Bob Dylan: The Most Efficient Musician in the World

Will Stuart, Writer

After almost 60 years of being in the public eye, Bob Dylan is still touring around the world. On Nov. 6, he and his band came to the historic Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor.

Fans both young and old filled the 3,500 seats within, excited to see Dylan and his band perform, which says a lot about his music–it’s not just an older generation trying to relive their youth like you see at so many classic rock concerts. 

Slated to start at 8 p.m., Dylan wasted no time. That very moment, he took to the stage. There was no talking with the audience, just music. It was more akin to watching a video of a recording session than a live concert.

I didn’t need to hear him prove anything–I wanted to hear him play. It was the most efficient concert I have attended and that’s not a bad thing. While some musicians dedicate a good portion of their set to thanking the audience for coming out and discussing the reasons behind how each song was made, Dylan just played. He knew why you were there and so did you. 

With many rumors swirling around his fan base regarding this silence, deeply embedded is a sense of rebellion. One of the most popular theories is that Dylan, who had been scrutinized by the public and media early in his career for “betraying” his folk origins, just wants his music to speak for itself. And speak it did.

From “It Ain’t Me Babe” from 1964’s Another Side of Bob Dylan to 2000’s “Things Have Changed,” a majority of songs were deep cuts, leading a lot of die-hard fans in the audience to cheer. The setlist was a walk through of Dylan’s discography with 12 releases being represented. 

He didn’t bask in his fame and glory. I mean, the Nobel Prize committee had to hunt him down in order to attend the award ceremony. He was playing the songs that he wanted to play, he wasn’t focused on pleasing those who were only familiar with one or two of his hits.

Where most musicians from a bygone era stick to playing their most recognizable tracks to stir an audience and surge ticket sales, Dylan chose to remain a musician rather than an Apple Music Essentials Playlist. 

Each song was played back-to-back, giving Dylan just enough time to either sit down at his piano or get his harmonica ready. Often when standing, he would back up to where his band was playing as if to say that they’re one unit instead of Bob Dylan and his backing band. Being that he didn’t touch a guitar for the entire performance, hearing the riffs taken up in part by the piano provided a newfound intimacy for many of the songs.

However, the true highlight of the evening was “Highway 61 Revisited” from the 1965 album of the same name—one of my all-time favorites—and the funky “Gotta Serve Somebody” from 1979’s Slow Train Coming.

Even for his age, Dylan sounded fresh. His voice isn’t the same as that 24-year-old belting “Like A Rolling Stone” from this 1966 performance, but the choices of the songs he performed complemented his aged voice.

You could feel the tension in the auditorium as Dylan played his final song and silently exited the stage. No one dared move after applauding as surely he would come back out for an encore. However, with the way this concert subverted my expectations so far, would he really indulge in this tradition? 

Just as I was thinking about it, Dylan snuck back on stage as quietly as he exited, to uproarious applause.

He played two more songs: “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.” 

He played and left, he was there and then he wasn’t, like a phantom performer–again without saying a word. But when you’re Bob Dylan, are words without music really worth the time?