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.

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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.

33 COMMENTS

  1. click on link to hear bob singing “when he returns” (the 2nd video on the page is the one with bob)

    http://www.bestdylanvideos.com/gospel9.html

    you may not like this incarnation of bob’s voice but you surely cannot deny the greatness, the passion, the soul of an artist who is willing to put himself out like he does on a stage where many people though he was just plain nuts to sing songs like this

    this is why we love bob, not because of nostalgia or re-living the good ole days but because he is one of the most incredible artists this country has ever seen or will ever see

    period

  2. if you want to hear some genuinely great dylan from beyond the 60’s and most of the 70’s (specifically 1979-1981) listen to his born again christian albums; they are simply incredible. Here is a link to see how important they are and how amazing Bob is regardless of his popular & not so popular musical choices (millions turned against him when he went christian–this link shows others singing bob’s christian songs and they are beautiful. By the way I am pretty much a stone-cold atheist but I know greatness when i see/hear/read it:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AWgnsYECLo

    By the way, bob is not singing for the folks who walk out of his concerts; i really don’t think he gives a shit whether they walk out or not; he is playing for the people who stay and for his never-ending love of music.

  3. I have read almost every book about Dylan, have studied all his albums, have about 30 albums of bootlegs, can play most of his stuff on guitar and have seen him perform about 8 times since 1986 (Lang Park- Brisbane). I believe that this author is essentially correct and I applaud his courage in expressing this view. Newsweek is so full of shit if it thinks Love and Theft rates like that. It is one of the few albums of his I find brings no listening pleasure, excepting “Mississipi”- a great late period track (from 1987’s TOOM originally). The people who suffer from this mania for lavishing undeserved praise on Dylan’s later work are essentially ignorant and politically correct. I find it extraordinary that so many people cannot distinguish between the true genius of the early and middle period body of work, and the noticeably inferior work from the 1980s and onwards. No wonder Newsweek was recently sold for $1.00- it is bankrupt in every sense of the word.

  4. I don’t know who or what an “Alex Koenig” is, but I recognize poor, lazy writing when I see it:

    “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.”

    Poor grammar aside (really; “one of those artists THAT”?) Koenig obviously doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to music or popular culture, and he clearly can’t write a coherent sentence, either.

    Oh well–time to listen to a bootleg from the UCF show–it was AWESOME!

  5. Kernals of truth and some not in this aritcle, IMHO. Where he went wrong is the sweeping dismissal of Dylan’s later work. As someone else has commented, did the guy never listen to Time OUt of Mind? And numerous others although granted, sometimes fewer and further between.

    Ya, the voice is a croak at times. But ya know, folks have been dissin Dylan’s voice since day 1. If nuthin else, it’s authentic. Combine that with his own writing and playing and it’s one package of a unique, all-American classic that has spanned decades.

    I’ve seen him in concert three times (’89, ’01, ’07). One was pretty bad, one mediocre and one was great (in that order, btw). Probably won’t go again. I enjoy the mountain of work he’s produced and now am digging the Dj gig he has done for three seasons on his Theme Time Radio Show, opening our ears to a wider range of music than most of us ever considered, and the banter that accompanies gives us a feel for what it would be like to actually hang out for a bit with the old bard.

    I appreciate him puttin himself out there to the end. (Not Dark Yet, though).

  6. Wow. Are you not allowed to grow old? Maybe Dylan would be better of doing 3,000 shows sounding the same with no elasticity and maturing of voice and energy. Should he be like Mick Jagger and strut around in his sixties singing songs about picking up chicks?

    Also, Love and Theft is damn good.

    Your talking about Dylan here, not Creedence Clearwater Revival.

  7. The 1966 live material you refer to is indeed wonderful stuff. And the players sharing the stage with Dylan in those days did turn out to be among the top the rock era has produced.

    Let me however remind you that it was not viewed as such by many at that time. The vast majority found it somewhere between disagreeable and abhorrent.

    Dylan is not the man he was at 25. None of us are. But what he does with the tools he has left in his box are what people are responding to today.

    And I assure you the musicians he surrounds himself with today are also A-list…you just don’t know it yet. You can impune his singing, even his songwriting if you like…but not the music that comes from the stage or the CDs lately.

    The steady decline you speak of is probably apt in referrence to his voice, but not at all accurate regarding either his recorded music, or the live performances of it.

