As a long-time Dylan fan and 30+-concert veteran, I always look forward to seeing the Bard perform. Further, I am happy to report, he was in great form at the Oklahoma City Civic Center. Bob has never been known as a great singer, and his voice through the years has become more of a growl. But on this night, he seemed to feel good and his voice was clearer than I remember it pre-pandemic.
Opening up with what pass as recent set list standards “Watching the River Flow” and “Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way (and I’ll Go Mine),” the set was rollicking from the get-go. From there, Dylan peppered in some great versions of his latest studio album cuts “I Contain Multitudes” and “False Prophet.” Both songs were solid and well received by Dylan aficionados in the crowd.
A challenge with any Dylan show is that, like most artists with a deep catalog, there are long-time fans that love when deep cuts are played, but on the flipside, there are first timers or those who want a “greatest hits” show. Dylan has been reliably unpredictable over the years, even changing arrangements on familiar tunes. I noticed a few folks in my section of the balcony appearing to get restless, yet they were somewhat placated by the always fun and rocking “When I Paint My Masterpiece,’” which gained fame with the Band’s cover, but then Dylan went back to Rough and Rowdy Ways with “Black Rider.”
This back and forth tennis match between the old and the new continued for the rest of the 82-minute set with Nashville Skyline favorite “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” followed by returning to R&RW’s tunes “My Own Version of You” and one of the highlights for me “Cross the Rubicon.” This song speaks a lot of truth to me about not looking back and dealing head on with the problems one has to face on a daily basis.
“To Be Alone with You” took us back to Nashville Skyline followed by the return to the new with “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)” which always makes me think back to good times and sunsets in that great southernmost point of the United States.
The last six songs of the show were bookended by gospel-era Dylan tunes starting with the iconic, and one of my favorites, “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Of the next four newer songs, they were all from Rough and Rowdy Ways starting with “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to you.” A one-song detour to the 2016 album Fallen Angels featured “Melancholy Mood.” Then, the night was rounded out with two final tunes from Rough and Rowdy Ways“Mother of Muses” and the fun and frisky “Goodbye Jimmy Reed.” The last song was the powerful “Every Grain of Sand” from Dylan’s 1981 album Shot of Love.
I walked away with a smile on my face and for the brief amount of time I was in Bob’s presence; I felt that the world was going to be all right. Bob Dylan showed his Rough and Rowdy Ways in Oklahoma City.
Dylan’s shows today are not for everyone. As I mentioned and as the set list shows, you will not get the greatest hits. Maybe if he is ever convinced to play a Las Vegas residency, he will get back to some of the huge songs, but I doubt it. Bob only seems interested in following the music where it takes him, not where people want him to go. That’s a lesson in and of itself.