Local Current Blog

Bob Dylan at the Orpheum Theatre: Reviews and set lists

Bob Dylan and his band were at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis this week for a three-night stand that began on Tuesday. I attended all three shows; reviews and set list(s) from each night are below.

Tuesday, Nov. 4

The last time Bob Dylan played an election-night show in Minneapolis, the mood was jubilant. It was Nov. 4, 2008, and a celebration was building outside Northrop as President Obama’s election was confirmed. Dylan even surprised the audience by commenting obliquely on the occasion; people heard different versions of whatever it exactly was that Dylan said, but as transcribed by Andrea Swensson (now at the Current) for City Pages, it was, “I was born in 1941. That was the year they bombed Pearl Harbor. I’ve been living in darkness ever since. It looks like things are going to change now.”

If Dylan was disappointed by the Republican tide sweeping over the country as he took the stage six years later—this time at the Orpheum Theatre—it didn’t show in his demeanor. Dancing (a less experienced Dylan-watcher might say “lurching”) across the stage as his crack band ran through a two-hour set, Dylan seemed comfortable and energized at the venue he helped save when he co-owned it from 1979 to 1988. Not that the set list was particularly cheery: it strongly favored Dylan’s most recent, feisty but autumnal, material.

Dylan’s current modus operandi in live shows is to essentially conduct his several band members, who have perfected a sound that my uncle—who accompanied me to the show—accurately described as “almost orchestral.” That’s fitting for Dylan’s newest project, covering songs made famous by Frank Sinatra. Those songs are expected to be the sole material in his forthcoming studio album Shadows in the Night, and as in other recent shows, Dylan closed Tuesday’s encore with a rendition of the Sinatra standard “Stay with Me.”

The Sinatra material—which also includes early single “Full Moon and Empty Arms,” though he didn’t play that last night—has Dylan in full-on croon mode, at odds with the style now he most typically sings in, both on record and in person. As Dylan’s band lays down tracks of satin, Dylan (sitting at a baby grand or standing at center stage) growls over the music in a voice that still bears the legacy of his very early Woody Guthrie influence but now more closely resembles the style of jazz singers like Billie Holiday: vocalists who take liberties with tempo, phrasing, and even the lyrics as they strive for maximum expressiveness. Though Sinatra was never so wild and woolly, Dylan’s interest in the man who helped to reinvent singing for the recording era is less surprising than it might seem.

The material Dylan’s written and recorded over the past couple of decades—and particularly since Time Out of Mind in 1997—is custom-built for his current style, and Tuesday’s set was firmly anchored in this era. Of 19 songs performed, only two were from Dylan’s iconic 1960s era; classic albums like Another Side of Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde were entirely ignored—as were the “Basement Tapes” songs despite the fact that yesterday saw the release of a “complete” six-disc edition of those 1967 sessions.

The 1980s were also—presumably much less to anyone’s disappointment—unrepresented, but Dylan played two of the most beloved songs from 1975’s Blood on the Tracks: “Tangled Up In Blue” and “Simple Twist of Fate.” He tweaked the lyrics of both, as he’s done for decades with the ever-mutable “Tangled.” In one new couplet on “Simple Twist,” Dylan sang, “You should’ve left me back in ’58/ We could’ve avoided this simple twist of fate.”

Taking the stage to the sound of a gong at 8:00, Dylan launched into one of his common openers: the Oscar-winning “Things Have Changed” (from Wonder Boys, 2000), which serves as a sort of late-Dylan manifesto: “People are crazy and times are strange/ I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range/ I used to care, but…things have changed.”

All in all, 13 of last night’s songs came from releases put out in this century, which is especially impressive when you consider that Dylan was 58 when it started. Dylan played over half of his most recent album Tempest (2012), including a set-closing trio of “Scarlet Town,” “Soon After Midnight,” and “Long and Wasted Years.” The latter song, quiet and elegiac on record, was whipped up into a hard-hitting snarl that made it sound like a kiss-off cousin to “Positively 4th Street” and “Idiot Wind.” Even “Soon After Midnight,” a gentle lullaby that earned mid-song applause for a guitar lick that seemed to be interpolated from the Spaniels’ “Goodnight Sweetheart,” received a forceful delivery that underlined its violent lyrics.

