Bob Dylan’s concert Wednesday night at the Broward Center began and ended with the same songs that opened and closed his previous appearance at the Fort Lauderdale concert hall 19 months earlier: “Things Have Changed,” which earned the songwriter an Academy Award in 2001, and “Stay With Me,” a melancholy Frank Sinatra cover from the 2015 album “Shadows in the Night.” The similarities didn’t end there. The stage set again put Dylan and his five-piece band beneath vintage-looking klieg lights that showered them in reds and golds. Dylan’s upscale Western duds (white hat, dark suit) may very well have been the same ones he was spotted wearing here in 2015, and they left him once more resembling a cowboy undertaker. And as has become typical of his concerts in recent years, Dylan spent much of the evening sitting at a piano and none of it holding a guitar.
And still, the singer gave his audience anything but the same show. Heck, he hardly gave them the same Bob Dylan.
For his 75th and final scheduled performance of 2016, Dylan appeared relaxed and playful. At times, he even bordered on goofy, striking Elvis Presley-inspired poses while leaning on his microphone stand and breaking into bowlegged, broncobuster shuffles during songs that otherwise would seem to reject them (“Tangled Up in Blue,” “Things Have Changed”). This capriciousness — or was it joy? — cut through everything, with Dylan emphasizing the humor in the darkly comic “Pay in Blood,” feebly denying the inherent joke of “Why Try To Change Me Now” and laughing along with God as a scared-witless Abraham hurries to get “this killing done” on a loose and tumbling “Highway 61 Revisited.”
“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” the second song in a 21-song set, found Dylan at the piano, to which he would return eight more times and always after doffing his hat and setting it on a nearby amplifier. Why? Who knows. Trying to decode Dylan’s motives can be as pointless as trying to examine the back of your head without a mirror. We should all be so mysterious at 75 years old.
But as abstruse as he’s perceived to be — Google “Dylan and Nobel Prize” to see how easily his persona irritates many — and for all his seemingly impenetrable lyrics, Dylan on Wednesday night repeatedly revealed himself through his songs. And the self he revealed was something of a joker. “Don’t Think Twice,” a jeering “see ya!” whose original 1963 recording has lost none of its folky bite, here sounded sweet-tempered and forgiving, even though Dylan couldn’t resist closing it with a poking bit of Joplin-esque, ragtime piano. “Full Moon and Empty Arms,” from “Shadows in the Night,” was presented as a serenade, even though Dylan, dappled with white light, sang it in the voice of a congested Romeo.
On “Tangled Up in Blue,” meanwhile, Dylan toyed with the original version’s lyrics and form, adding some words, dropping others and making the whole thing sound like a spirited collaboration between Hank Williams and Waylon Jennings. It made you want to holler along, and many in the audience did just that.
More than once, Dylan played at being sinister. As the overhead lights glowed red and the stage curtain looked as if it were being devoured by flames, “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’, ” a witchy New Orleans blues number from the 2009 album “Together Through Life,” offered only more heat. “I love you pretty baby / You’re the only love I’ve ever known,” Dylan growled from the piano. “Just as long as you stay with me / The whole world is my throne.” The declaration held more threat than promise.
Later, a performance of the banjo-accented “Scarlet Town” had the mood of a séance, with Dylan again at the piano and sounding possessed. The usually taut “Love Sick,” however, couldn’t withstand the changes Dylan brought to it, the music going slack the more subdued it got and the singer feigning uncertainty instead of radiating heartbreak. It was the night’s only real disappointment.
Nevertheless, even Dylan’s missteps at this stage of his career can be as thrilling as his achievements. That we still can’t figure him out or fail to be surprised by him after all these years frustrates and delights us. Because whether we’re on the Internet debating the literary merit of “Desolation Row,” calling out and then cursing his name in Stockholm or pondering his every move on a November night in Fort Lauderdale, we believe that at any minute Dylan will let us in on his secrets, that we’re going to understand him the way he has always seemed to understand us. And when he does, we’re going to get that those secrets have been sitting out there in the open all along.
- Things Have Changed
- Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
- Highway 61 Revisited
- Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
- Full Moon and Empty Arms
- High Water (For Charley Patton)
- Melancholy Mood
- Duquesne Whistle
- Love Sick
- Tangled Up in Blue
- Pay in Blood
- Why Try To Change Me Now
- Scarlet Town
- I Could Have Told You
- Desolation Row
- Soon After Midnight
- All or Nothing at All
- Long and Wasted Years
- Autumn Leaves
- Blowing in the Wind
- Stay With Me