My dad bought me a set of tickets for my last birthday that he hyped up for weeks leading up to their reveal. He’d ask me what I wanted for my birthday, to which I’d reply with the names of expensive music gear I knew he wouldn’t recognize. Then he’d say something like, “Well I got you something even better. A set of tickets that are going to blow your mind.”
I was excited. One of my favorite comedians, Louis C.K., was touring, and I thought maybe my dad bought me tickets to see him. Then my birthday came around, and he told me the news.
Instead of Louis, I would be seeing Bob Dylan live in concert at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Ft. Lauderdale. I tried to feign excitement.
At this point, I’d heard terrible things about Dylan’s live shows. The once enigmatic and soulful youth who released revolutionary albums in the ’60s is now a crabby 75-year-old man, long beyond his prime. I felt bad for dreading the concert, especially considering how expensive the tickets probably were. My dad was so excited to take me to see a musician we bonded over, so I tried to keep an open mind. How bad could a live Bob Dylan show really be?
The answer is bad. First off, there was a rule that nobody in the audience was to have a phone out while in the concert hall, made apparent by all the signs outside the room. Now I’m not one to scroll through my phone while someone is performing in front of me, but sometimes a phone can be really helpful. I had this really nasty experience with one of the ushers while using my phone’s flashlight to try and find my seat. I was about to shuffle my way through a line of people, settled in their chairs, when I felt a hand grab my shoulder. Hot breath filled my ear with a raspy, “Hey you! Can’t you read? No cellphones allowed!”
I put my phone in my pocket and stuck my tongue out at him. Then I took my seat.
I had a perfect view of the stage as the deep red curtains dispersed and old Bob Dylan sat in front of a shiny grand piano. He wore a black top hat, his signature style during the later years of his career. I sat in a cozy seat and watched as Dylan strolled around the stage, presenting weird half-hearted dance moves, like flicking his wrist and widening his legs. His lyrics were indecipherable through the scratchy mumble of his voice. He played a bunch of tracks from albums of his I never cared to listen to, and when he did play the Dylan essentials, like “Desolation Row” or “Blowin’ in the Wind,” he absolutely butchered them by drastically altering their instrumental arrangements and mumbling updated lyrics I didn’t recognize. He also played about six Frank Sinatra covers, which really confused me. Drunken middle-aged classic rock fans shouted for him to play “Hurricane,” which he never did.
I sat in my comfortable seat and thought about all the best concerts I’ve attended over the years. I wasn’t sitting down for any of them. There were no stringent rules on cellphone use either. Come to think of it, my best experiences seeing live music were mostly casual and lawless, in bars you can smoke inside of, with no assigned seating, and where the band plays one Frank Sinatra cover, tops.
I don’t mean to knock Dylan — he’s one of the greatest songwriters of all time. I think it’s great he can still tour and release music, since there will always be people who will buy it all. I would never pay to see the guy perform, though. There’s just something about seeing old rock stars, years past their primes, in big, fancy, expensive venues playing to audiences who work hard to hide their disappointment, who spend $8 on each bottle of Budweiser just to get buzzed off of something while they shout at the wrinkly men on stage to “Play the hits!”
In the car on the way home from the show, my dad said, “Well, that was disappointing.”