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Dylan lives up to billing with a marathon show
By John MacKie
The Vancouver Sun — Saturday, August 2, 1986
He’s still got that big bushy neo-Afro, still sings like he has a clothes-pin on his nose and, yes, still appears to have it. Bob Dylan’s highly-touted appearance with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers lived up to all its advance billing Friday night with a marathon (33 songs spaced out over nearly three hours) show filled with some of Dylan’s more invigorating work in years.
The concert opened up with Petty leading the band through a rollicking version of Chuck Berry’s Bye Bye Johnny, then Dylan took over for a gospel-tinged reading of All Along the Watchtower. From there on, he alternated between radical reworkings of old standards (Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Ballad of a Thin Man) to charged-up renditions of his latter-day stuff, a lot of it in the religious vein. Dylan also did a three-song solo set and the Heartbreakers took over the stage for two mini-sets (four songs each) themselves, but almost all the evening’s highlights came when they appeared together.
Dylan and the Heartbreakers are a fine match. With guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench leading the way, the Heartbreakers gave Dylan superb support, keeping the songs simple, with a kick. It may or may not have been their doing but one of the real pluses of the concert was that Dylan’s arrangements were infinitely more direct than the last time he played Vancouver in 1978. With Petty and company he may have strayed from the original versions of his classics but at least you could still figure out what songs he was playing this time.
Killers? Well, at the end of his three-song solo set he did away with the lilting melody of A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall and delivered it with classic Bob Dylan punctuation and phrasing (as in “ah saw a hah way of di monds with no body on it”).
Then there was the loping mid-tempo treatment of Like a Rolling Stone, with keyboardist Tench chipping in some gorgeous piano and the gliding encore of Blowin’ in the Wind with Tench again providing the instrumental beauty, this time on organ. Simply amazing, the stuff of which legends are made. There are gonna be some great bootlegs coming out of this tour, let me tell ya.
It definitely was an event as much as a concert. Security kept hurling water over the crowd crushed in front of the stage to help them cool out while farther away a giant party was in progress, a party with lots of beer, doobers and hooting. It was one of the oddest assortment of fans at a rock gig ever, ranging from studious, reserved Dylan worshipers (mainly in the seats) to some real party animals punching the air down on the floor. It’s hard to say the split between Petty and Dylan fans but, when the Heartbreakers finished up Refugee, it got the biggest cheer of the night — until Dylan followed it with Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, which got a whole mess of people screaming along the “everybody must get stoned!” chorus.
All that said, it was rather ridiculous to see Bob Dylan in a venue like B.C. Place Stadium. For most of he 25,000 fans, he was a little speck only visible through binoculars, and for some reason most of the house lights were kept on throughout the concert, ruining the ambiance. Plus this was Bob Dylan, not the Rolling Stones or Prince; you don’t come to Dylan’s concerts to just see and listen to him, you come to try and understand him, to figure out what the hell he’s saying and how he’s saying it. The sound may have been okay in most spots — on the side, it most definitely wasn’t — but there just isn’t any intimacy and, without intimacy, it just isn’t Bob Dylan.