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Highway 33 (and 78), Revisited: Bob Dylan at Stabler

Editor’s note: Yes, we know this is late, but better late than never. And besides, it’s Bob Dylan. You know you want to read it!

Words by Steven Capwell and Photos by Laini

On a perfect autumn afternoon in the Lehigh Valley, Bob Dylan zipped up his hoodie, jumped on his bike and and explored the suburbs of Easton and Bethlehem. A stop at a local book store led to the purchase of an armload of DVDs and, thus energized, Mr. Dylan pedaled off to work.

That evening, an apprehensive and appreciative audience at Stabler Arena reaped the benefits of Bob’s Day Out, as the often inconsistent performer that is the Poet Of His Generation, treated us to a spirited, inspired romp through his repertoire. An artist who constantly reinterprets his body of work, Dylan dusted off old favorites and made new favorites out of his most recent material. With a slight change of perspective and a lively, sometimes playful twist, Dylan’s takes on his own oeurve created a most satisfying evening for all.

The show’s opener, “Leopard Pill Box Hat,” was sung with a sly hint of sarcasm reminiscent of the young, cocky Bob and was followed by a fun and straightforward “Don’t Think Twice.” It was looking like a very nice oldies show until Dylan stepped from behind the keyboard, strapped on his guitar and launched into “Things Have Changed.” A strong, menacing beat unleashed a vocal that his younger self could neither have written or sung–a veteran of love and life who offered no apologies, no remorse, no warmth. Dylan’s age has become a part of his art.

We got the hits during the evening. “Simple Twist Of Fate” and “Tangled Up In Blue” were both energetic crowd-pleasers, but Dylan seemed to throw himself into his more recent recordings. “Cold Irons Bound” was a man aware that there were fewer miles ahead than had already passed; “Summer Days” bouncier, but equal parts melancholy and defiant.

The life of the show was not just in the vocals, although they were clear and dynamic, sung not recited. It was the guitar and organ, both played with vitality, grabbing solos from a tremendously tight and driving band. Dylan danced at the organ, and gave the impression of truly enjoying himself and the evening.  He even played the harmonica with TWO HANDS, disdaining the dreaded rack. And he really played it—there were  no wheezing and honking, but coherent, lyrical passages.

“Highway 61 Revisited” was biblical, the opening verse and a blood-red lit backdrop underscoring the road’s ultimate destination.  It was followed by “Workingman’s Blues #2” lyrically timeless and sung as an anthem both for and to the Everyman in the title.

And then came “Ballad Of A Thin Man.” Bathed in a cold, white light, Dyaln stood alone at the microphone, no instruments to hide behind, The Barker, The Jester, The  Imp, contorting his body as he cajoled another willing sucker into The Tent.  Grotesque. Mesmerizing. Poor Mr. Jones doesn’t stand a chance.

It is too dark and cold for the bike.

Steven Capwell is sometimes cranky and sometimes a damn fine harmonica player. He lives in Bethlehem and hails from Catasauqua.