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Or maybe he's acting on the tip provided by the death of his close friend Jerry Garcia. A big Bible man, Dylan knows all about death and resurrection, and he seems reborn by the recent tragedy. With guitar solos (many by a surprisingly deft Dylan) feeling around the beat on just about every song and a "Cumberland Blues" feel applied to "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," Dylan's DMC set certainly paid homage to Garcia. Especially reminiscent of the Grateful Dead was the noodling between Dylan and guitarist John Jackson that sprung out in the middle of both "All Along the Watchtower" and "Silvio." Then there was a lunging, lurching version of "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat" that found Jackson, Dylan, and multi-instrumentalist Bucky Baxter pounding their instruments into bowling balls and then throwing them down concrete steps.
His calling card for the ages is as a poet visionary, but at his core Bob Dylan is a rock and roll star. Always has been. Look at pictures and album covers from his early days and tell me he wasn't projecting black leather attitude to go with his blue satin snarl. Dylan has written some great lyrics, but it all starts with his voice, which rages under control and cuts back into meaning like a surfer squeezing every forward drop of a wave. Vanity and greed, the cufflinks of rock, are what set Dylan apart from his idol Woody Guthrie--that and a childhood ripped open like a feather pillow by the music of Elvis, Little Richard, and B.B. King.
"Can you imagine him in a protest march?" Joan Baez once said of the man who wrote the soundtrack of '60s social upheaval. But marching is just walking without going anywhere, and what Dylan did at the DMC was much more meaningful than a hundred impassioned speeches and placards because music was created to go deeper than mere words and actions.
Two Tuesdays back, Bob Dylan reclaimed "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" from the encores of countless thudding metalheads, delivering the tune with none of the phony bombast with which it is performed by the likes of Axl Rose. It was a crowd-pleaser, to be sure, but that's probably not why Dylan did it. After all, the song wasn't performed at the previous two concerts in Austin. Moved by the moment and embraced by the rusted rafters, Dylan just pulled the tune out and grasped it, he and his four bandmates curling together like fingers on a hand.