Apprehensive - but eager - fans

Despite their uncertainty, none of the diehard Dylan fans would even think of giving up the chance to see the master in action in Israel.

Bob Dylan 521 (photo credit: courtesy)
Bob Dylan 521
(photo credit: courtesy)
It may be one of the most anticipated concerts of the year, but Bob Dylan’s show on Monday night also holds the potential to be one of the most disappointing – or at least challenging – events in recent memory.
Unlike with previous legends who have recently graced Tel Aviv’s stages – like Paul McCartney or Elton John, who offered up pleasing sing-along career overviews of their greatest hits replete with repeated salutations to the crowd about how great it was to be in Israel, or Leonard Cohen, who one-upped them by giving the crowd the Priestly Benediction – the audience on Monday night will be lucky to get a “thank you” or “good evening,” never mind a “Shalom,” from the tight-lipped contrarian.
“Of course he’s not going to acknowledge he’s in Israel; why should he?” said Jerusalem-based tour guide Jonathan Duitch, a longtime Dylan follower. “If anything, as a perverse measure, you can count on him playing one or two songs you can consider being ‘born again’ – it’s nothing to do with specifically where he’s at spiritually, it’s just to make sure that he doesn’t do what he’s expected to do.”
Dylan’s penchant for confounding expectations is something that can ultimately be rewarding for fans if they are in the right mind-set, according to Michael Gilmoure, the Canadian author of The Gospel According to Bob Dylan.
“I would recommend to anybody going to see Dylan to let him be creative on stage. He’ll reinvent the songs musically and lyrically right in front of you,” he said.
“You may like ‘Blowing in the Wind,’ but it will sound dramatically different when you hear it now. Just take it for what it is.”
Notes Gilmoure, “Other bands will perform the songs exactly as they’re recorded. I saw U2 a couple nights ago and it was like that – which is great. But with Dylan, there’s something different going on. The last time I saw him, he got halfway through ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ before most of the audience realized what he was singing.”
That may prove to be frustrating for local Dylan fans, who haven’t had the chance to see their hero since his last show in Israel in 1993, or before that in 1987.
Already then, those shows drew mixed reactions from attendees who complained that his voice was shot, he performed the songs haphazardly and he wasn’t emotionally invested in the material. In 2011, the same claims are valid, and the ensuing years have not helped his voice in the least.
“By and large, if the Israeli public didn’t enjoy his shows in 1987 with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers because they were expecting the Messiah to come, then they’re surely not going to like his 2011 show – and the ’87 shows were amazing!” said Duitch. “So anyone who’s still thinking of the way Dylan was in 1963 is set up for a huge loss – even in 1987 he wasn’t like that.”
Another potential problem is the venue. Dylan’s music and performance is best suited for theaters and more intimate locales than a huge soccer shed like Ramat Gan Stadium. Even with the impeccable sound, lighting and video system that accompanied Cohen and John, some of the familiarity of Dylan’s music is bound to be a victim of the band’s need to fill the stands with upbeat rock and blues guitar clichés and roadhouse jamming.
“Ramat Gan doesn’t seem to be the proper venue for him,” said Rich Rubin, a Dylan bootleg collector from Ma’aleh Adumim. “He shines in small theaters. A lot of it will depend on the sound system. His voice still has a lot of depth and feeling to it, but you have to be able to pick up the nuances. If it doesn’t work, it will sound like barking.”
“Let’s face it, it’s really hard to listen to him sometimes.
He doesn’t have much of a voice,” said Dylan aficionado Rabbi Chaim Richman of the Temple Institute, who last saw the artist in Haifa in 1993. “I’m somewhat worried myself whether I’m even going to recognize what he’s singing. And if I don’t recognize something, it’s pretty bad.”
Despite their apprehensions, none of the diehard Dylan fans would even think of giving up the chance to see the master in action in Israel one more time.
“I’ve discovered there’s a big difference between listening to a recording of him live and seeing him live,” said Rubin. “There’s something electric about seeing him – you really see that person from 30 years ago. I’ve heard some of the shows he’s done recently, and there’s a lot of energy and excitement there. He seems to be in a good place now.”
Added Duitch, “If you listen to some of his shows from China [where he performed this spring] there are one or two great songs each show – ‘Simple Twist of Fate’ is absolutely stunning.”
Harvey Brooks, the bass player who accompanied Dylan on Highway 61 Revisited in 1965 and enjoyed an illustrious rock career before moving to Israel in 2009, said he wouldn’t miss the show for anything.
“I think it will be a great show – the thing about Bob is that he’s so immediate and spontaneous,” he said. “I think he’ll be inspired by being here in Israel. And he’s got such a wide range of stuff to choose from, it’s hard to go wrong.”