Ostensibly, music legends that were once a polarizing force will always be churning out classics. Critics will consistently praise their work; oblivious to the fact that these artists clearly aren’t as good as they used to be. And when a reviewer decides to step away from the norm and admonish one of these artists, it isn’t regarded as harshness as much as blasphemy.
So then, it has become taboo in the music critic’s world to give fading legends anything less than reverential treatment. Bruce Springsteen’s Magic got five out of five stars in Rolling stone. U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb won 9 Grammys—including album of the year. But perhaps most audaciously, Newsweek named Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft the 2nd best album of the decade.
Bob Dylan, of course, is one of those artists that have consistently been subjected to brown-nosing by music pundits, but has been on a steady decline of music quality since 1976’s Desire. The truth of the matter is, all of Bob Dylan’s best work—in the studio and live—is behind him, and this can be evidenced by the substantial output he produced during his peak years in the 60s and 70s.
To get a feel of Dylan’s live show in its prime, listen to his widely bootlegged and greatly influential “Royal Albert Hall” concert, recorded in 1966. Dylan’s songwriting was at its peak, and he surrounded himself with A-list musicians that perfectly encapsulated his vision.
These musicians included blues guitar virtuoso Robbie Robertson and esteemed organist Garth Hudson, who together transformed Dylan’s live experience from an intimate folk sit-down one moment to a spine-tingling rock-and-roll exhibition the next.
But here we are in 2010, and it’s safe to say that Bob Dylan is far removed from his 60s self, and not just as a musician, but also as a personality. Once a prominent spokesman for politics and culture, Dylan now rarely does interviews. This is a questionable choice for someone people used to describe as “the voice of a generation”. Perhaps Dylan is weary of public scrutiny and just wants to take it easy in his old age (he is 69).
The mere fact that Dylan chose to perform at the UCF arena shows that he still wants his music to reach young people, and that is to be commended. However, good intentions do not always make good outcomes, and sadly, Dylan couldn’t recreate the magic of his best live shows.
The UCF arena was nearly filled with students, which goes to show that Dylan is still a widely revered musician nearly 50(!) years into his career. Dylan’s band was very adept at performing his classics, but there was a fatal flaw that immediately diminished the performance: Dylan’s voice.
If tonight’s performance can prove anything, it’s that Dylan’s barely audible grumble of 2010 can’t compete with the booming keen he possessed during the 1960s. Unlike tonight, the way Dylan howled “Like A Rolling Stone” back then was truly something to behold. But in spite of Dylan’s inability to recapture his former stage charisma, his legacy will never die. And that is why UCF students clapped after every one of his songs.