Time traveling with Bob Dylan

By John Lynch, Managing Arts Editor
Published July 18, 2013

At 4:30 p.m. on the day of the show, I printed out the tickets for my first Bob Dylan concert and lamented that I was seeing him at a point in time when tickets could be printed at home. Though modern science had miraculously allowed me to purchase the tickets five minutes earlier on a whim, I decided that I could not be satisfied with technology until the day that some machine could transport me through space and time and spit me out in the late ’60s, landing cleanly on my feet like a gymnast in the front row of a Blonde on Blonde-era show.

Having no such device, I’d decided to “settle” for seeing My Morning Jacket and Wilco — two of my favorite bands — open for Dylan on this summer’s AmericanaramA tour. And then, with our printed-out tickets, my sister and my friends and I made the the trek out to DTE and found ourselves in a crowd of baby boomers, many of whom had seen Bob in the days before Ticketmaster.

“He’ll usually play a couple of hours worth with a few hits thrown in here and there,” said the bearded man behind me in the line for T-shirts. “His voice is worse than you’d imagine.”

“Nowadays he doesn’t play too late into the night. You know, with his early bedtime and all,” said a man sitting next to us on the lawn, who, like most of the audience, looked like he had recently heeded the words of “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.”

My Morning Jacket and its lead singer Jim James — shaped like an enigma with a striped native blanket wrapped around his shoulders — played a set that ran through the band’s variety of styles and reminded me of their haphazard greatness. The folky “Golden” felt as fresh as the obtuse power of “Holdin’ On To Black Metal,” and memories were certainly made when one old shirtless man stood before the sea of blankets on the lawn and belted out every “aahhhh ahhhhh” of “Wordless Chorus.”

Both James and Jeff Tweedy of Wilco had subtly commanding stage presence, speaking sparingly yet effectively throughout their respective sets. James reflected on how his first time seeing Dylan was “beautiful and real manic” and how all first times should be “beautiful and romantic,” slurring the words with a southern drawl to carry out the pun. And after Tweedy and Wilco blew every single mind in the crowd with an experimental rendition of “Too Far Apart,” he looked shocked by the applause and innocently said, “I’m confused. Did something happen? Is my fly down?”

Wilco played Yankee Hotel Foxtrot favorites and more obscure material, and everything was right on point. “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” made mine palpitate and the odd beauty of “Impossible Germany” translated perfectly to the live setting.

All three opening acts (we’d missed the set of Richard Thompson) joined each other at the end of Wilco’s set for a cover of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and after a short break, Bob Dylan appeared looking like the skeletal embodiment of former greatness.

Dylan, his never-great voice now reduced to heavy and largely incoherent grumblings, didn’t move an inch on stage as he and his band ran through a perplexing setlist. Classics such as “Tangled Up In Blue,” “Simple Twist of Fate” and “All Along the Watchtower” stuck out even if their lyrics were barely recognizable in Dylan’s 2013 voice, and the only true reminder of his heyday was the harmonica solos, which still pierced through the instrumentation and the night sky with vigor.

Laying down on the lawn and staring up at the expansive sky, I honestly felt a galaxy away from the stage. Perfection is sitting under the stars and listening to Bob Dylan, I convinced myself and ignored his imperfections. And when my writer friend turned and showed me a picture of a young Dylan with Allen Ginsberg at Jack Kerouac’s grave, I remembered the power of Dylan’s poetic works and was completely satisfied with everything about that night — even if I couldn’t recognize that he closed with “Blowin’ In The Wind.”