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Nothing lets the excitement of a well-booked concert bill sink in like the evening’s printed poster with both band names scrawled across it. Fans proudly held tour posters to their sides at last night’s concert at TD Garden where Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler on the same piece of thick paper served as a time stamp for an evening of timeless music.
Knopfler was first to play, his trademark voice and smooth guitar toned down for soft, R&B-like licks in “What It Is”. The lights shifted to blues and teals when an Irish sounding flute solo began, joined by a fiddle shortly after. Knopfler almost always managed to make his playing sound easy because of just how right it sounded. The drums crashed in and he gave a solo, walking up to the other players on stage before letting his guitar licks close the song.
He was joined by his “happy little group of wanderers”: a pianist (who gave a fun and bar-like piano solo in “Corned Beef City”), fiddle player, bassist, drummer, keyboardist, and two other guitarists playing acoustic. ”It’s always a treat to be here. So we’ll just wear it out for as long as we got,” said Knopfler.
A soulful, soft, acoustic guitar intro to “Privateering”, the title-track from his seventh solo album released this year, got the crowd’s attention. Almost an Irish lullaby, the song used guitar key changes to shock it to life with a blast of accordion fiddle, upright bass, and forward drumming that could have gotten a whole pub up and moving had the song carried a more light-hearted tone.
Whether he slowed things down with “Kingdom of Gold” or sped up with “I Used to Could”, both off his new album, Knopfler was having fun. The blues guitar riff intro with just the spotlight on him for “Song For Sonny Lister”emphasized how captivating his sound was. Feet tapping the floor could be felt no matter where you were sitting in TD Garden.
Knopfler finished with “Marbletown”, where it was reduced to just the bass, some fine fiddle plucking, and the occasional flute trill about five minutes in. This part was so enchanting that the crowd threw themselves into a clapping beat, even though the scene was as quiet as the two players whispering to one another. They got a standing ovation before the song completely finished and lasted through to the encore. “We’re not gonna play ‘em,” Knopfler had said earlier on with a laugh when crowd members tossed out Dire Straits songs. He should have tacked on “Not until the end, at least,” for the group went into “So Far Away” off Dire Straits 1985 albumBrothers In Arms for their encore.
Gears were then switched for the folk figurehead of more than five decades to perform. The most common complaint about seeing Bob Dylan live is that his lyrics come across as a slew of mumbles, words undistinguishable unless you’ve had them etched into your brain years before. But when Dylan began with “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”, the only thing making it difficult to understand him were the cheers from the crowd. Things stayed high with “Don’t Think Twice”. The beautiful guitar intro carried soft tones that made his later harmonica solo sweet and his dancing fingers on the piano triumphant.
Dressed with a straw hat and a black ensemble (which the rest of his band wore as well, sans hat), Dylan was dressed up for the evening. But proper attire only made his stand-and-dance during “Things Have Changed” ironic — especially when he rasped “drinking champagne” with the attitude of someone relaying a story over a bar countertop.
Age was indistinguishable through his harmonica. Dylan’s intro solo to the beginning of “Tangled Up In Blue” from his 1975 album Blood on the Tracks sounded like it could have been played by the late-twenties Dylan himself.
The classic heavy blues riff of “Early Roman Kings” or the slow pace of “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” both worked the crowd, an audience made up of fans who had come back to see Dylan for far past their second time. Moments where the upright bass was rocking, like on “Summer Days”, make for upbeat highlights that made me want to dance outside. I’d see Dylan again if only to grab your partner by the hand this time and do a rocking swing dance right there in the venue. The same was true for “Thunder on the Mountain”, which exploded at the end people and got crowd members to stand up from their seats and start dancing. If anything, his show was more fun than first timers may have expected.
“Visions of Johanna”, “Highway 61″, and “Forgetful Heart” all resonated with the crowd, but the classic “Like a Rolling Stone” was the tension-reliever of the set. It felt more like a chipper reminder than a forward proclamation, his wail of “How do you feel?” replaced with a fond reminiscing question that was practically spoken.
Bob Dylan and his band ended with an encore of the 1962 song “Blowin’ in the Wind” and almost all of the packed TD Garden sang along. Inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame 18 years ago, its vague lyrics still felt applicable today towards the freedom of our people.
It would have been impossible not to please the crowd with a setlist that touched on different albums, moods, and lyrics like last night’s did. What made the night so special from other nights on this tour, though, was that he twisted the order and songs from previous performances on this tour, keeping things fresh and unique — something I thought may be difficult from an artist already at age 71. Dylan fans that track him from stop to stop were pleased as well as newcomers. After all, there’s a reason Bob Dylan is a name that will remain long after his era has ended.