Music legend Bob Dylan isn’t too comfortable around photographers and their cameras. In fact, no lens masters were permitted to shoot the musician when he performed at The Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel over the weekend. So our contributing photographer Erik Kabik, who is not only a fan but also a veteran of some 50 concerts since 1986, simply put away his camera, attended the show and now shares his perspectives.
We have many superstars who come through Las Vegas, but in the test of time, Bob Dylan may be one of the most influential artists who occasionally passes through. Any time he performs in our city, it is a moment worth noting. There are very few artists of today or even yesterday who cannot attribute some part of their artistry to Dylan and his impact on popular music.
There are legendary artists who have brighter flames (and greater popular appeal), such as The Beatles or Michael Jackson, but Dylan holds the unique place in pop culture as the artist who was and is simply the most influential for the past 40-plus years and who has impacted and inspired the most influential artists of our time. He is to modern music what Mozart and Beethoven were to classical music. His career spans nearly 50 years, and he continues to produce groundbreaking albums acclaimed by fans and industry insiders.
The Hard Rock Hotel show, a stop in Dylan’s Never Ending Tour, was one of his great performances in Las Vegas in recent years. With the reintroduction of guitarist Charlie Sexton in the band, Dylan seems invigorated in his stage presence and delivery. The band is a powerhouse, and Sexton led the band through each number with skillful guitar artistry and a stage presence that seems to inspire Dylan throughout the show. Dylan smiled often and looked giddy at times in his interaction with Sexton and the band.
His set was solid from star to finish and included new arrangements of “Cold Irons Bound,” “The Man in Me” and “Thunder on the Mountain.” His ballad “Forgetful Heart” was a showstopper as he took front and center with his harmonica in hand and sung a sweet ballad with his snarly, grisly voice of pure emotion and feeling. Dylan pulled out an electric guitar during “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” and, again in a slight rearrangement of the song, he left some in the crowd scrambling to identify the tune. That’s the beauty of Dylan. He does not do cookie-cutter shows. He is a true artist and renders each piece of his music as he sees fit.
He also performed what was the most powerful and high-spirited version of “Highway 61 Revisited” in years. It was electrifying, and he was all smiles with his band as they jammed out this number to its full grandeur. The set closer, “Ballad of a Thin Man,” brought the crowd to a standing ovation. Dylan took the microphone off the stand and, arms outstretched, sang some of the most prolific lyrics in modern music. He sang, “Something is happening here, and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?” and you could feel the chills run through the audience in The Joint. Dylan returned to perform a three-song encore and held the crowd firmly in the palm of his hand.
Dylan is honky-tonk, vaudeville, big band, swampy Southern roots and blues all rolled up into one great American band. The Grateful Dead may have been the last great American experience a fan could have with a band out on the road, and Bob Dylan and his band may be the last great American Band. Fortunately, they are on a never-ending tour, so catch them next time if you missed them. At 68, Dylan shows no signs of slowing down.
Here’s the set list: “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat,” “The Man in Me,” “Don't Think Twice, It's All Right,” “Beyond Here Lies Nothin,’ ” “Spirit on the Water,” “Forgetful Heart,” “Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum,” “Beyond the Horizon,” “Cold Irons Bound,” Tryin’ to Get to Heaven,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Po’ Boy,” “Thunder on the Mountain” and “Ballad of a Thin Man.” The encore was “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Jolene” and “All Along the Watchtower.”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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