In the jingle jangle
following this tour anywhere it went. Not too long ago, two of the
greatest living songwriters decided to embark on easily one of the
highest-grossing tours of the year, and for good reason; when else
can you see Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello in one sitting? I was
lucky enough to witness some great performances on Monday night at
the Oncenter in Syracuse, a surprisingly intimate venue for its
size (and with ''great'' sound, believe me).
talk about the concert, I feel that I have to preface it by saying
that I saw Elvis Costello, flesh and blood, no more than 10 feet
from me before the show, on the street in front of the arena. I
thought to myself, "Oh, it must be one of those really crazy fans
that dresses like musicians. He looks really good." And, after
asking one of the roadies not long after, he confirmed that it
was, indeed, Mr. Declan Patrick MacManus, better known as Elvis.
There goes my chance at ever meeting or talking to him, but it was
still incredibly cool.
The concert was nothing short of an
experience. Bluesy singer-songwriter Amos Lee opened for the
legends, and I was somewhat familiar with his music before I went.
He put on a really energetic set, his roaring backing band acting
as the perfect backdrop for his soulful voice.
The more I
think about it, the more the concert seems like an aural history
of songwriting, tracing folk and rock music from its roots all the
way to the branches. Between Dylan, Costello and Lee, they form
three generations of songwriters, and what's amazing is that they
all still feel relevant. If you really think about it, most of the
concertgoers probably went to see Dylan or Costello; their staying
power is enormous, and rightly so.
[[image|file=costello.jpg|width=150|align=right]]Costello's set was brief, about 45 minutes, but not a minute was wasted.
At 53, he still can sing with more emotion and power than people
half his age, and the most compelling part of the show was
certainly that it was just Mr. Costello and his acoustic guitar.
Dressed in a gentlemanly but chic suit and his trademark hat and
hipster glasses, Costello is still a rock star. He wound his way
through his classic hits, opening with "(The Angels Wanna Wear
My) Red Shoes" and performing "Alison," "Radio, Radio" and
"High Fidelity" during the course of his set. Costello was spot
on and fantastic to watch; he had energy and grace enough to fill
the entire stage, backlit behind him. He wasn't particularly
talkative (though he spoke the most of the three acts), but what
he said was pithy and warm. He showed nothing but gratitude to the
crowd, and told brief stories during the intros to his songs, the
most interesting being his preface to "The Scarlet Tide," a song
written by himself and T-Bone Burnett that was later performed by
folk and bluegrass singer Allison Krauss.
The song, which
addresses war from the point of view of a widow, is spare and
sweet, evoking not a little sadness. Costello began by saying that
he once talked with a woman who had spoken out against the U.S.
government and the Iraq War, and she had been branded anti-
American, traitorous even. "Well they call her a traitor, I call
her a patriot." He said no more, not trying to expose any
particular folly or missteps, merely reminding us of the
importance of our freedom to dissent.
Dylan followed and,
being the rather eccentric live performer that he is, didn't play
much to the crowd, but it didn't matter; he was, and continues to
be, one of the most prolific and talented songwriters in America.
Backed by a band that was necessarily up to the task of playing
with a notoriously finicky and borderline unreasonable musician,
Bob Dylan and His Band sounded phenomenal. Songs like "Ballad of
a Thin Man," "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Thunder on the
Mountain," off of his latest album '''''Modern
Times''''' saw searing country-blues guitar and organ in
their original incarnation, and Dylan, playing keyboard for most
of his set, proved himself still very much in tune with his fellow
musicians. New songs like "Spirit on the Water" sounded like
road-tested classics in spite of their youth. As for the classics
themselves, Dylan has, over the years, changed the arrangements
slightly. The game with my brother became to be the first to guess
what song was being played. They were still remarkable, just
notably different from the studio recordings to which I've grown
accustomed. For example, hit "It Ain't Me Babe" was
recognizable for its chord progression, but Dylan's talk-singing
and gruff, time-worn voice have taken the melody down paths it
might not have seen in years past. It's not to say that it
sounded bad, merely a variation on the original theme. Other
classics like "Visions of Johanna" and "Positively 4th Street"
were bursting with life, and Dylan, not yet frail but slight in
his slimming grey coat and cowboy hat, reminded us that he still
plays a mean harmonica.
His encore could not have been
better-chosen; a blistering "Thunder on the Mountain" was
followed by the song to which he owes a great deal of the success
which followed; "Like a Rolling Stone." If his ardent fans (of
all ages, I might add) weren't elated before, now they were
ecstatic. 8,000 people, all singing the chorus that defined a
generation of young people, forging their own path and growing up
What I take away from this show is that music
really doesn't have generational gaps. I sat next to a man well
over twice my age and we both felt the same connection to the
music. I may have experienced it much later, but my feelings are
just as genuine. And that gives me hope. Music transcends a number
of boundaries, not the least of which is age, and if Dylan and
Costello are still touring when I'm 60, I'll be sure to go
'''Check out a video of Elvis Costello
performing "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love &
Understanding?" here'''...it's not my show, but the setup is
exactly the same: