Dylan, alive and rockin'

The Ottawa Citizen
MONTREAL -- Bob Dylan's critics used to complain that the man sounded as though he were dying, nose first. Another myth stripped bare.

One more pilgrimage, and this time with feeling. Whether or not a near-death experience galvanizes a man, it works wonders on his fans. Some 4,000 made their way to Montreal's refurbished Jarry Park Tuesday night, to pay tribute to their legend and their memories.

Dylan's decade-long tour was briefly interrupted last spring by an apparently serious heart ailment. Playing out the dream script, he appeared Tuesday night all in undertaker black, an old crow with a bullfrog voice. Against all odds, belying a presence not even the most blinded fan could describe as robust (not like a Daltrey or a Jagger), he was not merely undead. He lives (though media photographers weren't allowed to capture the moment).

His appearances always raise a question about how much of what he does is an accident of songbook and legend, and how much is living art. From the opening Absolutely Sweet Marie on, virtually all were classics rendered as ragged, leathery rock and folk songs. Bob Dylan, crowd pleaser.

Naturally, he never adressed the issue in words. There wasn't going to be a speech. Naturally, certain phrases of lyric took on added weight.

"I seen better days but who has not" and "I know something only dead men know" from Silvio. "Me, I'm still out on the road headin' for another joint" from Tangled Up In Blue. The ancient Cocaine lament, pointedly crackling, and the Blind Willie McTell blues ode. Dylan played virtually every guitar lead, sang emphatically in the lye-rinsed voice, and kept the radical reworkings to a minimum.

Mr. Tambourine Man was outfitted in mariachi, but most was played straight to the delight of the crowd.

By the second encore of It Ain't Me, Babe, the biblical, or Boblical references were tumbling over themselves. So let it be said that he rolled the stone away, with few doubters.

Opening act Ani DiFranco played big guitar with a larger soul. Her music remains an open-ended neo-folk, her chords plucked as tautly as if on a banjo. When she sang "I care less and less about what people think" in Dilate, a thrill ran up the aisles.

It was a night full of portent and promise.

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