"What the friggin' hell is going on here?," read one fan posting after the set list of Bob Dylan's October 4th show in Seattle was posted on bobdylan.com.
Continuing his Never Ending Tour with mostly arena dates booked through late November, Dylan has charmed crowds with a new level of tongue-in-cheek pomposity, and shocked his longtime fans by performing on piano for the first time since 1966). He's also beautifully reworked politically charged classics, and playing covers of the Rolling Stones, Neil Young and the Warren Zevon.
And not only is Dylan perching the 2000 Academy Award he won for "Things Have Changed" on one of his amps, and hanging a "Beware of Dog" sign on his guitar rack, but after a preview in New York's Buffalo News amused Dylan, he made the bio his stage call. "The poet laureate of rock & roll," says a monitor engineer, introducing Dylan. "The guy who forced folk into bed with rock, who donned makeup in the Seventies and disappeared into a haze of substance abuse, who emerged to find Jesus, who was written off as a has-been in the Eighties . . . and released some of the strongest music of his career in the late Nineties . . . ladies and gentlemen . . . Bob Dylan!"
Song selection has been as unpredictable as ever, but seems to play to current issues both personal and political. Rejuvenated by the powerful backbeat of new drummer George Riceli, Dylan has pounded rhythms on his Yamaha electric-keyboard to multiple Zevon songs, including "Mutineer," "Accidentally Like a Martyr" and "Lawyers, Guns and Money" as a tribute to the ailing songwriter.
On the same night the Stones did "Like a Rolling Stone" in Washington D.C., Dylan offered "Brown Sugar" in Sacramento. He's also played Neil Young's "Old Man" and Van Morrison's "Carrying a Torch," and he's used Don Henley's ode to the dysfunction of the Reagan-era, "The End of the Innocence," as a parable to his feelings about the Bush administration. "O beautiful for spacious skies, but now those skies are threatening," Dylan sang. "They're beating plowshares into swords, for this tired old man we elected king."
Including his own classic protest tunes like "Masters of War," "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," and "Blowin' in the Wind" have been a major part of Dylan's m.o. At Berkeley's Greek Theater, the loudest applause of the night came during 1965's "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," after delivering that timeless line, "Even the President of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked."