Bob Dylan with Steve Earle and Copperhead Road

At the Kentucky State Fair

By Paul Moffett

Before beginning this review, I wish to point out that I have been a Dylan fan since first hearing "Talkin' World War III Blues" late one night in the studios of KTBB radio in Tyler, Texas. I dashed out and bought the first Dylan album I could find, which happened to be Bringing It All Back Home, whereupon I was utterly "blown away" (a phrase not in general use at the time) by "Mr. Tambourine Man."

In spite of that and in spite of my collection of Dylan's albums up to and including Street Legal, I had nonetheless never seen Bob Dylan play live! (Gasp!)

So it was with mixed emotions that my wife and I threaded our way into the vastness of Freedom Hall, surreptitiously glancing at the aging and not-so-aging hippies, beats, bikers, and bankers filing into the room and wondered if the Idol would have feet of clay. It certainly looked as though he had lost a good bit of his drawing power, as the 19,000 seat hall was nowhere near full.

The opening act did little to elevate my mood. Steve Earle, country gnat and badasp, was dull, dull, dull. Playing too loud for country and too slow for rock 'n' roll, Earle scarcely stirred the crowd, other than the fans he had attracted. When he quit and the stage lights were doused, the crowd hardly noticed.

After watching several members of the road crew climb up a swinging ladder to make adjustments in the lighting, the audience was ready when all the lights went out, then came back on a few minutes later to reveal Bob Dylan and his band, a three-piece group. Dylan was dressed in black with rhinestones on his shirt which caused him to light up whenever he stepped into the spots and disappear whenever he stepped back, as alawys, playing the role of the mystery tramp.

This band was as hot as Earle's sextet was dull. G. E. Smith, Saturday Night Live guitarist, was most impressive, pushing Dylan along and pulling some curious extended jams out of him at the end of songs. Dylan even whipped out a few old rocker moves when he was pickin'. The folks who said Bob couldn't handle a guitar may well have to revise their opinions some.

By my count, there were six tunes that were either someone else's or were later than Highway 61. All the rest were old tunes, including such early works as "The Ballad of Hollis Brown," which sounded fairly close to the original, only with drums, bass and second guitar. Some of the other tunes were not nearly so immediately indentifiable, although it was usually possible to figure out from the occasional familiar phrase what song it was.

"Like a Rolling Stone" drew the greatest crowd response, and it was in the middle of this tune that Dylan apparently couldn't resist a little dig at the aging fans in the audience; he very clearly articulated as he sang:

You say you never compromise

With the mystery tramp but now you realize

He's not selling any alibis

As you stand in the vacuum of his eyes

And say, 'Do you want to make a deal?'

The answer was apparently "Yes" as everyone sang along lustily on the next line.

The encore was topped off with "Mr. Tambourine Man," and another extended guitar break between Smith and Dylan.

As we left, as abruptly as had Dylan, hoping to get a slight head start on the departing Fairgrounds traffic, we agreed that, indeed, Dylan could still put on a fine show and even throw in a few surprises.