Bob Dylan Persists, Triumphs at Roseland Ballroom

The singer's New York show October 20 showcased, at once, both age and timelessness

Bob Dylan.
Frank Micelotta/Getty Images
December 15, 1994

When Bob Dylan finally took the stage it was with about as much ceremony as a roadie who mistakes the stage door for the bathroom. Sporting the prototypical black suit, Dylan evoked several of his own past incarnations, from outlaw to prophet, from preacher to "the man in the long black coat." But as he began to perform, the anonymity was swept aside, and he was once again the original troubadour – reinventing his songs in the image of the moment.

Dylan's voice carried his musical lines and wry turns of phrase as well as the irrevocable weight of age, fatigue and substance abuse. Yet the concert remained a remarkable tribute to Dylan's resilience and continued relevance. His songs have penetrated culture so deeply as to become lore. Like legend, Dylan's lore has been absorbed and recycled yet has retained its identity. Backed by a superlative ensemble, Dylan rolled through history – his own and ours. He took center stage both as singer and as performer, playing electric lead guitar on "Jokerman" and "Positively 4th Street" In "All Along the Watchtower," a wailing guitar became the howling wind itself, and Dylan's harmonica rhapsodized on the songs about love and love lost.

"Maggie's Farm" took the evening to an even higher level It was flippant and fiery Southern rock. The acoustic "My Back Pages" had a languid reverence that far transcended recent versions. This time, Dylan's knowing, almost confessional voice formed a ghostly counterpoint to his self-confident 1964 original.

How do you top that? Bring Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young onstage for an encore. Guitars in hand, they bunched into a boogie-woogie "Rainy Day Women No. 12 and 35." And they dosed with "Highway 61 Revisited," done as a classic hard-rockin' highway song which – like "Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I'll Go Mine)" brought the past and present together, releasing Dylan into his future.

This story is from the December 15th, 1994 issue of Rolling Stone.

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