  8. Dylan’s Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft and Modern Times are late-period masterpieces, as good as any recordings he did in the 1960s. Spooky, playful. Great, mature, complicated songwriting, backed by some of the best musicians he has ever worked with. I think Abraham Lincoln said that.

  9. Yawn. Read Sean Wilentz’s new book to get some appreciation of Dylan’s ups and downs. Appreciate that respecting 50 years of towering artistic accomplishment is not critical brown-nosing. Come back when you have an opinion that is worth a damn.

  10. Yawn. Just becaue Love and Theft isn’t as good as Blonde on Blonde doesn’t mean it isn’t better than some random Green Day or Killers album.

  11. I agree that Bob Dylan sounds unbearable to a new listener. But if you know him for all these years, you can still relate to it. His voice has always been an acquired taste anyway. he is the greatest songwriter ever and has a great timing and only for that reason if not for anything else he should be appreciated. Musicians can understand his talent better…

  12. All this article needs is a pun in the title and it could be as terrible and ignorant as most everything else that is written about Dylan. Slow and steady decline since Desire???? This guy obviously is not familiar with Dylan’s work; that is an outrageous statement. Love & Theft is among his greatest albums. Time Out of Mind is another masterpiece. Dylan continually produces, continually evolves as an artist (which is what a real artist does). And how many artists still perform a hundred shows a year 50 years into their career? And of those artists, how many are not simply nostalgia acts? The people who go to his show hoping for a nostalgia act are missing out on the greatest LIVING American artists. Off to Alabama right now to see his show. And his voice is great. Not everything has to sound like Britney Spears.

  13. I agree Trent. Dylan was and always will be held in high esteem but sadly isn’t what he once was. Nostalgia isn’t going to bring the magic back. Sorry. Brave words by Koenig above!

  14. Ohmercy mercy mercy you: I DON’T THINK SO. Where is YOUR objectivity? You saw the show, you know Dylan doesn’t hold a candle to what he once was. But you don’t concede any of that. Your comments are the PRETENTIOUS ONES. Reread the review, its HUMBLE and FAIR. Others didn’t like his show. People walked out. His voice is painful now–there is no more MUSIC there, just garbled noise. It was embarrassing to watch.

    Give it up for the writer who had the guts to tell it like it is.

  15. the review is just plain stupid; i first saw bob in seattle in 1974; the bob i saw in seattle in 2009 was better as great as he was in 1974. the 2009 bob had the crowd on its feet from beginning to end, lighters/matches/phones glowed after a number of songs in honor of the great performance. bob often stood at center stage with his harp and a microphone and sang so beautifully that it could break your heart, like I Feel a Change Coming On from his great 2009 album Together Through Life:

    Bob sang the following lines with open heart and fierce determination:

    “Everybody got all the money
    Everybody got all the beautiful clothes
    Everybody got all the flowers
    I don’t have one single rose
    I feel a change coming on”

    and … dylan was never ever ever a spokesman for a generation; he was a spokesman for himself and only himself and he still is.

  16. Doug
    OCTOBER 12, 2010 AT 1:02 AM
    “I don’t regard this review as blasphemy, but it sure is an example of ignorance.”
    Nicely done Doug.

    john pilecki
    OCTOBER 13, 2010 AT 8:41 AM
    good points all-
    its a shame the author of the article didn’t either a. take the time to research- or- B. know his subject well before he started writing.

    Alex:
    this is lazy writing at best.
    Your article is unfortunately filled with misstatements which even a rudimentary google search could have corrected- Hell, even a quick Wikipedia stop would have provided more accurate information.

    Worse still however is your using such a tired device to open up the article.

    “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.”

    You set yourself up as someone out of the norm- the mainstream- a cut above, more discerning and daring than all those others who just phone in a good review because they have obviously been either bamboozled and don’t really see the here and now or lack integrity and won’t right a bad review out of fear. Enter the hero- the one who really sees, the one who dares to shout that the Emperor has no clothes Setting yourself up as the one with integrity only works if you can back up your declarations and unfortunately you have shown a stunning ignorance of the subject.

    As far as a review goes- well- reviews are subjective- its your opinion- and everyone has their own.
    An experience depends a lot on what you bring to it- whether watching a sunset, reading good literature, going to a lecture- its an inside job- maybe even more so with Dylan since his art is both cerebral and intuitive- you have to love language and layers of meaning and, as in most of life, if you want to enjoy it you have to be willing to let go of your ideas of what is “supposed to be” and relax into what is.
    Someone with a vested interest in proving themselves better than, smarter than, more than rarely can get to that place.

    those who can- do.
    those who can’t criticize.