Elsewhere in the set, Dylan reinvigorated relatively obscure songs like the elegant “Waiting for You” (from—wait for it—the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood soundtrack) and Together Through Life‘s “Forgetful Heart,” which I singled out for ridicule of its Robert-Hunter-assisted lyrics when I reviewed that album but which Dylan gave a spare and dramatic live reading that inspired me to reconsider my opinion.

In last night’s determinedly now-focused set, the songs that played as familiar chestnuts—in relative terms—were Tempest single “Duquesne Whistle” and Time Out of Mind opener “Love Sick.” The chestnut of chestnuts, of course, was encore opener “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which made Dylan a household name after Peter, Paul and Mary turned it into a hit in 1963. Dylan’s current version of the song is more soul than folk, akin to the version that Stevie Wonder made a hit in 1966. Half a century later, Bob Dylan’s still walking down that long, long road.

Set list
Things Have Changed (Wonder Boys soundtrack, 2000)
She Belongs to Me (Bringing It All Back Home, 1965)
Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ (Together Through Life, 2009)
Workingman’s Blues #2 (Modern Times, 2006)
Waiting for You (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood soundtrack, 2002)
Duquesne Whistle (Tempest, 2012)
Pay in Blood (Tempest)
Tangled Up In Blue (Blood on the Tracks, 1975)
Love Sick (Time Out of Mind, 1997)
[intermission]
High Water (for Charley Patton) (Love and Theft, 2001)
Simple Twist of Fate (Blood on the Tracks)
Early Roman Kings (Tempest)
Forgetful Heart (Together Through Life)
Spirit on the Water (Modern Times)
Scarlet Town (Tempest)
Soon After Midnight (Tempest)
Long and Wasted Years (Tempest)
[encore]
Blowin’ in the Wind (The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963)
Stay with Me (Frank Sinatra cover)

Wednesday, Nov. 5

After Bob Dylan made his only comment from the stage last night (“We’re gonna go away right now, but we’ll be back with ya”) and the lights went up for intermission, I turned to my dad.

“Well,” I said, “so far it’s the same set list as last night.”

I must have sounded disappointed, since Dad defended Dylan. “Hey!” Dad said. “He’s 73! It’s amazing he’s still up there! And dancing!”

Indeed, Dylan was still up there last night, occasionally kicking his leg or tapping his foot as the band ran through precisely the same set—first half, second half, encore—as they had on Tuesday. The biggest changes were a reversion to standard lyrics for “Tangled Up In Blue”; the interpolation of a guitar lick from Ritchie Valens’s “We Belong Together” instead of from “Goodnight Sweetheart” during “Soon After Midnight”; and a different outfit for Dylan (black instead of white)—though not for his band.

The mood at the show was markedly less raucous—maybe because it was no longer opening night, maybe because a number of the audience members were repeat customers like me, and maybe because it was just a quieter crowd—but otherwise things proceeded much the same as on Tuesday.

I generally don’t look at set lists from prior tour stops before seeing a show, since I like to be surprised, but after last night I went to BobLinks.com to look at Dylan’s recent set lists. It turns out that he’s been playing basically the exact same set for all of 2014—which is 72 shows so far, some of which included “All Along the Watchtower” and some of which didn’t include “Spirit on the Water” or “Stay with Me,” but which were otherwise the same songs, in the same order.

I’ll be back tonight, in all likelihood for that 73rd rendition of “Scarlet Town.” See you there?

