Bob Dylan, Seattle Center's KeyArena, Oct 13 - Iconic Dylan still spares no mystique

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Oct 14 / 2006

By Regina Hackett

The man with no teeth played a motley version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" on the road to the Bob Dylan concert at KeyArena Friday night. Dylan appeals to those who have traveled hard mental miles, but that doesn't mean they sound like him when they sing his songs. He doesn't pluck a guitar like he's stuck in a vat of molasses, and he doesn't sing as if his lyrics are threadbare and might tear from use.

Plenty of people are deaf to Dylan's charms. Personally, I'm off the deep end of positive, not just for the lyrics although the lyrics blaze in my mind, but for the way the lyrics fuse with the thump-loving, polished simplicities of the beat.

When I lie dying, I expect Dylan songs and Richard Pryor standup routines to flash before my eyes, both being formative influences, but even I will admit that Dylan's voice is not about range. It's the perfect instrument for what he wants to convey, the railroad track, kicked in the teeth, romantic mysticism of his down-home sound. Off the back porch of his mind, he sees visions that he sets to music.

Nobody goes to a Dylan concert expecting flash. For a legend, he likes a lean show. Let the Rolling Stones fill sports stadiums with visual bling. Dylan is just as likely to play a country fair with a pickup band.

The band on the current tour rose way above that level. With elegant dexterity and real passion, they manned (all men) drums, multiple guitars, upright bass and keyboards. In soft gray suits and fedora hats, they looked spiffy, but not as chic as the main man in stovepipe black pants, long black jacket and flat black hat.

It has been awhile since I covered concerts, and the press seems to have lost status. I remember prime seats , but everybody carrying a press notebook was marched into the nosebleed section, and (insult to injury) seated on the side from which Dylan faced away. I had to slip onto the main floor to get the full effect, and I can say those lucky people in the front rows were at a different concert.

Even so, Dylan was great. He opened deep in his past with a rousing version of "Maggie's Farm", which he ain't gonna work on no more. It's the anthem of all the sensible people who find themselves hanging out with the deeply weird and have the good sense to get away.

I was thinking about people who don't know the song, what would they think of this inspired mumble. Dylan tore through the lyric fast and with compression, and stretched out instrumentally with the band, polishing the melody.

Dylan's not an artist you can pick up in a minute. You have to sink yourself into his world view and appreciate how it opens up to include all forms of American music, from swing and folk ballads to blues and country, all riding on Chuck Berry's version of rock'n'roll.

You can hear Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" on the bridge of "Thunder on the Mountain" from Dylan's latest album, "Modern Times", a hard-rocking tune that served as his first encore, followed by the tried and true "Rolling Stone" and "All Along the Watchtower".

Besides "Thunder on the Mountain" other songs he played from the new album included a lovely, lilting ballad, "Spirit on the Water", and the deeply surreal masterpiece, "Ain't Talking".

Four decades into my Dylan obsession, I certainly didn't expect to hear any of my more obscure favorites, but in the middle of the concert, he swung into "Tangled Up in Blue", from the late 1970s.

It was stark, stripped down and full of feeling.