Is it time for Bob Dylan to retire or at least rest his voice

The critics are panning recent Dylan performances for voice, pitch and timing – is he just past his best before date?

Bob Dylan at Azkena Rock Festival 2010 (photo Dena Flows, Creative Commons license, some rights reserved)

I am a long-time Bob Dylan fan. I reviewed “Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” when it was released in May 1963 for the Halifax Mail Star.

I own every Dylan album except the Christmas one plus enough concerts to follow his live performances for almost 50 years. I have studied his music and lyrics for decades.

However, enough is enough. He has lost his voice and apparently now his sense of pitch and musical timing. He might need to give his vocal chords a rest.  

People who pay to see him deserve more than a caricature of his former glory.

“Bob Dylan Croaks the Blues at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium” prints the San Francisco Weekly.

“Dylan sang off-rhythm so much that it seemed to throw off his otherwise quartz-precise backing musicians. We’d chalk it up to him being clever — playing around with his tunes, as he’s known to do live. But the hatted figure onstage would wait so long to sing the refrain to, say, “Tangled up in Blue” that when the charred mess of words finally tumbled out of his mouth, the band was already on to another part.”

“And even if you recognized enough to name the songs, what’s the point of hearing them without Dylan’s enunciations? The man’s a lyricist, a poet — and we didn’t get any great guitar or other solos to make up for the fact that most of the time we couldn’t understand what he was saying.”

Things were not much better in Vancouver BC Canada 4 days ago.

“At that point Dylan took an awkward stance at centre stage for the rolling “Things Have Changed”, which couldn’t have been more timely. Because by then it was clear which side of the fence you were standing on: Either you were truly digging seeing Dylan in a barely recognizable form (cue Like A Rolling Stone), or the disappointment of reality set in.”"

Lost in the raw, uneven sound mix, Dylan completed the shift to full-on caricature on “Tangled Up In Blue”, his hollering, whooping delivery garnering bemused looks in the audience, while on “Cry A While” he barely hit the right notes on his piano. (Vancouver Sun)

CTV was not thrilled with Dylan’s performance.

“Things Have Changed” and “High Water (For Charley Patton)” were highlights, full of restless energy and vocal performances that, although completely incomprehensible, delivered a noticeable degree of passion. Dylan’s newer material all sounded pretty robust. The issues lay with the way he was manhandling the classics.

“Tangled Up In Blue” was the first victim, bestowed with a new melody and a guitar riff plundered directly from Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds”, its radical lyrics possibly rewritten to “oobba-nu-wonna-mmm-th-mooOOO.”

A few days before in Calgary, Alberta half the audience walked out of the arena during Dylan’s indecipherable performance. A later story in the Calgary Herald  panned the audience and the City of Calgary for not having the class to appreciate Dylan no matter how badly he sang. Dylan’s lackluster performance was blamed on departing fans.

Update – “I’m near the point of declaring what happened in Rexall Place Tuesday night a borderline failure on both the performer and audience assembled, wrote David Falk in Sound and Noise.

That can happen when an artist gets discouraged. I watched Ray Charles die playing on the dirt floor of a cattle barn in Charlottetown, PEI once. He could not believe how dead the audience was and ended his show early.

The Regina Leader Post was polite about the Regina concert, saying Mark Knopfler stole the night.

“Never known for clear annunciation, the famed songwriter has become even more unintelligible with age making it difficult for all but the most ardent fans to understand the lyrics being sung. For casual fans, you can’t help but feel excited to be in the same room as the acclaimed musician yet periodically chuckling while trying to decipher what’s being sung. Best known for fronting the Dire Straits, the 63-year old made it incredibly difficult for Dylan to follow him, regardless of status… for many of the non-Dylan diehards it was Knopfler who truly stole the show.

By Stephen Pate, NJN Network

 

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13 Comments

  1. I’ve been a Dylan fan for about 35 years and have been seeing his shows since the tour with Tom Petty and Grateful Dead. At first I was disappointed a bit because the versions he was singing dcomment_IDn’t resemble the studio versions I had become accustomed to, then I realized that this was the plan and I’ve been coming back ever since! Bob’s voice goes in and out, that’s just part of it all, like Forrest Gump sacomment_ID “life is like a box of chocolates”‘…unfortunately for me, my last show was in November 2010 at the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State University, and I must say he was ‘on’ that night he sang beautifully and the versions were well arranged and full of energy. So, if you’re a fan, just wait ’till the next stop on the never ending tour!

  2. I think the suggestion that Dylan gives it a rest is eminentally sensible as his voice is blown.
    Maybe a return to accoustic with a band to match would be beneficial in his senior years.
    I love Bob.His music has been with me all my adult life and I hate to see the criticism lacomment_ID on.

