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Music Review Dylan doing Dylan always is surprising

Saturday, November 09, 2002

By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

The Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar" proved a most unlikely highlight of Bob Dylan's appearance last night at the A.J. Palumbo Center.

Dylan and the band had established a loose mid-tempo vibe with Dylan noodling on electric keyboards instead of guitar when, five songs in, the set exploded, Dylan switching to guitar to join the band in the show's most faithful recreation of a classic riff. The vocals were even surprisingly faithful.

And when Dylan did to Jagger what he's always done to Dylan, toying with the vocals, it was pretty endearing.

His own back pages got the treatment -- some would say mistreatment --fans have come to recognize as Dylan being Dylan, stripping every classic of its classic melody, rephrasing rock's most brilliant phrasing, rushing one line, slowing down another and essentially abandoning all semblance of what people understand the song to be.

Take "Tombstone Blues," a song I've heard at least 1,000 times but didn't recognize until he hit the chorus, not that that was lifted straight from the original recording either. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing would depend on what the listener is into.

Either way, the newer songs found Dylan staying truer to the sound and spirit of his own recordings -- "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum" to "Bye and Bye," "Cold Irons Bound" and "Summer Days," the show's incendiary rockabilly climax.

The playing for much of the set was tentative, the band anticipating Dylan's knack for doing that which cannot be anticipated. But that only made the songs hit that much harder, as in the solemn performance of "Masters of War," which was everyting you could have wanted it to be.

And if that meant enduring the deconstruction of a number of the greatest songs that anyone has ever written, that's a price that any Dylan fan is used to paying.

Ed Masley can be reached at emasley@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1865.

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