ALive & Kicking: Bob Dylan and Merle Haggard
Paramount Theatre, Seattle
March 8, 2005
By Tyson Lynn
Bob Dylan is a living legend. He also happens to be old and temperamental. So, you approach a Dylan show with trepidation. Will it be transcendent? Will Dylan be sullen? Will Dylan punch out a woman in the front row? You just never know.
None of that was going to stop me from seeing Dylan. By myself, of course, because I couldn’t afford an extra ticket and neither could my friends. With all those unnecessary fees, I spent a grand total of 88 bucks. Of course, it’s still cheaper than seeing U2 in the nosebleed section of the Key Arena (95 bucks? Confidential to Bono: raping your fanbase is not a humanitarian action).
Merle Haggard opened, and the crowd was appreciative. Shouts rang down throughout his performance, cheering him on, and even, during a she-done-me-wrong song, encouraging Merle to “let that bitch have it.” I don’t know that Haggard heard, but I’d like to think he did.
His voice was strong, his songs lean. The crowd stood in ovation as he ambled offstage. The houselights came up, people shuffled out to the overpriced T-shirts, and the man on my left struck up a conversation.
It was, it turned out, the 57th time he’d seen Dylan. He’d seen him the night before (this being the second night of Dylan’s three-day Seattle run), would see him tomorrow, and had even seen him back in ’65. He was, obviously, a Fan. He was also not alone. The crowd was rapturously in love with the words, the music and the legend of Dylan.
Just before the houselights went down, trouble appeared. The two seats to my right that had been so innocently empty during Haggard’s set were now filled with two of the drunkest people I’ve ever seen at a sit-down performance. The man had straggly black hair, unkempt, unclean, and wore a leopard-print duster, sashed at the waist. His partner (wife, girlfriend, consort, whore—I don’t know, nor do I want to) had on tights, a mini-skirt and, as it turned out, her dancing shoes.
The lights went down, the crowd got up, the curtain rose and there stood Dylan. Decked out in black and red, he stood behind his keyboard, occasionally crouching down to the microphone to sing. His band, crack players all, lays into the music, instantly blowing the more-sedate Haggard set out of the water and memory. The crowd remains standing, cheering on their hero.
Then the song ends and the crowd sits. The woman on my right does not. She is feeling the music, she is dancing, she is swaying—and she is righteously pissing the people behind her off.
Over the course of three songs, the tension behind me builds. Finally, people start shouting at her to sit down. Unfortunately, she can comprehend neither speech nor manners. She’s in thrall to the music and she must dance. All attempts to reason with her partner are cut short with: “Shut the fuck up and leave me alone.” So on she dances.
Every so often she’d hit me in the head with her purse—disconcerting, because I keep forgetting she’s there. Dylan’s really fucking good. The people behind her have moved out of their seats, and taken up along the wall. Sadly, no such recourse exists for the teenaged boy who sat in front of her.
His sad, shaggy head was repeatedly dry-humped by her assuredly crab-infested crotch until he was forced to sit forward, hunched over his knees.
Of course, Dylan kept on singing. He never quite breaks the 60/40 mark: i.e. 60 percent intelligible, 40 percent indecipherable, so oftentimes it is difficult to know what the hell he’s saying. That, coupled with new song arrangements, left me unsure as to even what song he was singing until he’d get to the chorus. And yet, it was still awesome.
Now, I don’t know if you know this or not, but Dylan no longer plays guitar in concert. I mean, there’s a guitar sitting there, behind him, on the off chance he gets a wild hair up his ass and wants to play, but it never happens. He plays the keyboard instead. I wish I could say whether he plays well or poorly, but it was so low in the mix as to be irrelevant.
He does still play harmonica though, and during one of the evening’s highlights, stepped out from behind his keys and busted into “This Wheel’s on Fire.” It was the one time during the show when Dylan was as dynamic as his body of work.
The man who’d seen Dylan 57 times turned to me and said, “It’s moments like those that are worth the price of admission.”
And it was. It was.
The concert ended with a short two-song encore: “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Rainy Day Women #12 & #35.” And the curtain fell, the lights came up and the woman finally sat down.
I shook my head. The unfortunate boy in front of me scratched his.
Outside, a man was singing Marley songs.
I had seen Dylan, and Dylan was good.
Note: In addition to NadaMucho.com, Tyson Lynn lends his writing talents to the Bellingham Weekly, which is a weekly arts and entertainment magazine similar to Seattle Weekly, only in Bellingham.