Bob Dylan returns to Iowa

Bob Dylan and his band put on a show in a style only he can pull off, including his intimate energy, unique voice. However, very few of his noteworthy songs were played in Ames, Iowa.



Bob Dylan performs in 2010 in London. Dylan will not attend the Dec. 10 award ceremony for the prize in Nobel Literature, citing "pre-existing commitments." (Gareth Fuller/PA Wire/Zuma Press/TNS)

Austin J. Yerington, Arts Reporter

Bob Dylan in concert was an experience I’m still processing.  After attending a concert with a seemingly structured set, sparse crowd, and powerful instrumental style, I still can’t properly define my thoughts, but maybe that’s the point.

The clock struck at 8 p.m. and by two minutes past, the stage went dark. The silhouettes of six men walked onto the stage, while the murmuring and building cheers from the front few rows of Stephens Auditorium made it clear that they saw a familiar face in the one of the shadows. As the lights rose, the aged face of music icon Bob Dylan was seen by all in attendance.

As a long-time, but not die-hard fan of Dylan’s music and the many artists he has collaborated with in the past, I had been waiting for this tour since its announcement in September.

I was even more eager once I heard he was making a stop in the Hawkeye state.

Looking out at the first 10 or so rows in the auditorium, I saw every seat was filled with fans of the 78 year-old musician. However, when I looked at the full venue, I was shocked to see several rows were empty on the main floor.

Dylan’s live performances have always had a reputation of bizarre moments.I was anticipating a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but was left with a sense of emptiness that I was beyond shocked to have felt.

Each time Dylan started a new song, the lights rose, but as soon as it finished, the stage plunged back into darkness. Only the cheering was the connective tissue that filled these shadowy breaks. Dylan’s sole response to the crowd was a small nod at the end of every other song.

Yet, even while Dylan didn’t engage with the audience, the crowd was more than willing to make themselves known. They rose to their feet for a standing ovation even before the musician sang his first lyric. Legacy cheers were abundant throughout the show, with random bursts of shouting, and “I love you, Bobby” getting thrown out to what appeared to an oblivious, or indifferent, Dylan.

Dylan has been famous for his original, soulful off-key voice, yet this concert focused on his blues songs rather than his songs of other genres, including folk and rock, which some fans might have expected to be present.

Dylans’ voice sounded gravely and course at times, reminding me of Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen.

But Dylan’s voice could change on a dime to a softer, more recognizable sound like when he was younger. These changes made for a diversity in texture when it came to his music.

The way Dylan stood was striking as well. He was hunched over — as though ready to lunge at any point — leaning over his feet with his backside pointing out. His movements, as simple as a side step or slight saw to the music, sparked instant cheers and whoops even from the highest balcony.

Dylan’s setlist was also peculiar. Despite a discography of dozens of iconic songs, he opted for more recent or deeper cut selections from his long career, such as “Not Dark Yet,” “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” and, “Gotta Serve Somebody.” “Ballad of a Thin Man,” and “Highway 61 Revisited,” were some of the only few iconic songs he featured.

Once the final encore ended, Dylan and the band bowed and walked off the stage, with the lights coming down fast.

Dylan might not have been at his best, others might not have been engaged as I was, but I don’t think it really matters. Dylan wanted to play his music his way, and he did. After 78 years, maybe Dylan deserves to proceed based on his own preferences.