe and admiration that will likely last longer than any of my other memories of Bob Dylan, both from the past and those I anticipate experiencing in the future.
Photo Caption: Promotional poster for the concert
Photo Credit: livemusicblog.com