Over the past week I was lucky enough to see Bob Dylan perform on back to back nights in Dayton and Toledo. Both evenings were graced with perfect weather - almost chilly at the Dayton concert. Through his tour of America Dylan is sticking to the same setlist every night, dominated by his recent material from Tempest (2012), Shadows in the Night (2015), and Fallen Angels (2016).
Each show opened with a pitch perfect version of "Things Have Changed", Dylan's Oscar Winning song for the 2000 film Wonder Boys. Yes: In 2016 "times are crazy and people are strange."
On both nights Dylan alternated between taking center stage and playing piano.
Apparently many concert goers were expecting a greatest hits set list- those around me were vocal on that point. Nobody screamed JUDAS!, but when Bob went into "The Night We Called it a Day" many left for a beer.
"Pay in Blood" from Tempest rocked on both nights, with subversive lyrics like "Night after night, day after day/they strip your useless hopes away" disrupting the leisurely vibe of the crowd.
The first set closed with a soft rock version of "Tangled Up in Blue."
The monumental "High Water (For Charley Patton)" from Love and Theft (2001) kicked off the second set. "Early Roman Kings" threw some blues into the mix and "Spirit in the Water" inspired a noble vocal performance. "Scarlet Town" is a perfect song to hear as the sun sets, a campfire story for the ages.
The material from Shadows in the Night and Fallen Angels brings a new dynamic to Dylan's live shows. It's a strange blend: the apocalyptic songs of Tempest with the romantic ballads of yesteryear.
But it's good to see Dylan singing well and really into the songs.
For an encore Dylan and his Band played a triumphant version of "Blowin' in the Wind" and then closed on a sardonically rousing note with "Love Sick."
Mavis Staples and her band were an excellent opening act, playing soul music from the 60s along with some new material from her newest album Livin' on a High Note.
It's always a treat to see Dylan onstage and I appreciate his commitment to evolving his art and not relying on the standard material.