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In the jingle jangle morning...
Dan Powers
| October 11, 2007
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[[image|file=dylan.jpg|width=150|align=left]]...I'd come 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). Before I 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 with Dylan. 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 again. '''Check out a video of Elvis Costello performing "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding?" here''''s not my show, but the setup is exactly the same:
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