Bob Dylan: The Troubadour Plays Mobile – A Concert Review

Concert review: Bob Dylan, The Rough & Rowdy Ways World Wide Tour, Saenger Theatre, Mobile, Alabama, April 7, 2022

Tour Poster, Image via BobDylan.com

Wherever I am, I’m a ’60s troubadour, a folk-rock relic, a wordsmith from bygone days, a fictitious head of state from a place nobody knows.

Bob Dylan, Chronicles: Volume One

Last Thursday—at 8 PM, on March 7th, 2022, in Mobile, Alabama—I saw Bob Dylan in concert for the first time, at the beautiful Saenger Theatre. It was a great show and one I would recommend to any Bob Dylan fan, any folk and folk rock fan, or anyone who wants to see the legend himself, to see the man who has had an immeasurable influence on modern music.

The Mobile Saenger Theatre, Image via ASM Global
The Mobile Saenger Theatre, Image via Mobile.org

I was afraid to go see Dylan previously, fearing his age and the infamous inconsistency of his live performances would hurt my opinion of him. Yet, as he became one of my favorite musical artists, and as he continues to get older (though he still won’t stop touring, this current tour being yet another leg of the resumed “Never Ending Tour,” which first began in 1988 and was only paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic), I knew I must take this chance regardless.

This painting by Madelynne Jones was a gift to me from my wife in 2020

I loved the show. The crowd—the majority of which was Boomers, then Gen Xers, with several Millennials (which me and the friends with whom I attended the show are), but no Zoomers that I could see—responded well too, with a good balance of respectfulness and rowdiness for such a man. The respectfulness came in the form of a house-wide attentiveness to Dylan, even from the people who did not know many of the songs. The rowdiness came usually in the best form, excited hootin’ and hollerin’, especially when Bob sang lyrics like, “Kick your shoes off, do not fear,/And bring that bottle over here” (“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”), or, “Black rider, black rider, hold it right there,/The size of your cock will get you nowhere” (“Black Rider”). “Black Rider” was a hit among the new songs with the rowdy crowd; I even heard one very casual Dylan fan, while we were all filing out after the concert, comment, “I really liked that ‘Black Rider’ song.” Whether they caught what Mr. Dylan meant in his songs doesn’t matter much if they reflect on them later because they enjoyed them there.

I’m sure Bob would prefer the rowdiness. Two old hippies beside me were too respectful; they didn’t enjoy the show. “He didn’t play any of his old protest songs,” one complained to me after the concert.

“This is just that new and improved Dylan,” sneered the other.

“He didn’t even play any of his ’60s songs!” Which was not true, since he played three of those.

The venue was filled, a packed house, shoulder-to-shoulder in fact. Many folks did seem confused. Another lady who looked to be in her 70s asked me, “Did you know even half of those songs?”

“Yes, I know all of them,” I told her. She was surprised.

Dylan mostly played his love songs, Christian songs, and Rough & Rowdy Ways tracks, and he even, on some of the songs, especially “Gotta Serve Somebody,” changed the lyrics. Which is perfect for me! I do like many of his “protest” songs too, though.

April 7, 2022, Mobile, Alabama, Saenger Theatre, Set List:

  1. “Watching the River Flow” from Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II (1971)
  2. “Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I’ll Go Mine)” from Blonde on Blonde (1966)
  3. “I Contain Multitudes” from Rough & Rowdy Ways (2020)
  4. “False Prophet” from Rough & Rowdy Ways (2020)
  5. “When I Paint My Masterpiece” from Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II (1971)
  6. “Black Rider” from Rough & Rowdy Ways (2020)
  7. “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” from John Wesley Harding (1967)
  8. “My Own Version of You” from Rough & Rowdy Ways (2020)
  9. “Crossing the Rubicon” from Rough & Rowdy Ways (2020)
  10. “To Be Alone with You” from Nashville Skyline (1969)
  11. “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)” from Rough & Rowdy Ways (2020)
  12. “Gotta Serve Somebody” from Slow Train Coming (1979)
  13. “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You” from Rough & Rowdy Ways (2020)
  14. “Melancholy Mood” from Fallen Angels (2016)
  15. “Mother of Muses” from Rough & Rowdy Ways (2020)
  16. “Goodbye Jimmy Reed” from Rough & Rowdy Ways (2020)
  17. “Every Grain of Sand” from Shot of Love (1981)

One of my favorite verses on Rough & Rowdy Ways is the last verse from “My Own Version of You.” I consider the first few lines some of the most important on the album, though I’ve seen very few really talking about them, either online or in person. During those lines, the band emphasized these specific words more than any others by dropping out, before banging back in.

I can see the history of the whole human race.
It’s all right there.
It’s carved on your face.
Should I break it all down?
Should I fall on my knees?
Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
Can you tell me please?
Stand over there by the cypress tree
Where the Trojan women and children were sold into slavery
Long before the first Crusade,
Way back before England or America were made.
Step right into the burning hell
Where some of the best-known enemies of mankind dwell.
Mr. Freud with his dreams.
Mr. Marx with his ax.
See the raw hide lash rip the skin from their backs.

