Bob Dylan Returns to New York City: Review, Set List
Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour never really ended, only paused. Last month, he and his band launched his Rough and Rowdy Ways Tour, marking his first live appearances since the onset of the pandemic. This evening he returned to one of his usual haunts, New York City's Beacon Theatre, for the first time in nearly two years.
Dylan, who turned 80 earlier this spring, appeared on a brightly lit but modestly arranged stage, dressed in what appeared to be a velvet suit while his bandmates donned all black attire. Standing with a slight stoop, he took his position behind a piano, his main choice of instrument in recent years, and the band swiftly kickstarted the concert with a rendition of Dylan's 1971 single, "Watching the River Flow."
As the rock icon once noted of New York at an early 2000s show, “No one has to ask how I feel about this town.” The burgeoning – albeit somewhat pompous — songwriter moved to the city at the very beginning of the '60s, just as the folk scene of Greenwich Village was starting to evolve. It was in these coffee houses and underground venues that the young musician honed his craft and debuted some of what are now his most celebrated songs. These days, he typically returns to the Upper West Side's Beacon Theatre, an ornately decorated neo-Grecian setting, each time his tour rolls through town.
"It's awful nice to be back in the Big Apple," Dylan said from the stage this particular evening. "...Broadway, Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, Times Square — all of it – Empire State Building, Fifth Avenue. Glad to see it's coming back alive."
Eight of the set list's 17 songs came from Dylan's most recent album, the critically acclaimed Rough and Rowdy Ways, his 39th album and first collection of original material since 2012's Tempest. (The only two songs left out of the mix were “Crossing the Rubicon” and the 17-minute “Murder Most Foul.”)
Backed by an impressive array of both new and old faces, Dylan's band gives off the impression of a more casual jazz collective than rockstar tour. Longtime bassist Tony Garnier switches between electric and upright bass, while pedal steel player Donnie Herron also doubles on fiddle and accordion. The group is rounded out with two guitarists, Bob Britt and Doug Lancio, plus drummer Charley Drayton.
When arriving for the show, I ran into Drayton on the street outside the venue. "How's it going?" I ask. "We'll find out!" he humbly replies. Drayton needn't have been so modest — Dylan's voice sounded to be in some of the best condition of his latter day career. His enunciation is still mysterious, but when he sings a recognizable line, the audience cheers him on.
Dylan, perhaps more so than any singer-songwriter of his generation, has continuously asked his listeners to, in essence, think again. Newly arranged versions of old songs were peppered throughout the evening, including completely reimagined versions of Tempest's "Early Roman Kings," Slow Train Coming's "Gotta Serve Somebody," "To Be Alone With You" a track from 1969's Nashville Skyline which Dylan has not performed live since 2005 and the also recently reintroduced "Every Grain of Sand" from Shot of Love. A Frank Sinatra cover, "Melancholy Mood," which Dylan performed on his 2016 album, Fallen Angels, also appeared.
Dylan did not come back for an encore, perhaps choosing to save his energy for the next two nights of shows at the Beacon, plus the string of East Coast dates he has planned for the rest of this month and the beginning of next. But at 80, the legendary musician seems energized by simply being back on a stage, surrounded by a supportive band, performing new compositions that most Dylan fans have spent months listening to in the confines of quarantine and now get to hear in their full live glory.
As his Rough and Rowdy Ways Tour moves on, ticket holders can expect a wonderfully rested and still remarkably enigmatic Dylan to greet them, even if it is with only a few words in between songs. As he sang in 1961, "You can step on my name, you can try and get me beat, when I leave New York, I’ll be standing on my feet."
Bob Dylan, Nov. 19, 2021, New York City
1. “Watching the River Flow”
2. “Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way (and I’ll Go Mine)”
3. “I Contain Multitudes"
4. "False Prophet"
5. "When I Paint My Masterpiece"
6. "Black Rider"
7. "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight"
8. "My Own Version of You"
9. "Early Roman Kings"
10. "To Be Alone With You"
11. "Key West (Philosopher Pirate)"
12. "Gotta Serve Somebody"
13. "I've Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You"
14. "Melancholy Mood" (Frank Sinatra cover)
15. "Mother of Muses"
16. "Goodbye Jimmy Reed"
17. "Every Grain of Sand"