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REVIEW: Bob Dylan disappoints in Tampa

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Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan, seen in 2012, headlined the Americanarama Festival June 27, 2013 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa. AP File Photo | CHRIS PIZZELLO

As much as it hurts me to say this, Bob Dylan needs to take a long hiatus from touring. His performance Thursday at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa, one of the better sounding sheds in the country, proved borderline painful despite backing by five superb musicians including guitar great Duke Robillard. Dylan's voice has deteriorated past the point of serviceable. As much as I admire the rock poet for updating songs that are decades old with interesting new arrangements, it was mostly impossible Thursday to get past the craggy, mumbled vocals that poured through the speakers like rubble and rubbish.

Sure, no one has ever admired Dylan for his vocal range or the sonorous quality of his singing. But for many phases of his career, the universally praised songwriter did an outstanding job of making up for his vocal limitations with clever phrasing and inflection. Those tools are no longer usable because his main instrument, his voice, has been worn down to a thin, jagged, whimper. It sounded broken, in need of medical attention, on Thursday, the second night of Dylan's Americanarama Festival with Wilco, My Morning Jacket and Bob Weir.

And let's not give Dylan, probably the most important figure in the history of rock 'n' roll after Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley, a pass because of his age. The man is 72. That makes him about the same age as Paul McCartney, three years older than Mick Jagger and almost a decade younger than Willie Nelson, three singers who sound just fine these days when on stage. Plus, Dylan articulated his words and imbued them with ample emotion on his brilliant 2012 album "Tempest."

So maybe if he just didn't tour so often, or took a much-needed vacation, Dylan's voice would have time to heal and concert attendees could actually enjoy a true musical presentation rather than, well, a freak show. Watching Dylan stand center stage, lurching around like a confused member of the audience, was as distressing as his singing, pedestrian harmonica playing and barely audible keyboard contributions. People cheered just to be in the same vicinity of the legend and that's not the way it should be. It's not the way I ever imagined Dylan would want to be viewed, as an attraction people see just to say they saw. Isn't that how tickets were sold to the bearded lady?

At age 14, I went with my dad to see Dylan at Ruth Eckerd Hall in 1992. The rockers often drowned out his voice but he sounded ragged but right on soft, beautiful ballads like "Boots of Spanish Leather," "Girl from the North Country" and "Shooting Star" -- plus it was fun to see Dylan bring a teenage Derek Trucks, the opening act that night, up to play slide guitar on "Highway 61 Revisited." Each subsequent Dylan show in the 1990s found him sounding better and better with the 1999 shows he did with Paul Simon, which included a special set of duets, probably being the greatest. By the time I saw Dylan in 2006 at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, though, his voice had begun to fade past the point of being able to deliver the lyrics in any meaningful manner.

So, yeah, back to Thursday. Dylan played a bunch of songs I love -- the 2000 gem "Things Have Changed," the new "Duquesne Whistle," the early 1980s outtake "Blind Willie McTell," even the half-century old Cold War classic "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" -- but not once did I feel anything but pity as Dylan grappled with line after line. And the last thing I want to do is feel sorry for one of the most important artists alive, an artist whose songs have been comforting me since I was an awkward teenager and well into adulthood. (CONTINUED AFTER PHOTO)

Bob_Weir_MMJ_062813

Bob Weir performing "Dear Prudence" with My Morning Jacket at Americanarama Festival June 27, 2013 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa. COURTESY PHOTO BY KRISTIN TATANGELO

Grateful Dead cofounder Bob Weir, age 65, opened Americanarama Thursday with a solo set that found him in strong voice but he came on so early, before the 5:30 p.m. starting time, it was hard to stay focused with all the people coming in and yammering while searching for seats. Weir would return, though, for two guest appearances that proved to be the most special events of the evening. First, for a smart, emotive cover of The Beatles' "Dear Prudence" with My Morning Jacket, the genre-hopping rockers that easily turned in the most potent and rewarding set of the evening.

MMJ's Jim James might be the greatest rock vocalist around. When he stood up there with his acoustic guitar and performed the slow-burning "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)," which later found him backed by churchy organ, steel guitar and gentle bass and drums, I found myself in a state of bliss even as thunder and rain threatened and much of the Dylan crowd talked about what they heard on NPR during their drive to the show or whatever else it was they found more important than witnessing such sonic beauty. James can get all freak-out sexy, too, like he did on the sticky funk rocker "First Light." Yeah, MMJ's first show in Tampa in about a decade was impressive and I hope they return ASAP.

Wilco came on next and when the former-alt-country band wasn't trying to be Radiohead, which was annoying, they were mildly entertaining. But really, the Jeff Tweedy-led group's set only got exciting when Weir joined them for The Rolling Stones chestnut "Dead Flowers" followed by "Friend of the Devil." Dylan used to cover the Dead classic in the late 1990s, so hopes were high he would jump on stage and sing along. Nope. Dylan didn't even bring Weir or anyone from MMJ or Wilco up during his set -- and he sure could've used the help.

Bob Dylan setlist:

1. Things Have Changed
2. Love Sick
3. High Water (For Charley Patton)
4. Soon After Midnight
5. Early Roman Kings
6. Tangled Up In Blue
7. Duquesne Whistle
8. She Belongs To Me
9. Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
10. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
11. Blind Willie McTell
12. Simple Twist Of Fate
13. Summer Days
14. All Along the Watchtower
15. Ballad Of A Thin Man

Read my Bob Dylan "playlist"



Wade_Tatangelo_by_Mike_Lang_HT_06212013Wade Tatangelo has been an entertainment reporter, columnist and reviewer for more than a decade at publications nationwide. He is a Hershey, Pa., native who grew up in Tampa and graduated from the University of South Florida. Wade joined the Herald-Tribune in 2013. He can be reached by email or call (941) 361-4955.
Last modified: July 1, 2013
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