Bob Dylan gives sold-out Iowa crowd a dose of his smiling side
American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday, a stunning announcement that for the first time bestowed the prestigious award on a musician. (Oct. 13)
AMES, Ia. — Bob Dylan smiled.
It’s true. His smile flickered from behind the piano during “Summer Days” and again while stroking the keys during “Early Roman Kings.” It even showed up during his latest take on “Desolation Row.”
It wasn’t an outright proclamation of “thanks” to the roughly 2,700 faithful who blew into Ames on a windy Tuesday night to see the 76-year-old Nobel Prize recipient lecture with his music (he didn’t actually speak to his audience) but for an artist so acclaimed, yet so enigmatic ... it felt like speaking 10,000 words.
Dylan — backed by a well-oiled five-piece band — returned to Iowa for the first time since 2012 on Tuesday night and performed a 20-song show to a sold-out Stephens Auditorium crowd, returning to a room he last played in 1994.
Tangled up in Ames: For Iowans seeing Dylan for the first time, it’s not as much about dissecting if he’ll sound good during “Highway 61 Revisited’’ (which he did) or if he’ll play any of the old stuff (which there was plenty of).
Instead, it’s about being in the room with a man who penned the words of a generation … while you’re still able.
“He had a way of connecting with what was going on,” said Shirley Morrison, 67, of Urbandale, who first heard Dylan in college at Iowa State.
“It may be the last chance to see Bob Dylan,” her husband, Marvin Morrison, 68, added. “He’s a vanishing icon of American pop music.”
When not behind the piano (where his Academy Award sat on a table to his left), Dylan leaned the mic stand into his body and soulfully crooned “Melancholy Mood” and “The September of my Years,” songs of Frank Sinatra. The latter — a chilling rendition — comes off Dylan’s latest studio effort, American cover album “Triplicate.”
The set didn’t solely rely on Dylan of old or Dylan paying tribute; numbers such as “Pay in Blood” and “Soon After Midnight,” off his 2012 effort “Tempest,” filled out the set.
The lines he delivered — at moments through the soft croon, other times with the aged rasp fans have come to know — were ones Charlie Kuester said he remembered learning in elementary school. The way Dylan performed “Tangled Up in Blue” and “It Ain’t Me, Babe” transformed, yes, but the words continue to resonate.
“I think I’ve got everything he’s ever recorded,” said Kuester, 58, of Ames.
Movin’ with Mavis: If Dylan was the evening’s fine, aged whiskey, then opening act Mavis Staples was the shot of Fireball needed to warm the soul.
Energetic and engaging, the 78-year-old soul music soldier and civil rights activist spent her time on stage sharing stories through her gospel songs.
“We’ve come this evening to bring you some joy, some happiness, some inspiration … some positive vibrations ” she exclaimed, leading her five-piece band through “We’re Gonna Make It.”
The 45-minute, seven-song set featured a mix of new Mavis solo numbers, such as “Build A Bridge,” and Staple Singers classics, like set closer “I’ll Take You There.” Present, too, was Mavis’ version of Talking Heads favorite, “Slippery People.”
Blowin’ into the encore: Leaving the stage following his latest rendition of “Long and Wasted Years,” Dylan let his crowd earn an encore. The fans — who spent most the night sitting — were drawn to their feet in hopes of seeing just a little more from the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.
“Come on, Bobby,” one audience member bellowed, not quite ready to call it a night.
Dylan did return, bringing the audience a two-song encore of fan favorites: A full-band, fiddle-filled rendition of “Blowin’ in the Wind” and emotional show-closer “Ballad of a Thin Man.”
The 100-or-so minute set closed with Dylan and his band coming together at center stage, the legend nodding his head twice toward the crowd before exiting a final time.
It wasn’t a “thank you” … but it was close enough.
Things Have Changed
It Ain't Me, Babe
Highway 61 Revisited
Why Try To Change Me Now
Honest With Me
Tryin' To Get To Heaven
Once Upon A Time
Pay In Blood
September Of My Years
Tangled Up In Blue
Early Roman Kings
Soon After Midnight
Thunder On The Mountain
Long And Wasted Years
Blowin' In The Wind
Ballad Of A Thin Man