For two guys who have so much in common, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon have nothing in common, at least onstage. One is a mercurial dynamo who regularly wrestles art from chaos; the other is a singer-song-writer of almost academic precision, a world-class pro with an enduring world-music streak.
On their tour, the pair are alternating headlining honors, and Simon is joined by up to eleven players as he runs though an impressive retrospective that leans heavily on the groundbreaking Graceland and its less-popular follow-up, The Rhythm of the Saints.
After Simon’s hour and a half, Dylan ambled out and joined him for a wild mini-set that was half-historic, half-train wreck. The odd couple began with a loose tag team of “The Sound of Silence,” with Dylan decidedly not mimicking Art Garfunkel’s choirboy majesty. Then, our greatest living songwriters teamed up on covers – Johnny Cash‘s “I Walk the Line” and Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” – before taking on a misguided but endearing reggae-tinted “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”
On his own, Dylan has rarely sounded better; he was fully engaged, savoring his towering words and actively enjoying himself, perhaps a testament to his great backing band. Still, it’s time the hard-touring Dylan mix it up. Though “All Along the Watchtower” and “Highway 61 Revisited” always connect, the crowd was never more enthralled than during a breathtaking version of “Not Dark Yet.” But everything Dylan did play was handled with care, including the last encore — a life-affirming rave-up of “Not Fade Away,” which was more Grateful Dead than Buddy Holly. At century’s end, it’s worth honoring our surviving giants, particularly the ones who remain far too vital to fade away.
This story is from the August 5th, 1999 issue of Rolling Stone.