Bob Dylan danced. Not a whole lot of boogie-woogie-oogie-ing, for sure. But early in his revelatory and rollicking Tuesday set at the Verizon Center, Dylan really did bounce around onstage and do some deep knee bends right on the beat during “Things Have Changed.”
Perhaps the moves were meant to impress the younger but far more staid opening act, former Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler, who was sitting in with the headliner’s band and adding some Mark-Knopfler-sounding guitar licks when the headliner grabbed a microphone and moved it on over.
Or maybe Dylan was just particularly jazzed by the theme of the song: The guy’s been renowned for reworking his music ever since adding electric guitars to the mix at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. And at 71, he still treasures his artistic unpredictability.
“Things Have Changed” was one of the few numbers performed on this night that was written in the 2000s. Most of the 90-minute set had him behind a grand piano banging out rousing renditions of some of the best-known material from his back pages, meaning some of the best-known songs ever written by anybody. But he and his fabulous backing quintet provided musical arrangements so unfamiliar and so unlike the original versions that it was often hard to even identify which title he was performing. Things have indeed changed.
Dylan’s giddiness and energy were unflagging from first note to last. “Blowing in the Wind” had the bassline and overall musical feel of a generic ’50s AM radio smash. “Like a Rolling Stone” came with guitars as jangly as anything from the Mersey Beat era or even the Byrds catalogue. “Ballad of a Thin Man” was delivered so noisily, when Dylan shouted “And you don’t know what it is,” the “you” could well have referred to most of the audience and “it” the song being sung. His revisitation of “Highway 61 Revisited” came in the form of a barrelhouse rocker of the sort you might hear in a French Quarter tavern. That Dylan’s voice is now just below Louis Armstrong’s on the raspy scale made playing name-that-tune even more challenging.
Of all the change-ups Dylan threw at the crowd, the most radical was “Chimes of Freedom.” The tune was an angsty plea for the downtrodden when first released in 1964. But on this night, it was transformed into a bouncy pop waltz and downright feel-good anthem. He sang once more for “the luckless, the abandoned and forsaked” and for “each unharmful, gentle soul misplaced inside a jail,” only this time Dylan seemed to be almost giggling.
Some purists might view such an alteration as sacrilege, akin to da Vinci re-rendering the diners at “The Last Supper” as so many dogs playing poker. But, that’s how Dylan rolls. When things change, he dances.
McKenna is a freelance writer.