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Last Night in Brooklyn (by Rebecca Slaman)
2023-11-14, Kings Theatre, Brooklyn, NY
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Last night, Bob Dylan kicked off his three-night run of New York City shows at the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn. He’ll do another night there tonight, then one late-added show tomorrow at the Beacon Theatre.
Dylan expert Rebecca Slaman attended last night and reports in. Slaman writes the terrific Substack newsletter PhilosopHer of Modern Song, exploring female songwriters in the idiosyncratic writing style of Dylan’s own similarly-titled book. Slaman is also an essential Twitter follow @ithrewtheglass (excellent Dont Look Back reference), a regular guest on the podcast Definitely Dylan, and a presenter at the recent World of Bob Dylan conference in Tulsa (you can watch her talk here).
Over to Rebecca!
A Bob Dylan concert is so much more than a Bob Dylan concert. It’s a convention of wonderful people that serves as an excuse for my most random friends to meet up. It’s church. I last saw him at the Beacon two years ago at the beginning of the Rough and Rowdy Ways tour, which was also my first time seeing him as an adult. I’ve been to far more Dylan-centered events than actual Dylan concerts, but I hope to catch up this week with my triple-night Bobathon.
On this first night, I felt an incredible kinship with the audience around me, beaming while straightening my Bob Dylan “Twink” shirt (available on Etsy). I made a fast friend with Melissa Tomczak realizing how much we had in common and fanning out about how excited we were. I was amazed at how many women were there. Being in the front row, I kept looking back in case I saw anyone I knew.
“Is that Elle Fanning?” I asked my partner Dean, but the moment I asked, I knew. She clomped down the aisle to her seat in center Orchestra, right in front of Melissa! I wanted to freak out with her, but I couldn’t get her attention as I walked past. On my second, extremely casual drive by, we made eye contact and mouthed our excitement. Two older men sitting between her and my awkward stance in the aisle smiled and complimented my shirt. It was a really magical moment. “He is a twink!” one agreed.
Selfishly, I wished I had access to my phone so I could share how close I was to the stage. I was in the front row, on the left side. I made the decision to try to capture it, which really added to my experience. Writing in my little notebook kept me so present and observant. Maybe my drawings will give you an idea of what it was like.
About five minutes before showtime, I gasped BIG. Is that Timmy? YES. Bob Dylan impersonator Timothee Chalamet looked gorgeous while deliberating with Elle about his seat. What a dream come true! My heart was pounding and Dylan wasn’t even onstage yet.
The band took their place and the crowd rose to its feet, clamoring in anticipation. I was delighted to have an incredible view of the man himself, almost full body side profile as he squatted at the piano. He is such a funny little man, in stature and behavior.
It took me a while to settle into the groove of the show. Each song is quite long, but by “I Contain Multitudes,” I really locked into the instrumentals. As Laura Tenschert (Definitely Dylan) and I concurred after the show, he’s made it a real song! Throughout the show, his voice percussively plays with the timing of the lines. In “Multitudes,” he adds melody! It made me understand Dylan’s music the way Bob does, as living things. Like a Shakespeare play, the songs continue to grow and change in performance.
I liked to observe the crowd, which was relatively quiet but enraptured. Timothee especially so, even standing up a few times to jam. I wondered if he was getting anything out of this. Current Bob does not entirely resemble the Bob that Timothee will be emulating. He definitely attended for personal love rather than research. Though I’m sure some observation could be useful for him. “I expect Timmy’s Bob to look back at the band a lot,” said Dean.
A highlight for many was “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” Dylan smiled, and the song had a somewhat tropical vibe. I thought Dylan worked some magic by making the piano sound incredibly similar to a ukulele, but Dean told me afterwards there was actually a ukulele onstage. Well. The instruments complimented each other well.
I’ve seen in chatter about the tour that Dylan often looks to his right and smiles. I wonder what he sees over there. From my perspective, he seemed to be looking right at me. I doubt he could see over the floor lights with those little eyes, and without glasses. Still, I held onto the idea that he was, too, appreciating my Twink shirt.
“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” brought some delightful surprises. He was laughing! “Ahahhhh’ll be your baby toniiiight.” It made me crack up. In many ways, he is a clown to me. What’s so funny, Bob?
The band is so incredible. I couldn’t stop marveling over the internal vibe they had, picking up on every cue and making such complex music. They manipulated time; they made us feel every second of it, having us mourning when a song would end, shocking us with a tempo change. We would stand when we couldn’t contain the energy they gave us. I loved every solo! I normally snooze during solos. I’m realizing I’ve sat through a lot of bad solos. Not at a Bob show, though.
“Key West” is always a delight live. While the recorded track is entrancing, the live version is a definite groove. On “If you lost your mind,” he couldn’t contain his laughter. He must have caught ijbol.
Someone said his enunciation was better at this show. That may be true, but I somehow heard the first line of “I’ve Made Up My Mind…” as “Well that’s Hannah Montanas.” Nonetheless, the song was very romantic and sexy, and he sang with a swinging, swooping style. The power of this song is undeniable, even Bob Britt mouthed along the words.
He was most active during “That Old Black Magic,” punching and karate chopping the air to the beat. Tár vibes!
That must have really energized him, because when it was time to introduce the band, he went off script. "These songs are not easy to play, but this band does a fine job, don't you think? Let me hear you say yeah!”
“Yeeeahhh,” he sung.
We repeated, and received another “thank yeww.”
No recording yet, but, paid subs, keep an eye on our Discord for when one surfaces. While you wait, catch up on my recent show dispatches from Springfield, Port Chester, and Montreal. And stay tuned for my report from Philadelphia this weekend (paid subscribers only!)