Venue: Santa Monica Civic Auditorium (Wednesday, Sept. 3)
SANTA MONICA -- Leave it to an enigmatic-after-all-these-years rock legend to play a 50-year-old creaky venue that hasn't been a concert hotspot for quite some time. Back in the 1970s and '80s, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium played host to shows from the Kinks to Queen to the Clash. The sound was never very good.
These days, the sound remains dicey, though one got used to it as Bob Dylan rolled out a two-hour show of the old and the recent. At 67, he can rest on his laurels, but instead he keeps touring and recording.
As always, it all comes down to what he's going to play, how he's going to arrange it and how he'll phrase it. Anyone expecting album re-creations hasn't been following the man these many decades. He's never been an oldies act.
Dressed in a black suit and wide-brim hat and still sporting that pencil-thin mustache, Dylan looked like a western saloon gambler (the Jack of Hearts, anyone?), his backing quintet in matching light brown suits. He stood behind his keyboard, drawing roars whenever he blew a bit of harmonica.
The carnival parading of "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" with its crowd-pleasing refrain of "everybody must get stoned" kicked off the show for the SRO crowd of about 3,500, followed by a raw "It Ain't Me, Babe" and the galloping "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again."
That's the way it went all night, Dylan mining his vast catalog from the '60s, then mixing in songs from 2006's "Modern Times." He skipped a lot of eras, but that's the way the set list rolls.
Dylan's current band -- guitarists Stu Kimball and Denny Freeman, drummer George Recile, bassist Tony Garnier and multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron on viola, banjo, electric mandolin, pedal steel and lap steel -- have been with him for several years, adept at the changes that come with each performance. The boss lets them cut loose at times, though they never stray from the core of his songs, even in new guises.
The grooves were steady and jumping, too. There was the tale-spinning of "Mississippi," the Oscar-winning, caustic "Things Have Changed" from "The Wonder Boys" soundtrack and more classics, such as a ramshackle "I Don't Believe You" (She Acts Like We Have Never Met) and the ever-biting "Ballad of a Thin Man."
A boogie-pumped "Highway 61 Revisited" channeling the spirit of John Lee Hooker revved up the crowd, while the more recent "Thunder on the Mountain" closed out the main set. He came back with the signature "Like a Rolling Stone" and a revamped yet still-ominous "All Along the Watchtower."
The audience ranged from those old enough to collect Social Security to fans in their '20s, obviously thrilled to experience an American icon -- and at a place that hosted the Academy Awards, to boot.
1. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
2. It Ain't Me, Babe
3. Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again
5. Things Have Changed
6. Spirit on the Water
7. Rollin' and Tumblin'
8. Tryin' to Get to Heaven
9. I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)
10. Ballad of a Thin Man
11. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
12. Beyond the Horizon
13. Highway 61 Revisited
14. Nettie Moore
15. Thunder on the Mountain
16. Like a Rolling Stone
17. All Along the Watchtower