Bob Dylan, “My Own Version of You”
Bob Dylan, Milwaukee, 2021, Image via JamBase/Twitter/Nate A.C.

Bob wrapped up the show with “Every Grain of Sand,” one of his best songs, one of my favorites. The way he performed it, you could tell it encapsulates everything he’s about at this stage. He sang more on “Every Grain of Sand” than he had on any of the previous tunes, and both his voice and piano playing took on a greater passion.

I hear the ancient footsteps
Like the motions of the sea.
Sometimes I turn there’s someone there,
Other times it’s only me.
I am hanging in the balance
Of a perfect, finished plan
Like every sparrow fallen,
Like every grain of sand.

Bob Dylan, “Every Grain of Sand”

In this era, Bob’s voice has been better previously as far as singing goes, but I like that he has settled into a gravelly growl (not a snarl though) that works even better for him at this point. He was loud too, as was his excellent band, professional but raucous when they needed to be. Even if you don’t see the show for Dylan, his band is worth your time. The arrangements and performances leaned into Bob’s folk rock, honky tonk, old country, and hillbilly influences and sides, as well as touches of Dylan’s Frank Sinatra obsession.

Bob sat behind a piano to play (not very well to be honest, although I did recognize the honky tonk pianist aesthetic) and sing the whole concert. Behind and above him hung blood red theater drapes and curtains. Bob and the band played on a stage whose translucent floor shone white, yellow, and red. This is the same setup they have been using in every city.

A few times, Dylan rose to tease the crowd, standing at a mic in his Western suit and granny hair, hands on his hips, squinting into the audience like Clint Eastwood. Then he’d shuffle back to his piano without a word. This riled up the crowd every time. The only time he spoke was to introduce the band, and although he sang pretty clearly, and projecting, when he spoke only the band members’ names were not mumbled.

In my case, I also could not quite make out the band members’ names, so I had to look them up at JamBase and Wikipedia:

  • Bob Dylan: Vocals, piano, and harmonica
  • Bob Britt: Rhythm and lead acoustic and electric guitar
  • Charley Drayton: Drums and percussion
  • Tony Garnier: Bass guitar and double bass
  • Donnie Herron: Steel guitar, mandolin, and violin/fiddle
  • Doug Lancio: Rhythm and lead acoustic and electric guitar

Britt, Garnier, and Herron also played on the Rough & Rowdy Ways album, but Drayton and Lancio are new band members.

Rough & Rowdy Ways Album Art

This is “The Rough and Rowdy Ways World Wide Tour.” If you like the Rough & Rowdy Ways album, you’ll like the concert. Bob won’t play all his hits, though he does do some of them.

Dylan doesn’t necessarily need to play just his hits, as most “legacy acts” may need to do. Rough & Rowdy Ways, Dylan’s 39th studio album, released in the summer of 2020 to both critical and popular acclaim. It contained his first song, “Murder Most Foul,” to top any US Billboard chart. It was the best-selling album in the US the week it debuted (or second best, depending on how one counts the sales)—even though it had to compete with the immensely popular hip-hop LP Lil Baby’s My Turn—making Rough & Rowdy Ways Dylan’s highest-charting album on the Billboard 200 in over a decade. It even marked Dylan’s seventh consecutive decade of charting Top 40 albums, making Bob the first artist to accomplish this, and it topped several other Billboard charts as well and for further weeks. Perhaps more importantly, Dylan is obviously proud of Rough & Rowdy Ways, based on how much of it he is performing live.

On this tour, Dylan continues his education on the history of modern music, the history of civilization, and a classical understanding of both. As for me, I highly recommend both the concert and the education.

Just make sure you arrive before time. Dylan comes on at exactly the appointed time (and he rarely stays for an encore). That was 8 PM at the show I attended. If you arrive soon after time, his rules are that you are not allowed in until the second song. I know this because my friends and I, along with several other concertgoers, had to listen to the first two songs through the doors to the Saenger’s balcony after arriving less than five minutes late!

Bob Dylan could easily identify with George Strait’s 2008 sentiments on “Troubadour”: “I was a young troubadour when I rode in on a song, and I’ll be an old troubadour when I’m gone.”

I ain’t no false prophet,
I just know what I know.
I go where only the lonely can go.

Bob Dylan, “False Prophet”
Image from Bob Dylan’s Shadow Kingdom

4 thoughts on “Bob Dylan: The Troubadour Plays Mobile – A Concert Review

  1. Richard Soucie

    Hi Ethan,

    This was one the best Dylan reviews I’ve read in a long time. As someone seeing Dylan live for the first time you hit on all the right points. I’ve been seeing Dylan since the late 70’s and I’m one of the people that loves that he rearranges his songs constantly, is always reinventing himself even in his 80’s and plays what he wants when he wants to. He’s not an oldies act and thats what keeps him relevant. If people want to hear the greatest hits that sound “just like the record” they should go see the Beach Boys or some tribute act. Anyway..great job!

    Best Wishes,

    Rich

  2. Pingback: Ethan’s Appearance on the Pod Dylan Podcast – E.D.

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