Bob Dylan, born the same year as Bernie Sanders, still walks the earth. The Bob Dylan Show proliferates, maybe because he doesn’t want to spend nights alone with his Nobel Prize. The so-called Never Ending Tour began in 1988 and keeps on never ending, though at times Dylan has referred to it as “The Money Never Runs Out Tour,” “The Why Do You Look at Me So Strangely Tour,” and “The One Sad Cry of Pity Tour,” among others.
From Beijing to Paris to Kalamazoo to Tulsa, even if Dylan isn’t sure where he is, he’s there for us, taking stock of his changes while we take stock of our own. You will see that shock of hair, just as it was on those 60s record covers. But then came the substances, the divorces, the regrets. Even Jesus couldn’t save him. Yet he endures, in his way. Expect classics from Freewheelin’ or Highway 61 and also some wear and tear. The voice drops and gargles, he switches from guitar to keyboard, or he’ll stand center stage, still tweaking lyrics, chords, time signatures, realities.
For years, he’s opened with “Things Have Changed,” revamped from mid-tempo blues to revved-up rockabilly hoedown to driving electric rhumba. His mythology could be monument or albatross. Yet it is still possible, in 2021, for epiphany. When they booed him for going electric, in 1965, he was an open wound. Now, at 80, he looks tougher, his posture more upright.
Dylan’s Never Ending Tour had to take a caesura in the coronavirus spring of 2020, but even a global pandemic couldn’t sideline him for too long. The Bob Dylan Show will be hitting Milwaukee’s Riverside Theatre on November 2, and he will ask, in his cement-mixer rasp, how many roads must a man walk down, or how it feels. The answer to those questions will change from night to night.
Dylan is no human jukebox. He will re-invent himself according to his range, his tone, his mood. If you’ve heard his latest, Rough and Rowdy Ways, you may have been surprised to hear how sweetly he can croon, and by the notes he can still hit. And fans have been waiting to hear these new songs live. Listen closely, and you may hear, for the first time: “Key West is fine and fair / If you’ve lost your mind, you’ll find it there.” Or, as he once put it, this is what salvation must be like after a while.
This is the only Bob Dylan we are going to get. “Even if the flesh falls off of my face,” he sings, “I know someone will be there to care.” That’s where you come in. —David Yaffe
Bob Dylan debuts in Milwaukee on November 2. He tours the Midwest before hitting New York on November 19, playing across the Northeast until his final performance, on December 2, in Washington, D.C.