Waves of applause and high-pitched whistling shook one”s eardrums as the man, the myth and his band took the stage of the Cobo Arena last Friday night. The air was thick with clove, patchouli, cigarette and other forms of herbal vapor. A group of bald, middle-aged men started howling like wolves. The salt and pepper haired songster approached the mic in a shiny red suit. He introduced the band. The music started, and barely ever stopped. At one point, a teenage, Britney Spears look-alike walked passed me wearing a tight T-shirt that said “I Love Rock.” She was followed by a troupe of similarly dressed friends. I thought, “So, this is a Bob Dylan show.”

Despite being a live Dylan virgin, the emphasis on the music was not at all a surprise to me. Dylan, plucking and wheezing, said not a word to the crowd for the entire two and a half hour set. Ironically, the voice of a generation was as tight-lipped as ever. Genuinely, Bob let his songs do the talking.

The night pranced itself into gear with a lively version of Fred Rose”s, “Wait for the Light to Shine.” The musicians kept their heads down, poised almost robotically on the tight sound. It didn”t take long, however, for the foot tapping, head bobbing and hip swiveling to start for all those onstage. Even Dylan himself took a few moments of inspired coordination to lay down some wax with his tiptoes, while tweaking out a solo of pure country blues.

Most of the evening was dedicated to Bob”s latest shade of identity, i.e. the country minstrel. “High Water” and “Floater” from Dylan”s latest album Love and Theft rambled in and perked up the crowd. “Sugar Baby” also made a serene appearance as the backdrop was dimly lit with purple, and the dark silhouettes of the band fading in and out.

Many a ghost of deep southern blues, country and bluegrass flew from the stage that night into the ears of us long since removed northerners. Yet, there was no lack of love for this sound. In fact the acoustics at the Cobo actually bolstered the driving guitar work of Charlie Sexton and Larry Campbell and the tight rhythm section of David Kemper and Tony Garnier. Here is the carpet that Dylan stands on. Without it, his live shows would not be nearly as strong as they are.

Yet Bob was quick, as he always is, to give the crowd a selection of classics from “Don”t Think Twice, It”s All Right,” to a super charged version of “Tangled Up in Blue.” It didn”t seem possible to extract that much drama and fire from that song, but the rising and falling dynamics just rang waves of truth. The crowd was on its feet not an ass was planted. The thundering applause that welcomed Dylan in also sent him out after an equally charged “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” ended the first set.

The band returned to the stage amongst a roar worthy of the Big House. They picked up their instruments and went right back into their world like they had heard that kind of recognition a million times before. No doubt they have.

If the night began with Dylan-as-minstrel, than it definitely ended with classic rock. “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Knocking on Heaven”s Door” and “All Along the Watchtower” once again removed nearly every ass off its seat. The lights went bright for the choruses of “Rolling Stone” and the rock and roll screamed from the guitars and from Dylan”s scratchy voice. Two girls fainted in front of me providing a very real and frightening moment. And yet there were also moments of divine, gospel-like togetherness emanating from the background harmonies of “Blowing in the Wind.” Again the band dug deep to find the dramatic power of such a quiet Dylan song.

Thus the man, the myth and his band left the stage without a word. The girl with the “I Love Rock” shirt passed by again smiling. The middle-aged howlers filtered out Dylan and his music seeming as vital and contagious as ever.

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