Tue, Apr 05, 2011 - Page 16 News List

Weekender: Two legends rock Taipei in first Taiwan shows

Rock fans in Taiwan were treated to impressive performances last week from not one, but two giants of rock ’n’ roll: Santana and Bob Dylan

By David Chen  /  Staff Reporter

But there was no apparent lack of enthusiasm from the American music icon, who, accompanied by his top-notch five-man backing band, burned through 16 songs in a concert that lasted over an hour and a half. Taipei Arena, which holds around 15,000 people, looked around two-thirds full. (Organizers say they sold approximately 70 percent of available tickets.)

Dylan was animated throughout the show, swinging his leg to the beat as he leaned into the keyboard at the side of the stage, which he played for half of the set. For a handful of other songs, Dylan stood at center stage, gently shimmying and swaying in front of the microphone, gesturing widely with his hands as he sang and bending his knees while belting out soulful solos on harmonica.

The concert began with a funky Gotta Serve Somebody, from the 1979 album Slow Train Coming, which drew a hair-raising cascade of cheers from the audience. But it wouldn’t have mattered what Dylan’s first song was: The feeling of anticipation and excitement from the crowd — a mix of expats and locals, young hipsters, business types and gray-haired retirees, many of them likely experiencing a Dylan concert for the first time — was palpable.

It was a solid show that revolved around blues-rock grooves and wall-of-sound guitar jams. Dylan and his band presented a healthy mix of old and new material, with some songs dramatically re-arranged. It Ain’t Me, Babe was virtually unrecognizable and even newer songs such as Cold Irons Bound (from 1997’s Time Out of Mind) sounded markedly different from the original recording. Highlights included a moving rendition of Simple Twist of Fate, which featured sweetly hypnotic melodies from lead guitarist Charlie Sexton. Dylan drew a rousing response with his biting vocal delivery on Desolation Row, while Ballad of a Thin Man also pleased the crowd with its spooky intensity.

The Dylan of today sports a raspy, croaky voice, and on louder and faster numbers, he tends to rap-sing his lyrics. On quieter songs, he can still croon. The band’s rendition of Sugar Baby, from 2001’s Love and Theft, was simply gorgeous and one of the more memorable highlights of the evening.

Visually, the show was old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll basics: Dylan’s band wore matching gray suits and black hats, while their bandleader donned a black suit to go with his white hat. The lighting was simple, but played up Dylan’s mystique by casting his shadow, which loomed large in the background throughout the concert.

Dylan ended the evening with an encore of two songs that cemented his place as a rock ’n’ roll icon: Like a Rolling Stone and Blowin’ In the Wind, which had most of the audience out of their seats, dancing and cheering.

A side note: If there was one common complaint I heard about both concerts, it was the sub-par sound for the audience in the back. I sat near the front for both shows, but several friends who purchased cheaper seats told me they felt disappointed with the quality of the sound.

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