Music: Dylan & Petty: Youngster outshines Uncle Bob
By Doug McDaniel
The Courier — June 20, 1986
PHOENIX– A Memorial Coliseum audience representing the diverse demographics of two decades paid tribute Wednesday night to the legend of Bob Dylan.
Rock’s poet laureate had fan of varied ages — long-haired holdouts, bald-headed yuppies, nymphets in designer jeans, other who were babies during Dylan’s heyday — jumping in the aisles by the end of the show.
But it’s hard to say whether the adulation was for what he is, or what he was.
During the 2 1/3-hour show in which Dylan was backed by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, the most revered musician in rock history sang a multitude of songs from his chameleon career.
Petty and his tight band mixed in their own tunes, and offered solid backing — especially in the rockers — for Dylan’s historical mix.
Dylan generously dished out classics such as “Masters of War,” “Everybody Must Get Stoned,” “Just Like A Woman,” “Positively 4th Street,” “Ballad of a Thin Man,” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” He also included several songs from his more recent, controversial evangelical period, including “Shot of Love,” and “In the Garden.”
Dylan finished with an encore that included “Blowing in the Wind” and a sweet “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.”
So much for the score sheet on what was played. How it was played is another matter.
The relationship with Dylan and the Heartbreakers was very much the same as with the Band more than a decade ago. Dylan, wearing a long black coat and boots to begin the show, twice yielded the stage to Petty & the Heartbreakers for 20-minute sets.
The difference between Petty’s backing and the Band’s was the former tended to play with a kind of wild abandon, letting everything hang out, while the Heartbreakers play precise, cleaner rock.
One would have guessed that Dylan would be doing Petty a favor by allowing him to back the legend. But Petty proved he was capable of stealing the limelight. On several occasions, Petty’s showmanship and tightly-toned rock and roll paid off in an audience response that was more enthusiastic than what Dylan received.
This could be due to the dynamics of a large arena, and also to the fact the master is past his prime.
Often, when Dylan was singing, a listener unaware of the words was out of luck. Early in the show, Uncle Bob butchered his lyrical whimsy with a monotone haste, like he was in a hurry for a late evening dinner date, and it was anybody’s guess what the message was.
At any rate, in a fast-paced show, there isn’t much time to contemplate the intricacies of Dylan’s musings (If they haven’t been contemplated already). Petty’s rock and roll, simple songs like “Refugee” and “Breakdown,” translated much better in the large venue where riffs speak louder than words.
It was almost as if Petty was getting wild approval because his band was laying out great hooks and grooves. Any occasional empty-headedness was drowned out in the reverberation. Dylan was applauded more out of a respect for his long history.
The show was at it’s best when rhythm and volume took over. The highlights, and most heartening, indelible aspects of the evening came when Dylan rocked out.
Dylan doesn’t provide highly visual entertainment, but in rockers like “The Real You,” “Shot of Love,” and a very lively version of “Everybody Must Get Stoned,” the old man moved around a bit while thrashing on his guitar.
The Heartbreakers, especially guitarist Mike Campbell, added some nice touches on all of Dylan’s tunes. Petty’s band, along with four female backup singers, had the effect of providing a certain brightness to the proceedings.
Finally, there’s the matter of Dylan’s singing. Did he have a good night, a bad night? It’s hard to say.
Dylan’s notorious vocal tunelessness has always been his charm and his punishment. But Wednesday night, perhaps it was the dry air, Dylan was particularly nasal, almost as if treble had assumed control of the sound system.
But Uncle Bob has always sounded that way, any fan will defend. Anybody who laid down a 20-spot and expected a buck and change in return knew what they were paying for. This was not a Tony Bennett comeback.
This was protest, anger, poetry, history, a tear in the eye for one more round of “Blowing In the Wind.”
So if Dylan’s bad ear — and popularity — goes down as one of the great mysteries of music history, the Phoenix audience showed no sign of doubting the validity of the genuine article.