Review: Bob Dylan, In Concert, Fox Theatre, Detroit, November 13, 2012

by Scott

Bob Dylan Live at the Fox Theatre - Marquee

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Click here to see the setlist for Bob Dylan in concert at the Fox Theatre, November 13, 2012

When the lights came on to reveal Bob Dylan and his band already playing the show’s opening number “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” it wasn’t easy to tell where Dylan actually was on stage. “Is that him playing the piano?” my wife asked, “Or is he singing from off stage?”

We were pretty far up, in the back. But I doubt even people in the ground floor had it much easier. Dylan and his band were spread out  on the huge Fox Theatre stage, but there was no spotlight on the star of the show to guide us where to look at any time, which is just how Dylan probably likes it.

This was the second time I have seen Dylan in concert, and it was a much better show for me because of it. Any fan from Gen X, Y, or Millenial times who has seen Dylan for the first time has often been disappointed with his refusal to address the audience, the way he completely changes most of the songs to the point that you can’t tell what song he’s singing until you hear some of the lyrics, and worse, his sometimes inaudible grumbling can be a turn off, and make it even more difficult to tell which song he’s playing, until he finally gets to the hook of the song.

But the second time is more of a charm. Your expectations are far lower. You know what you’re getting yourself into. It becomes a bit of a game to try to figure out what song he’s playing before everyone else does. He fooled me twice. The first time, when he played “Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” to the basic tune of “Just Like a Woman.” The second time is when he played “Love Sick” but at first it sounded like “Forgetful Heart,” and then like “Ain’t Talkin’”. But I managed to pick out most of them before my fellow Dylan lovers.

And that is why we’re we there, whether it was your disappointing first Dylan show, your cautious second, or your seasoned third, fourth, or fifth. This guy may be an introvert, a bit hostile in interviews, and actively attempting to gall his audiences, but those songs are meaningful to you, and you know that his still-growing songbook is one of the best by any songwriter ever.

Particularly excellent tonight was his version of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” which had all the ironic gentleness of the original. But it was odd to hear him sing it. It was almost as if it was a completely different person–some wizened 71 year old–singing the song, not the near 21 year-old who wrote and recorded it.

Compare that with a song he played tonight from his newest album, Tempest. “I’ll Pay in Blood” might sound the most like a Tom Waits song, on an album where you think nearly every song could have been a Tom Waits song. But there was a bouncing quality to it–a skip in its step–that made it seem like it was written by a younger man. According to Harold Lepidus at The Examiner, this is only the third song from the new album he’s played in concert since its release. This was good news for me, as I was hoping to hear songs from the new one. Other treats were “Beyond Here Lies Nothing” from the underrated Together Through Life album, and two of my favorites from the last decade, “Mississippi” and “Thunder on the Mountain.”

The show ended with the old hits: a very Tim Burton soundtrack version of “Ballad of a Thin Man,” an almost joyous “Like a Rolling Stone,” and a hard-driving “All Along the Watchtower,” and encored with “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

I’m sure some people were disappointed. But I thought it was a great, mumblings and all, in a great venue, that made Dylan sound as good as he possibly could–much better than if he would have played The Palace, as originally scheduled.

Setlist for Bob Dylan at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, November 13, 2012

I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
Things Have Changed
Tangled Up In Blue
Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
Pay In Blood
Love Sick
Highway 61 Revisited
Thunder On The Mountain
Ballad Of A Thin Man
Like A Rolling Stone
All Along The Watchtower

Blowin’ In The Wind