Church of your choice

Bob Dylan wows audience in Alumni Arena

On April 7, 2013

  • Bob Dylan performed for 2,097 undergraduate students and 1,846 members of the general public. Associated Press
  • Legendary musician Bob Dylan performed inside UB's Alumni Arena on Friday night as part of an SA-sponsored concert with opening act Dawes. Courtesy of Alberto Cabello

Bob Dylan's "Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie" is a farewell address.

Before legendary folk artist Woody Guthrie died, Dylan visited him as a young musician on a quest for something magical Guthrie had touched and grasped in his own time.

The farewell poem is a long list of gratitude, wonder and appreciation Dylan felt toward Guthrie. Its last lines are especially powerful:

You can either go to the church of your choice

Or you can go to Brooklyn State Hospital

You'll find God in the church of your choice

You'll find Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital

And though it's only my opinion

I may be right or wrong

You'll find them both

In the Grand Canyon

At sundown

On Friday night, as the sun prepared to go down over UB's North Campus, thousands flocked to the church of their choice and waited in line in the still-chilly air of early spring.

Bob Dylan was playing in Alumni Arena.

According to Student Association Communication Director Ned Semoff, 2,097 undergraduate students and 1,846 members of the general public attended the show for a total attendance of 3,943. SA had reserved 4,500 free tickets for undergraduates and 2,000 tickets for the general public.

Alumni Arena was packed with thousands who filed in through the pesky security check into an atmosphere dense with anticipation for Dylan to take the stage.

UB was Dylan's first stop on the current leg of his so-called Never Ending Tour, which will be visiting many universities across the country in the coming months with opening act Dawes.

Dawes, a four-piece band based out of Los Angeles, took the stage on schedule promptly at 7:30 p.m. Dylan shows are known to run like clockwork.

The band played for an hour as fans were still entering the arena, but by the end of their set, they had demanded as much attention as an opening act can expect to garner from an anxious and anticipatory crowd.

Clad in classy, folk-rock hipster attire, the group was most impressive during its songs "Time Spent in Los Angeles" and "When My Time Comes."

With poetic, sometimes Dylan-esque lyrics, and just the right amount of clean distortion, Dawes' tunes were perfect for warming up the crowd. Lead singer/guitarist Taylor Goldsmith was stunning on guitar, playing impressive solos on a few of the songs before a big "thank you" to the fans and an intermission.

Right on schedule at 8:30 p.m., Dylan's band fired up from the darkness.

A roaring crowd squinted to see the legend come into view as a driving blues rhythm came on clean and strong. From a bursting, warm orange glow of stage lights, Dylan emerged in all black wearing his signature Stetson hat.

For the entire show, Dylan and his suited-up band embodied an old-school sense of cool with an aura that glowed in the simple yet sophisticated stage set-up. Dylan himself was reminiscent of a silent movie star cast from the depths of Americana onto a 21st century stage.

Dylan opened his set with his Academy Award winning song "Things Have Changed" from the 2000 film Wonder Boys. Dylan is said to keep his Oscar on stage with him during shows, and what looked like a little golden man could be seen during the performance.

Dylan showed off his moves with a white microphone in hand and shuffled like Elvis with less hip action. His voice was surprisingly easy to understand for the most part.

Although there were times when the lyrics were indecipherable, the all-too-common review of Dylan shows in recent years - that he appears drunk on stage and is unable to string a sentence together - did not apply.

When Dylan let loose with his voice, the band stayed "right on target, so direct," with their playing. The biggest crowd reactions came when Dylan busted out the harmonica, but he did not touch a guitar the entire night.

Junior business major Nick Cognetto saw Bob Dylan last year at Artpark in Lewiston, N.Y. He enjoyed Dylan from a distance at Artpark, but this time around, he was in front and still struggled to hear what Dylan was saying.

"The music was phenomenal and the band was right on, but I still can't hear," Cognetto said. "I appreciate [Dylan] bringing really good music to me, but it was so much more about his band. I appreciated seeing some really great musicians more than anything. It's the influence that Dylan has that adds to that."

Dylan's voice has evolved with his art and years of living on the road - "headed for another joint."

Other great singers, like Billie Holiday, were often criticized as changes in their voices affected the sound of their classic songs. But in most cases, including Dylan's, these changes create an authenticity that reflects the hard living that comes with years in the business.

"It was very bluesy; the whole thing was great," said sophomore communication major Paolo Antypas. "His voice is extremely authentic, and I am so glad I saw this."

Dylan migrated to and from the piano throughout the show - standing and sitting - but he continued to rock and sway, move and groove and smile for the entire performance. He showed an enthusiasm and vitality rare amongst men of his age in any walk of life, let alone one that requires performing for thousands of people, night after night.

In many ways, Dylan proved his toughest critics wrong with his actions. He had no explaining to do. By doing his thing, he answered all the questions. No press, no interviews and no autographs after the show. There was no verbal greeting from him as he took the stage, and he left without even saying a simple "goodbye."

But there was grace in his presence, and his gratitude for the audience was strongly felt without words of thanks. Everything Dylan had to say about himself radiated from the performance and his music.

His newest material from the 2012 album Tempest was well represented by the performance, and he revisited old classics such as "Tangled Up In Blue," "Highway 61 Revisited," "Visions of Johanna" and "Ballad Of A Thin Man."

The familiarity of his classics was felt with new emotion, and the new songs carried a soulful strength that kept the still audience hanging on every word.

Paul Bergwall, 60, of Rochester, has seen Dylan perform 27 times, and he felt this performance was refreshing.

"I'm not sure it was a crowd-pleasing concert because he didn't do a lot of the old stuff," Bergwall said. "What was refreshing was all the newer stuff. This was a great show."

Bergwall's only complaints were about the long wait to get through the metal detectors at the entrance. He claimed to have waited for over an hour to get into the show. Luckily, he had his 25-year-old daughter, Hannah, to keep him company on the way in.

Hannah has seen Dylan 17 times, first in Rochester when she was only 11. Her dad thinks it's important for young people to have a chance to see Dylan, "the most important living American artist that we have."

"I guess he means a lot to me because he means a lot to [me and my dad]," Hannah said. "He's an artist and he's awesome and everything, but I like going to see Bob Dylan with my dad."

Dylan finished the show at 10:00 p.m. sharp.

He left the stage with a show of hands and returned for his encore before leaving for good, disappearing into the darkness.

Those who attended the show had a chance to touch Dylan's magic and grasp it before it was gone with a farewell of gratitude, wonder and appreciation.



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