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Concert Reviews:
Bob Dylan, Mark Knopfler make a winning tandem at the Fox Theatre
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

DETROIT – Anyone who’s been paying attention for the past three decades or so knows this about Bob Dylan in concert; you’ll hear songs you know and love, but they probably won’t sound the way you know and love them.

Fight that and you’re bound to be disappointed. Embrace it, and seeing Dylan live, craggy voice and all, is a rich experience that redefines some of the most seminal music of our time – especially on nights when he’s on.

That was certainly the case at Dylan’s show Tuesday night, Nov. 13, at the Fox Theatre – a more intimate and appropriate venue than the originally scheduled Palace of Auburn Hills. Any concern about how engaged he might be was dismissed by the third song, an energetic romp through “Things Have Changed” – one of four songs performed with opener Mark Knopfler guesting on guitar – when Dylan took center stage, harmonica in hand, smiling and moving like a regular song and dance man. It was hardly Mick Jagger or Bruce Springsteen, but by Dylan standards it was a welcome display of energy that set a tone for the rest of the show.

With his 2001 Academy Award perched on his piano and without his usual hat until late in the show, Dylan led his crack five-piece band on a 15-song, 95-minute troll through his 50-year-plus catalog, playing with both the arrangements and phrasing of some of his most iconic songs. He rasped “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” over a slightly New Orleans-flavored backing and added more dynamic vocal accents to “Tangled Up in Blue” – even a semi-scream towards the end of the song. “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” took on a waltzing gait, “Highway 61 Revisited” was even more aggressive than its recorded counterpart and “Mississippi” turned into a dark blues shuffle.

The 71-year-old Dylan eschewed guitar completely, using his piano as the fulcrum for the arrangements on most of the songs, though his solo during “Thunder on the Mountain” showed his limitations on the instrument. But he did manage to keep things rolling throughout the show, and a closing run of “Ballad of a Thin Man” – for which Dylan finally donned his chapeau – “Like a Rolling Stone,” “All Along the Watchtower” and a jazz-tinged country take on “Blowin’ in the Wind” sent the Fox crowd home feeling like it had a fresh look at Dylan’s finest work.

Knopfler, meanwhile, was the evening’s not-so-secret weapon. His stint with Dylan highlighted the headliner’s set – particularly on “Beyond Here Lie’s Nothin’ “ – while the 75-minute set with his own nimble seven-piece band was just as good, if not even a touch better. Flaunting his virtuostic guitar skills, but never at the expense of the ensemble, Knopfler focused on his solo career and especially ,his latest album, “Privateering,” with only one Dire Straits song, “So Far Away,” during the encore.

But an audience tolerant of Dylan’s idiosyncratic musical machinations was certainly open to hearing new and less familiar material from Knopfler, especially sharp performances of “What It Is,” “Song For Sonny Liston” and new tracks such as “Corned Beef City,” “Hill Farmer’s Blues” and “Kingdom of Gold.” It was a set worthy of a headliner itself, so here’s hoping Knopfler and company come back on their own to delve deeper into his rich catalog.



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