Restless Bob Dylan tinkers with new album, Deep Cuts at Playhouse Square show in Cleveland


CLEVELAND, Ohio – As Bob Dylan made his way through “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)” on the Friday Night Show in Cleveland, he appeared to be restless.

Playing an upright piano, he repeated a simple three-note phrase. But he apparently continued to spoil everything. Over and over again, to the point that it was almost funny.

It turned what should have been a highlight of the night into a flaw, but maybe that wasn’t the point. Instead, the legendary artist may have tried to stay interested. Fortunately, this turmoil did not lead to other points this low.

The concert at the KeyBank State Theater in Playhouse Square was Dylan’s third performance on his new tour after being exiled from the road for nearly two years, like so many other performers, by the coronavirus pandemic. It was a long hiatus for an artist who toured regularly until 70 and now 80, swinging frequently in Northeast Ohio (his last show in the area was in October 2019 at EJ Thomas Performing Arts Hall in Akron).

This is also his first tour behind last year’s excellent “Rough and Rowdy Ways”, on which Dylan seemed to take what he had learned from recent crooners records – in his alternately gruff and hissing way – and l ‘apply to its best set of originals in two decades. On Friday, he performed all but two of the songs from the new album in an otherwise 100-minute show filled with deep cuts from his 60-year catalog.

The long-standing caveat with Dylan concerts among music lovers is that he is an unpredictable performer, who doesn’t just play his most famous material. He dramatically reworks the songs and shapes melodies so indecipherable that a listener won’t recognize them until they hear the lyrics.

This led many fans to rave about the spectacular shows and others to denounce what were, to put it charitably, tough outings. Age is rarely a factor either, as Dylan remains able to shine on stage by highlighting and celebrating his age instead of trying to challenge him.

And he especially proved it during Friday’s 17 song set. Coming out from the left of the stage after a prerecorded orchestral fanfare, his five-piece group embarked on a ‘Watching the River Go’, with the orange lighting on the back curtain giving the stage the impression of a century-old concert hall.

He did spell out some really funny lines in the new tune “Black Rider” (example: “Go home to your wife, stop visiting mine. One of these days, I’ll forget to be nice.”) Elicited laughter. . Perhaps knowingly saying phrases like “I’m not dead yet, my bell is still ringing” from “Early Roman Kings” also got the applause they deserved.

The arrangement for “Gotta Serve Somebody”, taken from 1979 gospel-steeped “Slow Train Coming”, benefited from its transformation into a bloated blues stomper powered by guitarists Doug Lancio and Bob Britt and drummer Charley Drayton. It was the highlight of the evening, although “To Be Alone with You” and “I Contain Multitudes” were not far behind.

But that feeling of restlessness seemed to catch up with Dylan. His piano playing was high in the mix. It led to some great times, but also some tough times.

In addition to scoring “Key West (pirate philosopher)”, he performed aimlessly on “Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine”, but not enough to derail the classic “Blonde on Blonde “. And “My Own Version of You,” with lyrics that filter “Frankenstein” through a romance novel, suffered from slow, monotonous reading.

Fortunately, these are the exceptions.

“Melancholy Mood”, a cover of Frank Sinatra, was a highly unlikely moment. It was the only time Dylan was center stage, the commander and the crooners he was covering.

He did it so perfectly, unlike some of his piano games. It made this reviewer wonder if every note he played on Friday was intentional.

Maybe each awkward run was a way to keep him interested as he embarked on another long tour. Maybe it was just to make him laugh. If so, maybe it worked.

Setlist for Bob Dylan at KeyBank State Theater, Playhouse Square, Cleveland, November 5, 2021

1. Watch the river flow

2. It is very likely that you will go your way and I will go mine.

3. I contain multitudes

4. False prophet

5. When I paint my masterpiece

6. Black rider

7. I’ll be your baby tonight

8. My own version of you

9. Be alone with you

10. The first Roman kings

11. Key West (pirate philosopher)

12. I have to serve someone

13. I decided to give myself to you

14. Melancholy Mood (cover by Frank Sinatra)

15. Mother of the Muses

16. Goodbye Jimmy Reed

17. Every grain of sand

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