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From Nov. 8 to Nov. 10, Bob Dylan performed a three night stint of his 2014 tour in Chicago at the beautiful Cadillac Palace Theater. The legendary performer bounced through a 19 song set list that exemplified not only his musical importance, but his ability to remain relevant in this century. The specific show outlined in this review is the Sunday evening performance, though all three shows shared an identical set list.
The first thing that is worth noting of Dylan’s performance is that he sounds much better than recent years. It is well-known that his voice has aged poorly and drastically, but in turn it developed a dark, bluesy rasp that has dominated his exceptional records of the past twenty years. With that said, in recent tours, his voice had degraded so poorly that the performance was unrecognizable to anyone who was not familiar with the content. This was abundantly apparent in last year’s Americanarama summer tour. This year there is good news: Dylan fans should lay these worries to rest. His voice on this tour sounds rejuvenated and improved, making for a much more memorable performance.
When Dylan arrived on stage, he first performed Things Have Changed, a song that scored him an Oscar after its 2000 release. It is an incredible song to introduce his recent set lists with because it exemplifies his modern sound. From there, Dylan abounded youthfully through a series of songs from this century: Beyond Here Lies Nothin,’ Workingman’s Blues #2, Duquesne Whistle, and Pay in Blood to name a few. Most of these songs were off of Tempest, his 2012 record, though we received some tracks from Love and Theft, Modern Times, and Together Through Life as well.
The fact that Bob Dylan performed so many modern tracks from his repertoire during his stint in Chicago on his 2014 tour is a vitally important one. It shows that he has translated to modern music, as he has always been able to do. He will never go on a greatest hits tour, because there is no need. The songs that Dylan has been writing in the past twenty years stand on their own as equally excellent songs in comparison to his well-known early 1960’s content. His ability to perform like this, especially when so many of his fellow aging rockers cannot, is a testament to his longevity and quality as an artist.
Dylan did perform quite a few older numbers as well, which satisfied some audience members growing anxious as a result of newer songs dominating the set. Each of his renditions of older songs are not as you once heard them: Dylan was especially tactful in Chicago, changing entire lyrics and phrases in songs like Tangled up in Blue and Simple Twist of Fate. His modern reworkings of the Blood on the Tracks songs in particular are magnificent.
The set list only featured two songs from the legend’s 1960’s glory days: She Belongs to Me and Blowin’ in the Wind. The latter was the final song in the set before the encore and was a sure-fire crowd pleaser. After the famous ballad, he returned once more to the stage to perform Stay With Me, a Frank Sinatra cover. This encore song has turned into a regular on recent stops, likely because of Dylan’s new album in 2015 that has been hinted at containing a good deal of Sinatra tunes. His aged, steamrolled voice actually fits these classic songs and his renditions are quite impactful.
Bob Dylan’s stint in Chicago for his 2014 tour was magical and well worth the price of admission. Many audience members approach modern shows of artist as an opportunity to see him while he is still alive. For many aging artists, this notion may be true. In Dylan’s case, however, his shows are not designed to take you down memory lane with hit after hit. They are designed to prove that the king of folk music can still earn the crown night after night.
Review By Brett Stewart