Back from the Bob Dylan concert in Big Sky at 3 this morning, then off to deliver papers most of the day. It's a good, tired feeling. The concert was first-rate: nicely nestled among the mountains, perfect summer evening, large and appreciative crowd. You can find the set list and other comments here. Dylan was cooking. Old age has served him well. Guys half as old as he is are touring the nostalgia circuit cranking out their top three hits night after night in versions different from the recorded originals only by reason of desertion and decrepitude. Dylan played old stuff, too -- "Maggie's Farm," "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here with You," "It Ain't Me Babe," etc. -- but, as always, he constantly rethinks his songs, adapting them to his band and his changing moods and his decaying voice so that they sound fresh, sometimes even unrecognizable except for the lyrics.
And his bag of quality songs is so large, and with so few genuine hits in it, that he can choose from a hundred or so songs on any given night without disappointing his audiences. Last night, his newest stuff also struck me as the freshest. He took the weakest songs from "Love and Theft" and recast them as rockers, getting the crowd moving. Then he slowed down to something near the original southern lounge singer sound of the recorded version of "By and By." He wound down the regular set with "Summer Days," a so-so song on the album that just cooks in concert.
George Will once said that nostalgia was the only possible explanation for Bob Dylan's continued popularity. Like many conservative commentators of his ilk, Will still seems to be compensating for his inability to dig the '60s. What makes Dylan so much fun to hear is that he still draws fans who remember him from the days when he was breaking all the molds while also bringing in new listeners who either want to see a legend, or love his new albums, or wonder why it is that all the other musicians they like keep referring back to Dylan. It makes for an eclectic and good-natured crowd, and they got everything they came to see Wednesday night.