Maybe he’s trying to make up for the shockwave he caused by that whole going-electric thing. Or at least it felt like Bob Dylan had completed a 180-degree turn from his legendary 1965 transformation at the Orpheum Theatre on Thursday night, since he played the exact same set list for the third night in a row there.
The surprise is there was no surprise on Thursday. Although, fans who paid attention to set lists in other cities – and it seemed like this was mostly a hardcore crowd that knew what's what – knew that Dylan has been sticking to the same lineup of mostly recent songs from night to night, even in other cities where he’s playing multiple nights. Click here to see the set list posted from Night 1 at the Orpheum, with six songs from the last Dylan album, "Tempest."
Of course, ours is the only city where Dylan actually used to own the venue, a fact he never once referenced throughout the three shows. No surprise there, either. He never said anything, really, other than his standard pre-intermission salutation, “Well, thank you. We’ll be right back.”
Surprise might be overrated, though. Dylan has been trying to shake things up performance-wise for five decades now. The point of this current outing seems to be testing out how well he and the band can settle into playing this particular set of tunes, or how much they can vary the music within these tight parameters.
Stylistically, the songs ranged in sound from the mambo-like rhythmic reworking of “Beyond Here Lies Nothing” to the waltzy rendition of “Waiting for You,” and from the wicked grind of “Lovesick” to the light, jazzy vibe of “Spirit on the Water,” in which Bob sat at piano and traded playful licks with guitarist Charlie Sexton like they were in the least-psychedelic jam band of all time. Things a-changed aplenty musically even with the songs remaining the same.
Or maybe the cemented set list was more about what’s left of Bob’s voice, chosen based on how well he can build up his cords around these particular tunes – because his singing was clearer and more inspired than it has been in recent memory Thursday, much like the other nights. Even the two “Blood on the Tracks” tracks, “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Simple Twist of Fate,” were delivered more elegantly and just plain more annunciated than they had been in years.
Three nights was certainly enough – in fact, one of these shows really did suffice in this case, as special as they were – but it would be interesting to see how different Bob and the band sound toward the end of this current string of shows, even if they’re still playing all the same songs. Or especially if they’re still playing this same damn set list.