Bob Dylan, in a moment of scant vocal clarity, started to sing the fourth verse of his 1997 song “Love Sick.”
“Sometimes the silence can be like the thunder/Sometimes I want to take to the road and plunder.”
The line made perfect sense for the enlivened audience at Columbus’ Palace Theatre. Dylan, clad in a white suit and black pants with a single white vertical stripe, had not yet spoken a word directly to the audience nor would he. But there he stood, at 76 years old, playing songs old and new, covers and originals, to those who braved the lashing stormy weather outside.
Dylan let the songs speak for him and his band which never missed a sixteenth note. Sitting behind a piano or singing into a standing mic on the other side of the stage, the American icon reflected on the autumn of his life. With standards like “Autumn Leaves,” “September of My Years” and “Why Try to Change Me Now,” Dylan used lyrics of others to delve into his personal emotional territory.
But a rendition of his own “Trying to Get to Heaven” — also from 1997’s Time Out of Mind — served as a thesis encompassing all of the previous songs accepted an advanced age. Following the final notes, the crowd stood in applause, but Dylan, in the darkness of the stage, only prepared the for the next number.
Along with meditations on mortality, Dylan continued his career long proclamation of a changing human landscape on Sunday night both personally and in general. He opened the show with a stomping performance of “Things Have Changed” and continued the thread with 2001’s “Honest With Me” and a cover of Tony Bennett’s “Once Upon A Time.” The old gives way to the new and situations improve or dissolve.
Dylan’s band resembled the standard rock group with the inclusion of a steel pedal guitar player, who breezily soundtracked the slower covers to perfection. None of the other players sung backup vocals, letting Dylan’s voice be the only one heard. But they played like professionals underneath several massive hanging lights that mimicked day and night, giving off the illusion that several days had passed since the concert began and concluded.
In contrast to the soulful, enunciated voice of opener Mavis Staples, Dylan delivered his classic tonality in hoarse but mostly understandable singing. Selective of his Nobel Prize-winning back catalogue, he only played around four or five songs from his early career — most of the setlist was recording in the last 20 years.
Chugging blues renditions of “Tangled up in Blue” and “Desolation Row” exuded Dylan’s signature folk rock feel sans harmonica. But his two-song encore of the hopeful “Blowin’ in the Wind” and the cynical “Ballad of a Thin Man,” nearly indistinguishable from the studio version, capped off the night at a high point.
Since the first time I heard “Blowin’ in the Wind,” the lyrics “How many years can some people exist/Before they’re allowed to be free” resonated with me at a deep level, and Dylan probably banked on that assumption for everyone when he sung them live 54 years after the song’s release. It was a powerful moment, even if it didn’t match the sparseness of the original recording.
Uproarious cheers filled the theatre when Dylan joined his band for a final recognition of the audience at that stop of his Never Ending Tour, still without uttering a word or even bowing. In front of me, a white-haired man with a flip phone defied the no-photo policy to snap a photo of Dylan on stage. Parents clapped with their children, who would not fully comprehend the importance of Bob Dylan until life later showed them.
As the stage went dark, Dylan and his band exited stage left while the rest of us headed back into the storm.
Luke Furman is a senior studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Do you listen to Bob Dylan? Let Luke know by tweeting him @LukeFurmanLog or emailing him firstname.lastname@example.org.