  3. You are certainly entitled to your opinion, but I could not disagree with you more. I’ve seen Dylan about 30 times over the past 14 years, and twice this year, and I think he’s better than he’s been in at least 5 years. I love the new sound of the piano. His voice has been changing( I’m not going to say deteriorating) for the last 35 years, and his ability to adjust to it is one of the things that make him a great performer and make his shows exciting to watch (and download later).

    I think Dylan will, and should continue performing until he either dies, or his health will no longer allow him to tour. He’s not for everyone, but he’s got a lot of fans like me who will stick with him no matter what.

    P.S The Christmas album is one of my favourites of the genre.

  4. The people that you saw walking out are Mark Knopfler fans. The Dylan fans come to see Bob and just know what they want, or indeed don’t. Dylan can’t stop performing its simple as that. He’s happy up there on the stage, let him be. If you don’t like, you don’t come.

  5. It Seems like the author of this piece hasn’t actually gone to see any of the recent concerts. If Stephen had, maybe he would have found out that those reviews he’s quoted aren’t entirely accurate. I can only say that at the recent Seattle show, I was able to call almost every song before the singer started singing. The only song that threw me was the Ballad of Hollis Brown, and only because it’s a song I’m not familiar with. It seemed to me that the timing, phrasing, and tonal qualities were all spot on, the vocals clear (amazing for a Dylan show), and I still don’t understand people critisizing the piano playing. Go to a show and see for yourself – the man is on fire.

    And to the complaints the hits don’t sound like they dcomment_ID when he recorded them – well, that’s at least half the fun of going to see Bob Dylan. It’s a treat the way he rearranges his songs almost every tour. Much better than a Paul McCartney show, where there will be absolutely nothing spontaneous. Might as well just buy the record, if that’s what you want. Save you some cash, too.

  6. so simple is it…..if you’re not a fan ‘don’t go’ . His ‘never ending tour ‘ is not meant for those people who criticise him. It is for us….who realy admire Dylan. He gave the world so many great songs with fantastic lyrics.For me it feels like an honour…being around him,being near him…I like his voice…all of the time! He’s not a robot or a jukebox. Perhaps the american people are spoiled and they want everything to be perfect…..maybe they don’t like Dylan because he he as no botox-face. In holland the concerts are always sold out and our press is not breaking him down as you do in the US. Shame on you….’Dylan is an american and he deserves your deepest respect and support!!!

  7. I don’t know who Stephen Pate is, nor do I know anybody who does, but if you google him, you find out he’s both a golfer and a cyclist. Very versatile, but doesn’t prove he knows anything about the subject in question. In fact, it is my opinion, as a nobody, that this nobody should retire, and use his retirement to learn how to show some respect for talent he can’t even begin to start commencing to understand.

  8. Bravo ! Thank you! Sometimes, great personalities, as Leonardo da Vinci, the greatest genius, were disgusted by the criticism , so much to choose another country to live.
    Continue to write in this way, perhaps Bob, the greatest genius, will come more often in Europe ,with his wonderful music, poetry, voice and painting, to be honored from us . This is enough for you as an answer? Here we are waiting for Bob ,with open arms!

  9. What a stupcomment_ID discussion…
    Bob Dylan is is an icon. He gets to sing whenever, however, whatever he wants at anytime. I saw him in August and his voice sounded great. The critics can just shutup as far as I’m concerned.

  10. Thanks for the review, though I think your expectations may not coinccomment_IDe with Bob’s intentions. Be that as it may, I am writing to tell you that the Christmas record is wonderful! Bob soulfully croaks his way through the standards and gives us a beautiful piece of Americana. And if you buy it, the royalties go to charities that feed the hungry. Not a dime for Bob. But even if Bob kept the money, the record would be worth it.

  11. and left brained people don’t understand Dylan, which accounts for the majority of the population. The rest are the people like Dylan himself. The majority of people have no creative bone in their bodies. They are definitely not going to understand Dylan. Instead they will pass quick judgement as though they actually know what they are talking about. There are lots of us who appreciate his genius but not as many who have no comment_content_IDea about music at all. The occasional music fan knows two songs and that’s who buys the majority of the tickets. It’s to be expected that they will pan him, yet year after year, they all show up at one of his shows! lol

  12. Where dcomment_ID the writer of the article get the information that “He has lost his voice and apparently now his sense of pitch and musical timing?” See this is the writer’s achilles heel. He doesn’t actually know what pitch and timing are! He’s heard this from someone else and is merely repeating it!! You ought to verify your sources first pal. I saw Dylan twice, and listened to hundreds of recordings, and Dylan’s pitch is great, and his musical timing is impecable! It’s called phrasing and coming in on off notes. Learn about it! I am a musician myself, and Dylan…oh why would I bother preaching to the choir? Lame article…and it couldn’t be further from the truth.

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