Ten years into what’s been called the Never Ending Tour, Bob Dylan and his band returned to Hawaii after playing what was widely considered a rather lackluster concert at the Waikiki Shell back in 1992.
Returning with a backup band (that is still pretty much intact to this day) led by bassist/musical director Tony Garnier, Dylan played much better in September ‘98 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, and then at the University of Hawaii-Manoa’s Andrews Amphitheatre.
I was fortunate to have witnessed the Maui show as part of the support team for promoter Goldenvoice. I remember standing in the wings with Garnier and company as they happily watched Ledward Ka‘apana open the show. Ka‘apana was the personal pick of the Dylan crew, as the reputation of the slack-key guitarist preceded him. Those guys knew Led was a great musician. I later watched the many Maui fans greet Dylan from his backstage area as he and the band headed for the stage. “We love you, Bob!” was the common sentiment, and he didn’t disappoint that night.
It’s now more than 15 years later. Dylan will turn 73 on May 24, the Never Ending Tour continues to roll on, and he’s back in Hawaii for two shows, one at the MACC on Saturday and the Blaisdell Arena on Tuesday.
Dylan’s famously idiosyncratic voice is even more so with age, but he’s always reinterpreting his incredible repertoire of songs that date back to the mid-1960s. It can be maddening for his longtime fans, because his concerts have an improvisational looseness about them that gives no guarantee of pleasing all who attend. In fact, watching Dylan live is a chancy affair, but when he and the band are sympatico at any given moment on stage, it’s a reminder that you are in the presence of a true American musical legend.
His contemporaries and younger musicians know that. In 2012, the 70-plus track “Chimes of Freedom: Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International” was released with reinterpretations of Dylan classics by acts like the late Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Kris Kristofferson, Diana Krall, Maroon 5, Kesha, Adele, Flogging Molly, Lenny Kravitz, Queens of the Stone Age, Ziggy Marley and My Morning Jacket, the latter Dylan toured with, along with Wilco, in last summer’s “AmericanaramA” Festival of Music.
Dylan’s music remains marketable as ever. His latest studio album (number 33), “Tempest,” was met with wide acclaim, and his back catalog continues to sell well. One particular piece of marketing brilliance was last year’s clever interactive, channel-surfing video celebrating his 1965 classic “Like a Rolling Stone” that included cameos by rapper Danny Brown, “The Price is Right’s” Drew Carey and the hosts of the hit reality series “Pawn Stars.” Dylan’s 30th anniversary concert celebration was recently given the deluxe treatment and the latest installment of his great “Bootleg Series” draws upon material that reevaluates and gives needed perspective from his widely misunderstood 1969-71 period of his career.
The iconic figure has stayed in the public eye so far this year. During the Super Bowl telecast, his wizened figure and voice was featured in a Chrysler commercial, and the boxing enthusiast posed with Manny Pacquiao at a Los Angeles gym as Pacquiao trained for his comeback fight with Tim Bradley, plus his riveting 1976 protest song about the wrongly imprisoned Ruben “Hurricane” Carter sprang to people’s minds after the boxer’s death days ago on April 20.
Leading up to the Hawaii concerts, I like what avowed Dylan fan Mike Hogan of the Huffington Post wrote after seeing his hero recently on stage. Hogan appreciates that Dylan doesn’t try to recapture the energy he had when he was in his 20s. “Dylan doesn’t indulge that fantasy,” Hogan says. “Sure, he plays the songs he wrote when he was a young man, but he plays them like the old, weird bastard he is today. In other words, despite being an incorrigible trickster as well as one of the most evasive people ever to walk the Earth, Dylan is remarkably honest in these performances. He’s over 70! His voice is fucked up! He’s not even that good at playing guitar, piano, or harmonica! What he’s showcasing is his access to inspiration. It’s sporadic. Sometimes, it doesn’t happen at all.”
Let’s hope Hawaii audiences will get at least several glances of an inspired Bob Dylan.
In the meantime, allow me the indulgence of listing my personal Dylan favorites:
On film – the great 1965 documentary “Don’t Look Back,” 1978’s “Renaldo and Clara” (never-released fantastical road film, I have a VHS tape dubbed bootleg copy), and Todd Haynes’ imaginative tribute “I’m Not Here”
“Bringing It All Back Home” and “Highway 61 Revisited” (1965)
“Blonde on Blonde” (1966)
“Lay Lady Lay” and “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You” from “Nashville Skyline” (1969)
“Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II” (1971), which I won on a radio contest and includes “Watching the River Flow”
“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” from “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid” OST (1973)
“The Basement Tapes” with The Band (1975)
“Blood on the Tracks” (1975)
“Desire” (1976), containing “Hurricane”
“Hard Rain” (1976)
“Slow Train Coming” (1979)
“Jokerman” and the B-side single “The Groom Still Waiting at the Altar” from “Infidels” (1984)
“Biograph” (1985), one of the first artist box sets ever released
“The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991” (1991)
“Time Out of Mind” (1997)
“The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The Royal Albert Hall Concert” (1998)
“Things Have Changed” from “Wonder Boys” OST (2000) – Dylan’s been kicking off his concerts of late with this song
“The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue” (2002)
“The Bootleg Series Vol. 7: No Direction Home: The Soundtrack” (2005) for the Martin Scorsese-made documentary
“The Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self-Portrait (1969-1971)” (2013)
And even a spruced-up outtake from the 1981 “Shot of Love” album recording sessions, “Don’t Ever Take Yourself Away,” made it onto the “Hawaii Five-0” soundtrack album.