Dylan rains out

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Maybe it was the rain.

There was a dampness about Bob Dylan’s Oct. 17 Haas Pavilion show. Not only was the audience wet from the torrential downpour that day, but Dylan and his band played like they sat all day under a wet blanket.

Or perhaps that comes off too strongly. A simpler way to say it would be that Dylan had an off night. Being the icon of an entire generation and a specific era isn’t easy work, you know. But even when he’s having an off-night, Dylan can still get the people in a packed 11,877-seat venue up and dancing.

As the tunes went, Dylan played it safe. While this was frustrating for devout fans, most people at the show seemed to be enjoying the set. Some highlights included “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven,” “Blind Willie McTell,” and a rearranged version of “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” The best song of the evening was most likely “Boots of Spanish Leather,” which the band played with delicacy and seriousness-something the band is known for doing quite well.

Perhaps anticipating the dampened mood of the audience, Dylan got “Forever Young” out of the way early. But even with the crowd-pleasing song being so high up on the set list, the band played sluggishly until about six songs in. Also on the less-than-par list was the classic “Desolation Row,” which had lost much of its punch and served for more than one person as “the song I can go and get my nachos during.”

Even the encore seemed weak. Consisting of “Like a Rolling Stone” and “All Along the Watchtower,” the songs were definitely crowd favorites, but when Dylan and his band, which are capable of multiple encores, left the stage after two numbers, certainly some people left feeling cheated.

It should be noted that watching Bob Dylan in 1964 is completely different from watching him in 2004. Not that any of us can travel back in time, but the myriad of baby boomers at the show could attest to the fact that things have changed, in more ways than one. Armed with his eyeliner, finest Hank Williams suit, and his oh-so Vincent Price mustache, Dylan has completely wiped away the cool-cat folk singer image he flaunted in his 20’s.

As musical attributes go, Dylan sings like he’s been gargling with small rocks for the past 20 years. The grizzled voice works well for him, but when layering it on top of a fake cornpone-twang accent, the man is nearly incomprehensible. Still, it is an entertaining voice to listen to, and is complimented nicely by a band steeped in country rock know-how, peddle steel and all.

And let’s not forget about Bob’s trusty keyboard. For the past two to three years, Dylan has foregone playing his main instrument, the guitar, and has taken on tickling the plastic ivories. Whether he is aware of it or not, Dylan’s instrument of choice is consistently mixed down during the live shows. This is most likely because, when the Casio keyboard-like plink-plunk sound comes through, you can noticeably hear that he is not the world’s best pianist.

Other gimmicks include the continual appearance of Oscar (as in Academy Award). Since Dylan won Best Original Song in 2000 for “Things Have Changed,” the little statuette has been proudly displayed on stage for all to see, much like a “Where’s Waldo?” book for true Dylan fans.

And then there’s the “Bob Dance”. When Dylan gets excited and really starts feeling the groove, he’ll shuffle out from behind his keyboard and head for center stage. Once there, he freezes and points both arms, locked at the elbows, to one guitarist or another. This dance has occasionally been described as a “where did I park my car? Oh, it’s over there? No, over there!” dance.

Though his eccentricities are excusable, a tired performance is nothing to sneeze at. Perhaps time is catching up with the sexagenarian. Perhaps it is time to take an extended break from the Never Ending Tour (which has been going since 1988). Or more likely, perhaps the band just needs to stay out of the rain before a show.