Bob Dylan gave his Spokane fans a night to remember Wednesday in Riverfront Park.
In a show that nearly was moved indoors because of wet, cool weather, Dylan kept the large multigenerational crowd on its feet for nearly two hours with a riveting show which mixed hits with lesser-known songs and juxtaposed rockers with ballads in a way that brought out the best in each.
The use of Dobro and steel guitar in his band gave the songs a warmth not often associated with a Dylan concert and occasionally reminded listeners of his country leanings.
After an opening six-song set that culminated with a ferocious version of “Silvio,” Dylan and his four-piece band unplugged for a lovely acoustic set. He swayed back and forth, without guitar, as he sang a surprisingly poignant version of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” played a border-flavored “For Ramona” (complete with ukulele and Marty Robbins guitar) and sang “Masters of War” with a quiet passion.
Every show on the current tour is different from the others, and so is the way the songs are played. Wednesday night, Dylan even broke ground as a harmonica player with a startling run of 8th notes on “Mr. Tambourine Man” before breaking into the familiar melody and a soaring single-line solo on “Masters of War.”
When all is said and done, though, it’s clear that Dylan is having fun again, playing lead singer and guitar hero in a screaming rock ‘n’ roll band. People forget that he loved the Stones in their heyday and shocked folk fans by plugging in at Newport.
Wednesday night, he repeatedly moved to the front of the stage to bend over his monitor and play driving guitar riffs. He and lead guitarist John “JJ” Jackson locked in together on a number of wailing twin-lead parts - “Silvio” and a wall-of-sound version of “Seeing the Real You at Last” were especially memorable - and he almost seemed to dance for a moment during a bright encore version of “The Times They Are A Changin’.”
Throughout the show, Dylan gave his songs and his lyrics the kind of attention everyone else knew they deserved during the years when he seemed happy to toss them off.
Kerosene heaters glowed on the dimly lighted stage as he sang a quiet guitar-accompanied introduction to “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” And when the rest of the band kicked in with an almost orchestral richness, one was reminded of what a wonderful song it had been before it became such a huge hit for Clapton.
Enigmatic as ever in a black jacket, black pants with gold buttons down the side and a pale-blue satin shirt, Dylan was almost talkative Wednesday night, thanking the crowd after nearly every song and joking as he introduced the band.
Dobro and pedal steel player Bucky Baxter was the “former mayor of Bluefield, West Virginia,” he said, and bass man Tony Garnier “once tried to milk a cow with a monkey wrench.”