In his acceptance speech, Barack Obama alluded to the history that had been seen by a 106-year-old voter who had been born into a world where she could not vote both because of her sex and because of the color of her skin. Just a few hours earlier, a sold-out Northrop Auditorium enjoyed a performance by a man who’s seen, if not quite a century of history, at least his share.
Minnesota native Bob Dylan, as artistically vital as ever after nearly 50 years making and recording music, played a set that was—as expected—no radical departure from his usual live act, but was marked by an unusual buoyancy. In recent years Dylan has made the keyboard his primary live instrument, directing his crack band from his spot at stage left. On Tuesday night he frequently meandered about the stage, playing harmonica into a mic as his band grooved. He typically seems to enjoy his live performances—if not, why would the very wealthy artist tour so incessantly?—but at this show there seemed to be a special spring in his step.
The enthusiastic crowd, many following election returns on their cell phones, stood for most of the set and roared their way through political classics like “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” the set’s second song. (Dylan opened with “Cat’s in the Well,” a relatively obscure bouncy number from the 1990 critical and commercial flop Under the Red Sky.) Dylan seemed to take particular care to clearly enunciate the lyrics of that song as well as those of a searing “Masters of War” and “John Brown,” a dark anti-war parable that he performed in a low croak recalling John Lee Hooker. For longtime fans, the set’s highlight may have been a passionate performance of “This Wheel’s on Fire,” which Dylan performed standing at center stage and, uncharacteristically, gesticulating broadly with his arms. The room’s energy only flagged during “Beyond the Horizon,” a pretty number from Modern Times (2006) made strangely unpretty, with the artist dragging the crowd through a grating performance that would have fit well in his prickly 1970s shows with The Band.
After closing the set with “Ain’t Talkin’”—also from Modern Times—Dylan and his band returned for an encore of two songs: “Like a Rolling Stone” (his greatest hit) and “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which he prefaced with a brief remark about the coming change. After the lights went up, the crowd cheered as it poured into the lobby to see televised confirmation of the precise nature of that change.
Jay Gabler is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.