  17. Not as good as he used to be? You clearly haven’t listened to Time out of Mind or Modern Times. These are both masterpieces.

  18. “Once a prominent spokesman for politics and culture, Dylan no longer 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).”
    a) Dylan was never a “prominent spokesman for politics and culture.” True, his songs were – and still are – used by others to promote various causes; but Dylan never, for example, spoke out against the Vietnam War.
    b) Dylan’s public remarks on politics and culture have been, since his youth, few and mostly cryptic.
    c) The “questionable choice” was made not by Dylan, but by those who anointed him “the voice of a generation.” The paradox here is self evident.
    d) Comparing the Manchester Free Trade Hall concert with Dylan’s current vocals and stage presence is ludicrous, not blasphemous.
    e) Google “Dylan interviews” – they have been been infrequent overall, but spread out fairly evenly through the decades, up to the present day.
    f) Dylan has always been weary of public scrutiny, one reason why his career has endured nearly 50(!) years.
    f) Alex, I assume you are attempting to be a spokesman for your generation when you suggest the motive for the UCF students clapping after each song at the concert; I suggest you do not underestimate them so that they might not underestimate you.

  19. Mike Bloomfield was nowhere to be found on the “Royal Albert Hall” show.

    It is such lazy writing to compare Dylan to his glory of the 60’s. It was lazy in the 80’s and 90’s, now 20+ years on it is borderline cut and paste journalism. What make it all the more ridiculous is Dylan is NOT attempting to recreate that sound. The actual review of this show was really only contained in two of the nine paragraphs.

  20. I am not sure that Bob Dylan was ever “a prominent spokesman for politics.” Throughout his career he has confounded those (especially on the left) who wanted to make him their poster child.

  21. Alex,

    Music is arbitrary and open to judgment. You have every right to give your opinion of Dylan and the show, but you made one mistake with this article. It was the content of his music that evoked such strong emotions and support from his fans in the past. Not from the sound of his voice or his live performances alone. True Dylan fans are unwavering in their support because of the nostalgic feeling they get every time they hear a song. True fans don’t go to expect a big banging show. Simply to relive the greatness of Bob Dylan and his music.

    Also, he is 70 years old. What are you expecting from the show? Lady Gaga to secretly jump out spice things up. Please think before you write next time.

  22. i just re-read my posting about koenig and the pabties etc….what a hoot it is if i do say so myself! sometimes i just crack myself up!
    anyway….when dylan blows his nose or cuts a fart the sounds he makes are still better than most other artists best output…come on…you know i am right!
    was it koenig dylan was referring to in his song ‘throw your panties overboard’, as in, ‘hey koenig these freakin panties of yours are so soiled they make cow shit look like magic mushrooms!
    just asking?

  23. Mmmmm….somebody (alex koenig) is ‘chagrined’ shall we say with dylan. I suspect koening has been turned down by dylan somewhere in the past for an autograph or worse still……dylan threw koenigs panties back at him one night after koenig threw them on the stage at dylan because koenig left skid marks on them!
    come on koenig…if you are going to throw your soiled victorias secret stuff on stage to performers….make sure they only smell like shit and not actually HAVE shit on them as in you know, freakin skid marks!

  24. mojo jo jo as i’m sometimes known as. i wrote quite a long comment on this site last night. it’s here somewhere. but let me say this one thing again. bob dylan’s best decades were the 60s up to the turnof the century. the best show i ever saw was in fort collins, co around 1975/76

  25. Mojo you are dead wrong. I’ve seen Dylan over the years and he is slipping admit it! I didnt find the review ignorant, I found it honest and accurate. Dylan’s voice makes Tom Waits sound like operatic.

    “But in spite of Dylan’s inability to recapture his former stage charisma, his legacy will never die.” Thats as fair an assessment as one can make. Sorry Mojo.

  26. I know this is not Rolling Stone but you are an idiot( seee Idiot Wind). The show Bob gave last night was ten times the show he played in Tampa. You would have liked that one because it was mostly hits. I have seen Dylan numerous times since his tour with the Band so I know a good Dylan show from a bad or mediocre one. His voice is now that of a road house blues man but it was used to great effect. He and his band was on fire.Too bad you are too musically ignorant to have appreciated the show as the great on it was but you were probably too busy texting or something to really get into it.

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