Bob Dylan :: 07.24.05 :: Pengrowth Saddledome :: Calgary, AB

There is a definite sense of the Wild West in Bob Dylan. His signature cowboy hat, penchant for tassels, and obvious love of Western themes (most noticeably on Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid) brought out themes of the great frontier in Dylan's songwriting. From the iconic "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" to the abounding "Billy Medley" that entangled the 1973 release, Dylan is as wild as the West itself, having fallen in love with the rag-tag simplicity of the open range.

In many ways, Calgary still embodies the Wild West mantra on which it was founded. While the battle between cowboys and Indians has thankfully fizzled, the relaxed rancher lifestyle lives on, epitomized by the world famous Calgary Stampede (held just one week earlier) and the scores of hide gorged upon in the city's countless steakhouses. Despite ranchers now working in suits instead of denim, the Wild West still lives on; muzzled, but still alive within every Calgarian. Bob Dylan and his six-piece blues band understood, and on a quiet, balmy Sunday evening, his spirited set of folk-turned-blues awoke the sleeping giant, creating an all-out hoedown at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

Even though the venue was half-full, Dylan maintained his energy throughout the set, ripping through one classic after another in fine, blues form. Since the Calgary Folk Festival was concluding simultaneously, Dylan abandoned his folk roots at the Saddledome, taking up the standard blues formula for each track, regardless of how the song was originally written. "Maggie's Farm" became blues; as did "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" and "Lay Lady Lay." Yet, monotony was cleverly avoided. Dylan sang each song in his own unique, scratchy way, discarding not only the way the original song was sung but also any melody embodied with its original charts. Dylan sung how he wanted, with lyrics peering in and out of melodies as he saw fit. Familiar ditties like "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" and "Highway 61 Revisited" barely resembled the originals because Dylan's voice was perched upon a separate plateau from his sextet's voices. Lyrics were constantly mumbled, strewn together, and pulled apart, creating new interpretations of the originals that dotted releases throughout his career. "All Along The Watchtower" became a jam-rich feast, expanding on the original with more verse repetition, climactic slide guitar work, and interspersed percussion solos, while "Positively 4th Street," arguably one of Dylan's finest numbers, took a cue from Muddy Waters and toiled gleefully with the contemporary definition of standard, classic blues. Loud, ferocious guitar licks dominated the song, woven instantaneously through Dylan's shifting croon. Wild to say the least.

Bob Dylan by Tony Stack
Dylan never once picked up a guitar, opting to play keyboards all night and to let his fantastic back-up band handle the complex melodic arrangements brought on by Dylan's erratic vocals. Sounding crisp and relentlessly on target, Dylan's boys' canvas was strong enough to handle the master's verbal expressionism. Bringing it all back home when needed, the band carefully allowed Dylan enough creative space to experiment, understanding the verbal complexities embedded within Dylan's signature blues. While Dylan was in charge of himself throughout the show, the band steered the collective, carefully weaving in and out of trouble with pristine accuracy.

Still, there is only so much "Wild" you can take out of Dylan, and subsequently, the half-full crowd was constantly entranced in his loquacious rasp. Musicianship aside, Dylan's flamboyancy and excitement while performing each classic was gaily lapped up by the crowd. While Dylan is bizarre, thanks to his band, it worked perfectly. Wild.

Maggie's Farm, Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You, I'll Be Your Baby Tonight, Lay Lady Lay, God Knows, Shooting Star, Lonesome Day Blues, Positively 4th Street, Watching The River Flow, Can't Wait, Highway 61 Revisited, Trying To Get To Heaven, A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall, Summer Days.
E: Don't Think Twice It's Alright, All Along The Watchtower

Shain Shapiro
JamBase | Calgary
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[Published on: 8/15/05]

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