by Jeff Niesel
A couple years back, singer Bob Dylan played a string of dates at minor league baseball parks, including Classic Park in Eastlake. As much as the novel concept made for a unique concert-going experience, it didn’t yield the best musical performance (and a terrible sound mix didn’t help). Dylan fared much better last night at E.J. Thomas Hall in Akron where he proved that if given the right venue, he can still put on a hell of a show.
Opener “Things Have Changed” set the mood for the two-hour concert. Standing at the microphone stand and swaying back and forth under dim lights as if he was a boxer who’d already been through a few tough rounds of fighting, Dylan cast a spell as he sang in a voice so raspy, it made him sound a bit like Tom Waits. “I used to care, but things have changed” he hissed. That ominous feeling carried over into “Lovesick.” Dylan brightened up a bit and switched to piano for rearranged renditions of the beautiful ballads “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Visions of Johanna,” the latter of which found him standing up from the piano stool at song’s end to bring it to a climactic close. His voice sounded sharp, too, and lost the gravelly sound that characterized it on the majority of the set’s 16 songs.
He returned to sounding raspy on the woozy “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’,” an evocative blues ballad with darkly introspective lyrics. The set highlight was the closer, a rearranged version of “All Along the Watch Tower” that benefited from a bit of lap steel guitar. Dylan let his five-piece backing band jam on the tune and seemed to enjoy performing the song. He returned for a single-song encore before taking a bow and leaving without saying a word to the audience. But that didn’t matter. The performance enthralled the capacity crowd that, if anything, treated the performance with too much reverence (only a few patrons bothered to try to dance or clap along to the tunes).