Bob Dylan plays the Knoxville Civic Auditorium tonight at 8:00 pm. It will mark somewhere around the 40th time I’ve seen him in concert, though I’d have to research it to know precisely how many times we’ve gotten together. I saw him first in April 1976 in Mobile, Alabama and I saw him most recently in New York in 2018. I’ve seen him when the show was brilliant and when it was less so. I was happy to be in his presence every time. In recent years, I’ve often assumed each show might be the last. At 80 years old, he can’t go on forever.
Tonight, I’ll join my daughter and a contingent of fellow Dylan fans at the show. If you are looking for us, look for the (probably only) row of people wearing masks. This is my first concert since the beginning of the pandemic, and it feels a bit strange. I’d prefer we join New York City and most of Europe in requiring proof of vaccination, but that isn’t how we roll in this town. (Ed. Update: The notification email for the show tonight said that MASKS ARE REQUIRED.)
The last time Bob came to the city, five years ago yesterday, we’d just had an election the day before. You might remember the one – a bit surprising as I recall. I wrote a piece about what to expect, in which I detailed some of the various ways Bob has presented himself and what he was doing at the time. A lot has happened since then. In the middle of the pandemic, Bob released the widely acclaimed Rough and Rowdy Ways, his first album of new material since the 2012’s Tempest.
Bob’s current tour started November 2 and the Knoxville show will be his seventh on the twenty-one-show tour. While Bob can throw in a change any night along the way, I’ve looked at the first five shows and it gives us a pretty good idea of what to expect. First, Bob will play the piano with a few seemingly random trips to the front of the stage to sing.
He will play a bit of harmonica, but he will not play guitar. He will only speak once and that to introduce the band. He will most likely play seventeen songs and eight of them will be from his most recent album. He will not play one song from his first Greatest Hits album.
Here is the most likely set list (ask your smart speaker to play the ones you don’t know, so you’ll recognize them)
Watching the River Flow
Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I’ll Go Mine)
I Contain Multitudes*
When I Paint My Masterpiece
I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
My Own Version of You*
To Be Alone With You
Early Roman Kings
Key West (Philosopher Pirate)
Gotta Serve Somebody
I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You*
Mother of Muses*
Goodbye Jimmy Reed*
Every Grain of Sand
*Songs from Rough and Rowdy Ways
Just for kicks, I’ve listed the twenty-five best songs he’s recorded in the last twenty five years of his fifty-nine year recording career. I’ve listed them by album. What makes these the best twenty-five songs? Because I said so. I prefer the contemplative to the rowdy, so that is my bias. Your list might be different, but isn’t it amazing we could argue about the twenty-five best songs of any artist – and in this case cut out the first thirty-four years? Warning: A couple of the videos are violent. They are actors. No one was killed for the making of these videos. (I’m pretty sure.)