Dylan Plays Tel Aviv
In which there’s far too much confusion
Haaretz, bless it (there I said it), treated last night’s Bob Dylan concert at Ramat Gan Stadium the way CNN treated the Gulf War, assigning no less than five reviews. And, as in the Todd Haynes film I’m Not There, we get several different Dylans: The still-expert genius (“Those who cast doubt on Bob Dylan’s ability to perform were forced to eat their words”); the severely over-the-hill windbag (“I Want My Money Back”); the folk-rocker-without-a-message ; the unclassifiable enigma (“writing about a Dylan concert is like listening to a blind man describe a sunset”); and the Jewish Boomer icon, a perspective provided, naturally, by Bradley Burston:
There is something uniquely dugri, something shockingly honest, something uniquely, resolutely, perhaps obsoletely Israeli about the performance.
Here is a 70-year-old man working at a physically punishing pace, at a job which demands enormous resources of endurance and presence of mind, and doing so with breathtaking originality and dedication, at an energy level that would tax a man decades his junior. And he doesn’t talk while he works.
There are no fireworks, barely a screen to view the stage. The lighting is something from the 1860s, a gaslight glow. There is no pandering, not a word to the crowd. Dylan, the dour magician, performs the illusions, the miracles, even the dead-on self-parody—and then it is abruptly over. Not an encore. No tricks. A zetz from the rebbe, and then the rebbe is gone.
He played one song from our suggested setlist, “Simple Twist of Fate.” It is tempting to look closely for hints of a message—did he play “Highway 61 Revisited” for its opening verse about God and Abraham? Did he play “Gotta Change My Way of Thinking” and “Things Have Changed” cause, y’know?—but the response to his show in China a month ago, in which he denied that authorities had censored him and insisted, “We played all the songs that we intended to play,” conclusively proves that this exercise would be totally futile.
Besides, all his songs are protest songs.