Dylan Hysteria

Still on His “Never-Ending Tour,” a Cultural Revolutionary Comes to Vienna

News | Angela Woebking | July / August 2008

He is a legend. A living legend. And at the age of 67, he’s still on what fans have long since labeled a "Never Ending Tour." On Jun. 10, he arrived in Vienna’s Wiener Stadthalle one of two Bob Dylan concerts scheduled this summer in Austria.

Approaching the concert hall it was soon evident that something remarkable was about to happen, a one-of-a- kind experience for the 10,000 devoted fans, young and old.

Security was very strict that night, as bad as the airport, so movement was slow. Guards patted people down – women as well as men – and digital cameras were confiscated. It felt invasive and very out of place. No videos, no photographs, no interviews allowed. Dylan policy.

Once inside, though, they loved us again, and we were cordially invited to purchase pricey fan apparel at the onslaught of stands spaced not 50 feet from one another. Bob Dylan retro tee shirts at €35 sold like hotcakes.

Entering the dimly lit, massive concert hall, the seating felt like a gospel church, the floor filled with chairs, neatly aligned in rows. Surely this isn’t right for a rock concert: We wanted to move! And dance! And jump around!

At 19:30 sharp Bob Dylan walked out, dapper in a dark linen jacket and comfortable trousers, with the easy step of a much younger man. The stage was unadorned, occupied only by the many instruments: keyboard, harp, bass, drums, violin, banjo etc. His four-person band soon followed and slid into their places. Whistles, cheers, and clapping welled up from the crowd, though many seats still remained to be filled as people continued to stream in through the portals.

Dylan didn’t seem to care. Without further ado, he stepped up to the keyboard – he plays standing up – and the band chimed in on their first song "Cats in the Well."

With gaze intent and his back to the right-wing seating during the entire show, Dylan sang away with his characteristic rasping, cracking and moaning voice of the early days, which matched the raw need of the turbulent ’60s and turned so many into avid fans.

Half an hour into the concert, people were still finding their seats, leading one to speculate: Did they expect a pre-band show? Nowadays, performers of this stature almost always include an opening show of a lesser-known band. Or perhaps it was the tight security that slowed the entry process. Or was it Dylan himself who was no longer interested in concerts lasting long into the night.

Whatever it was, he was in authentic mode, and delivered song after song the way we all knew they should sound from the recordings. But concert-goers expecting a live visit to Dylan’s hit list from the early 1960s would soon be disappointed. The lineup on that evening, with few exceptions, came mainly from his 2006 album "Modern Times."

And there was no patter: The gap between the songs was bridged not by talking to the audience, but only by brief words to the band members and a quick brush through his longer hair in the back of his neck. You could feel the let down, for the modern concert-goer expects a personal experience with the performer, not a live version of the at-home-recordings.

Ulrike Schweitzer, a devoted Dylan fan, made it to one of the U.S. concerts, in Virginia:

"I thought it was a fluke," she said, still sounding incredulous, "that he was having a bad day. But it seems that this is his style of performing. Dylan’s not one to hype up the crowd; the crowd has to hype itself up."

About two-thirds of the way into the concert, after a rousing performance of "Highway 61 Revisited," the audience finally came to life and stormed to the front of the stage. The gospel church atmosphere has been successfully swapped for an authentic rock concert encounter. From now on, the crowd was shaking its hips to the few songs that remained.

At 21:30 on the dot, exactly two hours after the concert had begun, the lights went out, and Dylan exited the stage, the band close behind. But the audience wasn’t ready to stop. They hadn’t had enough and cheers thundered through the hall for what seemed like an eternity. Five, ten minutes passed and finally, Dylan slouched back onto the stage, to perform his last two songs of the night: "Thunder on the Mountain" and "All along the Watchtower."

Then came a surprising, yet fleeting, "Thank you, friends" uttered into the microphone, and Bob Dylan ended the show.

Dylan’s World tour continues through September of this year, traveling from one major city to another with almost no break, giving his devoted fans the opportunity to travel back in time, where Dylan became the figurehead of American unrest during the civil rights movement in the infamous 1960s.

But that was Dylan then, and on this concert he seemed to be saying that he had moved on and that today, Bob Dylan is living in "Modern Times."

Other articles from this issue