When you boil down the list of rock greats to singer-songwriters who’ve done exceptional work in the early ’60s, in the late ’90s, and at regular intervals in between, suddenly you’re left with… Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. Which, cynicism be damned, makes their current coheadlining tour actually worth the three-figure sum you’ll pay for primo seats at some stops. It’s a rare opportunity to kill two bards with one stone.
Be warned, though: The mid-show moment where the two team up is easily the evening’s weakest segment, though you’d feel cheated without it. Invariably, Dylan will croak along on Simon’s ”Sound of Silence,” they’ll share alleged harmonizing on a medley of ”Blue Moon of Kentucky” and ”I Walk the Line,” and Simon will tentatively add a few ”knock knocks” to Dylan’s ”…Heaven’s Door.” And invariably you’ll think they must just be trying this duet thing out for the first time.
But it’s not terrible, and the rest of the show is bliss, whether it’s Simon or Dylan taking turns headlining. These two share a certain pre-MTV inscrutability, but beyond that, they’re a study in valid contrasts. Formally attired Dylan — a gentleman gunslinger in cowboy boots and pinstriped black suit — is musically the more casual of the two, playing fast, loud, and loose with a four-piece band that could still be working things out in the garage. Simon — in baseball cap, blue jeans, sneakers and Gap gray T — looks like he just stepped in from tending the garden, while his multicultural 12-piece band, comprised of some of the finest musicians in the world (and a few so phenomenal they may have been brought in from space), has been rehearsed within an inch of their lives.
Last week at the Hollywood Bowl, Simon went first, promising a ”Bridge Over Troubled Water” while half the 20,000 ticketholders were still outside — in need of a bridge over troubled gridlock. It was a slow-starting set, but deliberately, building to an extended celebrative climax. Whether in an act of synchronicity or great planning, Dustin Hoffman got a cheer for walking down the aisle during ”Mrs. Robinson,” which’d been turned into polyrhythmic country-rock. But the biggest cheers were reserved for lyrics representing possibly contradictory worldviews: ”Stepped outside and smoked myself a J” and ”Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?”
Dylan repped yet another worldview by opening with the gospel-bluegrass ”Hallelujah, I’m Ready to Go,” though he thereafter stuck mostly to greatest hits. His first half hour was an acoustic group set — the first time he’s opened shows acoustically since going electric in ’64, fans say. The recent ”Not Dark Yet” and ”Love Sick” provided later psychodramatic highlights, but it was raveups ”Highway 61” and ”Not Fade Away” that sent the fans home — or back into traffic — happy.
If I said that, with the possible exception of Springsteen’s impending visit, this double bill is the tour of the summer, I would not be convicted by a jury of my peers.