Bob Dylan and Paul Simon
The Hollywood Bowl, Hollywood, CA • June 22, 1999
If you’re in the market for a slow, painful night of mediocre dinosaur rock featuring old, irrelevant white millionaires who stopped trying years ago, then the Simon/Dylan tour isn’t for you. You guys get the Rolling Stones every couple of years, anyhow. And I hear the Eagles are getting together for one of those really special three hundred dollar a ticket New Year’s Eve shows later this year. As for Paul and Bob, I’m happy to report that the show lived up to the early hype as one of the big tours this summer.
Paul Simon, taking his turn as the opening act (Dylan opened the night before in Anaheim) promptly began the show as more than half the Hollywood Bowl crowd was still shuffling in. Sporting blue jeans, a canary yellow windbreaker, and a baseball cap (you do know we’re cool with your baldness, right Paulie?) Simon and his ten-piece backing band started the show with a percussion-heavy “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” It was an early sign of just how special the show was going to be. The second number, “Can’t Run But,” was the first of several from Simon’s 1990 Rhythm of the Saints album. His band seemed designed to capture that CD’s Brazilian flavor, as well as to add a world-beat spice to the rest of the night’s material. After the first two songs, the show started to find its groove when Simon tossed off the windbreaker and picked up the pace with the crowd-pleasing “Boy in the Bubble” and the rousing “The Coast.”
Simon looked especially pleased to be playing to such an eager crowd after the disastrous run of his 1997 Broadway flop, The Capeman . The next number, “Trailways Bus,” was introduced as “a song from The Capeman …sometimes referred to as ‘the ill-fated Capeman ‘.” The one-two punch of golden oldies “Mrs. Robinson” and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” followed. The former in a countrified, twangy style, the latter an enhancement of its latin-pop studio version sound. The crowd of both young and old roared with approval.
Traffic in L.A. is as bad as it gets and at the halfway mark of the Simon solo set, hundreds were still filing in and searching for their seats. You had to feel for them as they scrambled in trying to catch as much of the show as they could. Meanwhile, Rhymin’ Simon finished the set by rolling out a series of radio favorites that included “Graceland,” “Slip Sliding Away,” “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” and “You Can Call Me Al.” His encore was an exuberant, horn section-heavy “Late in the Evening” and a beautiful, tear-to-the-eye version of “Still Crazy After All These Years” (the first minute or so completely drowned out by the sound of nearby audience members of all ages sucking on various pipes). The last of the poor bastards stuck in traffic continued to schlep through the door.
After “Still Crazy,” Simon brought on Bob Dylan (decked out in a black suit and matching cowboy hat) for a short set of duets that began with “The Sound of Silence.” I’d read that in an earlier show Dylan stepped all over Simon’s smooth vocals, the song coming off as a clumsy and embarrassing mess. Not the case here. Bob was relatively restrained and chimed in at just the right moments making for brilliant harmony. His harp playing was a nice touch too. They cranked up the energy for the next number, a medley of “I Walk the Line” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” The fun was infectious and the harmonies really worked. Dylan’s gruff, to-hell-and-back vocals blended with Paul’s pop-radio professionalism in a best-of-both-worlds way that has to be heard to be believed. The last song of the duets utilized Simon’s band brilliantly for a playful reggae turn on the Dylan classic, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” (Paul taking the “put these guns in the ground” line).
Dylan and his four-piece backing band came out about forty minutes later to a stripped down, more minimalist stage setting. Truth be told, I was never a big Dylan fan. Not that I had anything against him — I liked a few songs here and there — but on the whole I just didn’t get it. I must admit that I got my wake up call during his thirteen-song solo set.
The opening song, “Hallelujah, I’m Ready to Go” was a real quick way to distinguish the difference in his style from that of Mr. Simon’s. It was a stark, somber number and set the tone for the rest of the Dylan set. He then went into an all-business version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” where his confidence was unmistakable. The revelation for me was in the next song, “Masters of War.” It was as smart an indictment of recent NATO activity as I’ve heard yet. It’s an older song that Bob realizes is as relevant as ever. The “I’ll stand over your grave until I’m sure that you’re dead” line was particularly well delivered, this song was a real highlight. The next few numbers, “Tangled Up in Blue” and “All Along the Watchtower” were played with a lot of energy and highlighted his band’s unity and flat-out versatility. Dylan blazed through crowd favorites “Just Like a Woman,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” and “Like a Rolling Stone,” as well as “Love Sick” and “Not Dark Yet” from 1997’s Time out of Mind before closing the show with the Fender Stratocaster classic, “Not Fade Away.” Finishing with that song was a real comment on the night and the staying power of these two titans.