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Live Review: Bob Dylan at Credit Union 1 Arena

| October 31, 2019

Photo courtesy of Allison Canzanella (MadHouse Presents).

Bob Dylan

Credit Union 1 Arena, Chicago, IL

October 30, 2019

After several local visits promoting his excursions through standards from the Great American Songbook and Frank Sinatra’s repertoire, Bob Dylan returned to Chicago with a show focused on his own celebrated catalog of original material. Fans entered Credit Union 1 Arena (formerly UIC Pavilion) on a cold and rainy Wednesday to witness a warm and spirited show by Dylan and his exceptional five-piece band.

Dylan has 38 studio albums to draw from, and the setlist leapfrogged through ten of those, leaning on a few for special treatment. Three songs each appeared from 1965’s acknowledged classic Highway 61 Revisited and 2012’s underrated gem Tempest. The band took a deeper dive into 1997’s multiple Grammy winner Time Out of Mind, reinterpreting four of the album’s cuts. The highlight among these was a moody and atmospheric arrangement of “Not Dark Yet.”

The show began with a rare sighting in contemporary terms, as Dylan donned a Telecaster to play guitar for opening number “Things Have Changed” while Matt Chamberlain drummed an intoxicating bossa nova beat. True to form, Dylan and his band had revamped the arrangement to this song and every other number in the 100-minute set. Although casual fans may have fussed about not hearing the familiar radio version of “Highway 61 Revisited,” the audience’s strong contingent of Dylanphiles could relish hearing songs like “Trying to Get to Heaven” (“… before they close the door,” concluded the telling chorus lyric) twisted into thrilling new shapes. The practice of reimagining songs has clearly sustained Dylan’s engagement with his older material, keeping it alive and breathing. Even recent fare like the flinty-eyed “Pay in Blood” was reinvigorated by Dylan’s savvy band, with a new treatment that transcended the studio version.

Dylan performed many songs, including “It Ain’t Me Babe,” from a parlor piano. For others, like “Simple Twist of Fate,” he marched to the backline of the stage to sing and blow his harmonica alongside longtime bassist Tony Garnier.

The iconic songwriter never spoke a word to the audience but communicated through his invigorated performance, a smirk, a nod, an extra bar of gravel-etched vocal vibrato, or the inflection of a particular lyric. “My conscience is clear,” he sang during “Pay in Blood” before casting a sharp glance into the front rows, “What about you?”

Shot of Love track “Lenny Bruce” was stripped to its essence and given a particularly emotive performance, celebrating the late comedian and social critic as someone who would surely serve as provocateur and town crier in modern times. “He just showed the wise men of his day to be nothing more than fools,” sang Dylan.

Audience response crescendoed for “Girl from the North Country,” an old favorite reduced to its bare elements of folk lyrics and melody.

Elsewhere, Dylan let the band off its leash. “Thunder on the Mountain” was a raving uptempo rocker, featuring twanging roots-rock solos from guitarist Charlie Sexton. A deconstructed “When I Paint My Masterpiece” was a launching pad for cartwheeling flights of violin from Donnie Herron. Recent live-band addition Bob Britt boasts a who’s who list of credits, including Leon Russell and Delbert McClinton, as well as session work on Dylan’s Time Out of Mind. Britt played slashing solos on songs, including “Can’t Wait.” Garnier switched to upright bass for “Early Roman Kings,” driving a Muddy Waters-styled lurching blues shuffle.

Sexton and Britt were a potent pair. During “Soon After Midnight,” they traded emotive riffs, quoting “Blue Moon.” The band followed with an unexpectedly rapturous retelling of Gospel-era highlight “Gotta Serve Somebody” to conclude the main set.

Returning for an encore, the band began with a spine-tingling version of “Ballad of a Thin Man.” Dylan savored the psychedelic twists and Picasso-skewed challenges thrust in the face of the song’s bewildered protagonist. “You know something’s happening, but you don’t know what it is. Do you, Mr. Jones?” sang Dylan with devilish menace. The show concluded with a brooding blues version of “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” and a final showcase for Sexton’s deft touch.

“My parents, they warned me not to waste my years,” Dylan had sung during a rowdy rendition of “Honest With Me.” At 78, he’s still following his folks’ advice and making the most of his Never-Ending Tour. The Hall-of-Famer never fails to be interesting. On Wednesday, he was fun and lively, too. It was Dylan’s most satisfying concert performance in Chicago this decade.

Review by Jeff Elbel


1. Things Have Changed

2. It Ain’t Me, Babe

3. Highway 61 Revisited

4. Simple Twist of Fate

5. Can’t Wait

6. When I Paint My Masterpiece

7. Honest With Me

8. Tryin’ to Get to Heaven

9. Make You Feel My Love

10. Pay in Blood

11. Lenny Bruce

12. Early Roman Kings

13. Girl From the North Country

14. Not Dark Yet

15. Thunder on the Mountain

16. Soon After Midnight

17. Gotta Serve Somebody


18. Ballad of a Thin Man

19. It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry

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Category: Live Reviews

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Comments (6)

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  1. Gdaddy says:

    Did he introduce the band?

  2. Jeff Elbel says:

    Hi, Gdaddy. Thanks for reading. No, Bob did not introduce the band. He said nothing to the audience. See paragraph five above for a comment about that in the article.

  3. Haggis says:

    No, he said nothing at all to the crowd or about the band

  4. R4bbit says:

    Great review! I almost feel like I was there!

  5. Excellent review. I saw him in Milwaukee and South Bend. The set list did not change, but the concerts were quite different. The Milwaukee show was on fire, with Bob briefly dancing while the band played. The South Bend show was more relaxed and laid back, Bob savoring every phrase. He just keeps getting better.

  6. Shirley Felt says:

    Horrible concert Nov 1 at the Morris in South Bend. We didn’t understand a word he said. We walked out within the 1st 30 minutes.