West Palm Beach, Florida

June 26, 2013


I agree with Harold Bloom’s statement that Shakespeare plays better on the page than on the stage. He plays even more poorly in the open air. After many summers of struggling to enjoy the labors of semi-professional theater groups performing Shakespeare in Seattle’s parks, I had an epiphany. The audience was not in attendance to see a play, but to have a picnic.  The play was peripheral entertainment for a weekend outing. People would eat and laugh and talk and occasionally a scene from the play would capture their momentary interest, after which their attention would be diverted to the ice chest for another beer. I tried watching the play with this attitude and was surprised at how the pleasantly the rest of the afternoon passed. Once I stopped trying to make sense of the individual performances, the scenes started to float by me without narrative purposefulness, and I realized this manner of spending a Sunday afternoon was preferable to staying home and mowing the lawn.

I have only seen Bob Dylan perform in the open air on two occasions, at the Tanglewood shed in Lenox, MA on July 4, 1991 and at Boston’s Harborlight Pavilion on June 19, 1995.  They were the two worst Dylan shows I had ever seen and heard. I had avoided  him all through the eighties because he only played outdoor venues in the Boston area, and I had never felt that such an atmosphere was conducive to concert listening.  Like Shakespeare in the park, people came for a picnic, not a performance.  They wanted to party with Bob, not listen to him.  And most of them were there because of his name recognition, not because they were particularly enamored of his music.

I had seen Dylan in 1966 at the Seattle Arena, 1974 at the Seattle Coliseum, 1978 at the Los Angeles Forum, and twice in 1980 at Seattle’s Paramount. Each of these concerts was a defining event in my life.  I regret that I missed his 1981 concert at the Orpheum in Boston, but I didn’t like his new album, “Shot of Love,” and stupidly stayed home.  The tapes from that show are evidence that 1981 was one of his best years; perhaps his last great year until his resuscitation began in 1994. The next show I went to was at the Boston Opera House in 1989.  With his first decent album since Infidels and a classy venue like the Opera House, I was hoping for a proper concert, not the fairground fiascos in places like Mansfield’s Great Woods that were turning him into the kind of act that plays State Fairs. The Opera House show was a shambles, the only memorable performance being the proud and terrifying self-assertion of some of the lines in “Most of the Time.” I took another chance in 1991 with what I hoped would be a special Fourth of July show at Tanglewood.  But it was a piss poor performance, and I didn’t want to see another like it.

So I stayed away from Dylan concerts until 1994, after a friend from Lawrence Kansas sent me tapes of the show he had just attended that made him believe Dylan was relevant once more.  When he came to Boston that fall, I caught two of this three Orpheum shows. They were in not in the class of his concerts between 1966-1981, but they were pretty damn good, especially the acoustic sets. Then I caught the outdoor show in the summer of 1995, and   the memorable December 10th show at the Orpheum, during which Patti Smith joined him to sing “Dark Eyes.”

I was unable to see him again until 2001 at the Seattle Key Arena, formerly the Coliseum, and he was brilliant. The next year was pretty good as well. Then, in 2004, at the Paramount, a concert so wretched, so boring, that I have not seen him in concert since.  I have kept up with him, though, through the labors of the tapers, and have been happy to hear what he was up to without having to experience the decline of his powers first hand.

Last spring was the first time I had really wished I could have attended one of his concerts, but I am now living in Ilo, a small port city on the southern coast of Peru, and Dylan, who has never even played Lima, is unlikely to come anywhere close to here.  The shows from last spring were a return to form for Dylan, and I covered the tour as well as I could from where I am in the blog “I Am Jean Valjean.”  I had no idea I would continue with it until a few days ago, when something compelled me to carry on with “The Return of Jean Valjean.”  Those of you who have read the entries from last spring will know what to expect, and for those who haven’t, the original entries are still posted here, as well as an edited version of the whole shebang.

So the fun begins tonight at the Cruzan Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach, where he has not played since opening his 1999 tour with Paul Simon there. The joint was called Coral Sky then, because the stage sat to the west so you could watch the sunset while letting the sounds roll by. It has had several names imposed upon it by various sponsors, the current one being Cruzan Rum. They don’t allow alcohol inside though, so the name is something of a paradox.

I don’t think those who miss this tour will be missing much, but those in attendance should have a good time watching the sunset while listening to My Morning Jacket and then dancing in the dark while Bob Dylan and his Band roll out the blues.  But I could be wrong.  Anything might happen. Time and again, Bob has proven himself impervious to time and place, delivering crap shows in regal surroundings and measures of transcendence in squalid quarters. I am hoping that he keeps his back to the sun and amazes the crowd at his feet.