Don’t Look Back: What to Expect When Bob Dylan Plays Tanglewood

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

by Seth Rogovoy

(LENOX, Mass.) – Consider yourselves warned. When you go to see Bob Dylan perform at Tanglewood on Saturday, July 2 (or at Forest Hills Stadium on July 8, or anywhere during his summer tour), you will be hearing almost no songs you associate with Bob Dylan. In fact, unless you’re a hardcore fan, you may only recognize one or two of the 20 songs he will probably play that night. All together, only four songs – 20 percent of the concert – were originally recorded by Dylan in the 20th century.

(SPOILER ALERT: What follows includes specific discussion of the songs Bob Dylan will likely sing at Tanglewood.)

If the set lists Dylan has been performing for the last couple of months are any indication – and while once upon a time, Dylan shook things up from night to night, these days he seems to be adhering closely to a set list that works for him night after night – the only “famous” Bob Dylan songs he will be playing are “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Tangled Up in Blue.” Those are likely the only two songs the average music fan and casual Bob Dylan fan will know, and even then, they may be delivered in renditions bearing little to no resemblance to the originals or previous versions of the songs.


Here’s an overview of what concertgoers are likely to hear:

Over the course of two sets plus a two-song encore, for a total of 20 songs, fully 1/3 of the songs Dylan will sing are his renditions of pre-rock pop standards typically associated with Frank Sinatra and his ilk, recorded on Dylan’s two most recent albums, “Shadows in the Night” and “Fallen Angels.” Some of these seven songs are “Melancholy Mood,” “All or Nothing at All,” “I’m a Fool to Want You,” “Why Try to Change Me,” and “Autumn Leaves,” which will likely close the second set.

Fully one-quarter – five songs – of the set will be pulled from Dylan’s most recent album of original songs, “Tempest,” recorded in 2012 – interestingly enough, at Jackson Browne’s studio in Santa Monica (Browne just played Tanglewood last week). While “Tempest” garnered critical acclaim and commercial success, with time, much of that praise seems overheated, except perhaps for the song “Pay in Blood,” which Dylan will likely perform at Tanglewood, as well as “Duquesne Whistle,” “Long and Wasted Years,” “Scarlet Town” and “Early Roman Kings.” Those not familiar with “Tempest” who are heading to Saturday’s show may do well to give those songs a good listen to before then.

The concert will feature only two songs Dylan recorded in the 1960s – the aforementioned “Blowin’ in the Wind” (as an encore) and the lesser-known “She Belongs to Me,” whose opening line is often mistaken for the title as well as supplying one of Dylan’s best known catchphrases: “She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist, she don’t look back.”

“Tangled Up in Blue,” from Dylan’s landmark “Blood on the Tracks” album, is the only song Dylan recorded in the 1970s that he will sing. Notably, Dylan sings no songs from his late 1970s/early 1980s “gospel” albums, nor does he sing anything from his 1989 “comeback” album, “Oh Mercy,” or anything else from that decade, for that matter.
The 1990s are represented by “Love Sick,” from his Grammy Award-winning 1997 comeback album, “Time Out of Mind,” and that’s it. He’ll play four songs from the aughties, including the Academy Award-winning number, “Things Have Changed” (from “Wonder Boys”), and one song each from 2001’s “Love and Theft” (“High Water”), 2006’s “Modern Times” (“Spirit on the Water” and 2009’s “Together Through Life” (“Beyond Here Lies Nothin’”).

There’s hope for hearing some other Bob Dylan songs – Mavis Staples, who warms up the crowd for Dylan, typically sings some of his songs in her sets. But don’t expect any interaction between the two longtime friends and musical collaborators. Dylan doesn’t roll that way.

Also of note: Don’t expect Dylan to play guitar. He will mostly sing with microphone in hand, old-skool style. Maybe he’ll play some harmonica.

And finally – Dylan is wholly unpredictable. Lightning could strike and he could totally rewrite the history of Tour 2016 with an entirely new setlist for Tanglewood. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Seth Rogovoy is the author of “Bob Dylan: Prophet Mystic Poet” (Scribner, 2009).



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