We took four days off from work and the Internet for road trips to Berkeley and Santa Barbara to see shows by Bob Dylan, with an opening act by Mavis Staples. Bob gave up guitar playing some years ago, but still plays the grand piano & mouth organ, and has really been concentrating on his singing, which is marvelous. He seemed very comfortable standing at center stage and singing in a loud & confidant voice with clear articulation of the lyrics, especially on the several covers of classic old songs he did in both shows, inspired by the Sinatra renditions of them, and still showing us that he's "as good a singer as Caruso."
In Berkeley one impatient fan cried out with the modern version of the Judas shout during the second half of the show: "Rock & roll!!" Unlike more than fifty years ago in Manchester, it elicited no direct response from Bob, who continued along with his standard set list for this tour. But there was plenty of fine rock & roll, capped off with the final encore, a searing Love Sick, no Soy Bomb this time, and then a big surprise exploding out into the darkness of the final applause, the instrumental portion of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird," with a blazing lead guitar solo to freedom. It was unexpected and brilliant and perhaps some of the longest minutes for Bob, who only got to stand center stage during the big surprise. Through the end of June 2016, it remains as a one-time event, the first time I've ever witnessed a one-time only performance, as far as I can recall.
These were the first two Dylan shows for my wife, who has a great ear for good music. When I played Freewheelin' on her Isuzu stereo as we drove down the road in Thailand, the first Dylan album she ever heard from beginning to end, she burst out in laughter when we got to Bob Dylan's Blues, correctly declaring "He's not singing, he's talking!" At the Santa Barbara Bowl, she leaned over near the end of Spirit On the Water to whisper in my ear, "He talk a lot!" Impeccable observation once again. After the show she voiced surprise that he didn't talk during the show, concluding that he did all his talking with his songs.
One of my favorite things at a Dylan show is to sit near someone who is seeing their first ever Dylan show, to be able to witness their reactions. In Santa Barbara it was a pretty young girl in her early twenties with long black hair and a short thin frame in tight jeans, perhaps one hundred pounds at most, in the row right in front of us, four rows back from the front of the stage. At intermission she apologized to those around us for standing and dancing during the songs. "But I can't help it. It's probably the only chance in my life to be able to see Bob Dylan perform in person!" I told her I didn't mind in the least and she should just enjoy the moment. I was very pleased that she seemed to be very familiar with ALL the songs and when the first few bars of Blowin' in the Wind were played, after a violin introduction (!), she let out a loud squeal; it was clearly the song she had been hoping for! Surely it is sounds like that, that keep Dylan out on the road, fulfilling his destiny, and once again ensuring that one more person will never have to say, "I never got to see Bob Dylan perform."