ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 26, 1993
By Steve Newton
It was the clash of the American rock titans last Sunday (August 22) at the Coliseum, and after Big Bad Bobby D. took on Carlos “The Fret Strangler” Santana in a four-hour, 15-man battle royal, only one man remained standing as a certified rock champ of the ’90s. Dylan fans who paid nearly 50 bucks for ringside seats must have been shocked, because the heavily favoured veteran got his flabby musical butt kicked in every way by younger, leaner underdog Santana.
In front of a bright, multicoloured banner depicting people of all races standing together in peace and harmony, Santana and his nine-piece band cooked up a stirring melting pot of rock, jazz, blues, Latin, and reggae, and served it to the 5,800 fans in the joyful, uplifting manner the group is noted for.
Whether churning out a deathless guitar-rock classic (“Black Magic Woman”) or a stark and beautiful tribute to former title-holder Stevie Ray Vaughan (“Somewhere in Heaven”), the Santana band was unbeatable. When the various rhythm players took their solo turns, the audience picked up on the awesome vibes and started sounding more like a rowdy Saturday-night crowd than a mellow Sunday-night one. As for Santana himself, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guitarist who feels the music more than Carlos. His instrument truly becomes an extension of his physical and mental being. Either that or he’s an excellent faker.
I was so impressed by Santana’s inspirational set that I walked right out to the t-shirt booth and plunked down 22 smackers for a black Santana baseball cap. And for a guy who usually holds out for free promotional goodies, that’s saying something. Two hours later, when Dylan left the stage, I was really glad I hadn’t screwed up and bought a cap with his name on it instead.
Accompanied by lead guitar, bass, drums, and a pedal-steel/lap-slide player, the former Mr. Zimmerman took the stage in a sharp black suit, black cowboy boots, and a white cowboy shirt. Although Dylan’s band enjoyed nowhere near the clean, pronounced sound of Santana, the noisy, garage-style guitar rumble made for an exciting, sped-up version of “All Along the Watchtower”. After a rugged “Tangled Up in Blue”, though, things got very snoozable as Dylan traded his Strat for an acoustic guitar and started mumbling some unintelligible folk tunes I didn’t even want to know. “Don’t you think he sounds like Porky Pig?” asked a rock scribe sitting nearby, and I couldn’t really argue the point.
During Dylan’s listless and mostly hitless set, many concertgoers could be seen heading for the exit doors, but the vast majority—obviously die-hard followers—toughed it out, and ended up awarding him the quietest standing ovation I’ve ever heard. As for me, I almost fell asleep an hour into the set, dreaming about his unforgettable show with Tom Petty at Berkeley’s Greek Theatre in ’86.
As far as Dylan the performer goes, the times ain’t a-changin’ for the better.