Set list
Things Have Changed
She Belongs to Me
Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
Workingman’s Blues #2
Waiting for You
Duquesne Whistle
Pay in Blood
Tangled Up In Blue
Love Sick
[intermission]
High Water (for Charley Patton)
Simple Twist of Fate
Early Roman Kings
Forgetful Heart
Spirit on the Water
Scarlet Town
Soon After Midnight
Long and Wasted Years
[encore]
Blowin’ in the Wind
Stay with Me

Thursday, Nov. 6

Last night my girlfriend Dana accompanied me to Bob Dylan’s concert, which reminded me of her test for new movies she’s considering seeing: “Will I enjoy seeing this movie,” she asks herself, “more than I’d enjoy watching The Shining again?” Often, the answer is no.

Would I have enjoyed any other concert in town last night more than seeing Dylan play the same set of songs, with the same arrangements, in the same order, for the third night running? It’s hard to say, but as Dylan’s band went through their paces, I found my thoughts drifting—thinking about the fact that the guy down there in the long coat and black hat was the same guy who changed music in the 60s, the same guy who stood up at Madison Square Garden in 1992 and received the adulation of dozens of big names on his 30th anniversary as a recording artist…and here he was, having put in the better part of another 30 years, up there resolutely playing his newest material over and over and over again.

Fortunately, it’s stellar material—and hearing it for the third night in a row, I picked up even more on what a sharp-elbowed set of songs Dylan’s chosen to showcase in 2014. Instead of closing his main set with one of the ruminative songs that close Time Out of Mind (“Highlands”), Love and Theft (“Sugar Baby”), or Modern Times (“Ain’t Talkin'”)—as he’s done in the past—he’s wrapping his sets up with fiery takes on “Long and Wasted Years,” a song about lost love that manages to be both bitter and wistful. It also seems telling that Dylan’s highlighting “High Water (for Charley Patton),” the Love and Theft song that includes the lines, “She said […] ‘As great as you are a man/ you’ll never be greater than yourself.’/ I told her I don’t really care.”

It’s as if Dylan, always far ahead of his peers, has just kept going, planting his stake in the future and waiting for the rest of us to catch up. He’s always been an alternately thrilling and frustrating live performer, always an artist who demands to be met on his own terms—from the leather-clad rebel at Newport in ’65 to the surly, contrarian artist who released the infamously awful Dylan at Budokan in 1979. He played originals when the world wanted covers, and he played covers when they wanted originals. In retrospect, his passionate but carbon-copy sets this week at the Orpheum make his Bobby Vee tribute last summer seem all the more remarkable: a gracious acknowledgement of an artist who gave Dylan a chance back when he was a young nobody.

He’s sure a somebody now, and now is what this week’s shows were all about. After Dylan and the band stood for their final ovation and sauntered offstage, Dana and I went out and caught a cab. Our driver said he’d been to the theater earlier to pick up a couple who left the Dylan show early. “They said,” our cabbie recounted, “‘We’re old. We wanted to hear the old stuff.'”

Set list
Things Have Changed
She Belongs to Me
Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
Workingman’s Blues #2
Waiting for You
Duquesne Whistle
Pay in Blood
Tangled Up In Blue
Love Sick
[intermission]
High Water (for Charley Patton)
Simple Twist of Fate
Early Roman Kings
Forgetful Heart
Spirit on the Water
Scarlet Town
Soon After Midnight
Long and Wasted Years
[encore]
Blowin’ in the Wind
Stay with Me

  • Dessa

    Look forward to a surprise announcement from DOOMTREE regarding Bod Dylans’ granson!

  • Theresa Gable

    Thanks for giving us the set list and insight. I only recognized about four of the songs during the show, but enjoyed how he changed those songs up and enjoyed music I didn’t know and thanks to you I now know what the names of those songs were so I can get them and continue to enjoy. Thanks!

  • dugsterdiver

    Thanks for the review Jay! Knowing that he played the same thing each night, and knowing the set lists, I think I don’t feel too bad saving the 100 bucks or whatever it was. I saw that show in 2008, and couldn’t understand a lick at the cavernous Northrop. Was at the show last summer, and enjoyed the other bands just as much if not more. I appreciate that he’s still going, but it kind of sounds like you are trying to convince yourself that it was good. For me, there’s always so much good music going on in this town, it’s just not a high priority to see him live anymore. Anyway, I did enjoy the read.