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Concert Reviews:
Bob Dylan is fresh, challenging at the Fox Theatre

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Wednesday, November 1, 2017

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DETROIT -- It's safe to say Bob Dylan fans are finally getting it.

For years -- at this point decades, even -- the rock 'n' roll bard and bona fide icon has frustrated those checking out his concerts with drastic rearrangements of his songs and vocal deliveries of varying clarity. He's become something of a buyer-beware proposition; If you want to hear faithful renditions of his 50-years-plus of favorites, you'll likely be disappointed, but if your mind is open enough to appreciate artistic free will, you'll be rewarded with a different experience every time.

The latter was certainly the case on Wednesday night, Nov. 1, at the Fox Theatre, but this time the audience ratio was tilted more noticeably than ever in Dylan's favor. His tidy hour-and-45-minute set was given rapt attention and reverent reception, fitting for the sturdy renditions of most of the 20 songs Dylan and his five-piece band delivered. Not everything worked, of course, but on the whole there were plenty of winning fresh looks at one of popular music's richest canons, a testament to the strength of Dylan's songwriting as a facile, open-to-interpretation tool.

In a perverse kind of irony, too, Dylan played nothing from his born-again period of 1979-81, even though he's releasing a new box set from that period on Friday, Nov. 3. Instead he let opening act Mavis Staples carry the night's spiritual weight during her high-octane 45-minute opening set, her voice and ample personality still wonders at 78 years old.

Dylan, 76, and company trooped on to the sepia glow of seven Klieg lights rimming the back of the stage, and his 2000 Oscar sitting on an equipment case near his piano, and shuffled into a deceptively offhanded "Things Have Changed," with Dylan -- sporting a leather jacket, black paints with a yellow side stripe and white boots -- declaring, "Don't get up, gentlemen, I'm only passing through." That and the closing "Ballad Of A Thing Man" bookended the night with pointed political statements, while in-between Dylan switched between uptempo Americana and selections from his recent recordings of pop standards, delivering the latter crooner-style as he cradled a microphone, still attached to the stand, at center stage.

That recent infatuation has, in fact made Dylan and better, and certainly clearer, singer, even above the shuffles of "Highway 61 Revisited," "Summer Days" and "Pay In Blood." He and the band shifted "Tryin' To Get To Heaven" into a trancey, ambient mood that complemented its sturdy melody, while "Early Roman Kings" was treated as a taut blues and "Thunder On The Mountain" was dressed up with garage rock grit. "Desolation Row" was another highlight, as was Dylan's performance of Yves Montang's "Autumn Leaves," while "Blowin' In The Wind" sounded fresh in a high-and-lonesome treatment spiced by Charlie Sexton's guitar solos.

About the only thing that didn't really work was "Tangled Up In Blue," a classic on its umpteenth arrangement -- and this time one that felt a bit random and unfocused. But it was an exception, and a stumble that was certainly forgotten over the course of the show. Dylan did what he's been doing for years, and on Wednesday the Fox crowd not only knew what it was getting into but reveled in the idiosyncrasies.

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