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Friday, April 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 50.0° F  Fog/Mist
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MUSIC

Bob Dylan has no voice, lots of heart at Overture Hall

At age 69, Dylan still has it going on.
At age 69, Dylan still has it going on.
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Bob Dylan is in his post-articulation phase. Monday at Overture Hall, his voice was little more than an ambient rumble. He can't sustain a melody anymore, but rather reduces classic songs like "Desolation Row" to a series of short, stabbing phrases. Reaching for a low note, he sometimes winds up in a gruff register he shares only with Cookie Monster.

Nevertheless, the audience ate up Dylan and his five-piece band in the first of two sets. Hearing canonical songs like "All Along the Watchtower" -- even in outline form -- is thrilling. Our imaginations fill in the notes Dylan can't hit, and we're happy to do it for him. Hey, think of everything he's done for us over the years.

Plus, at age 69, Dylan still has it going on. He's not a museum piece, like fellow rock legends the Rolling Stones, but an artist with solid new material. The new stuff was the highlight of his show, particularly swinging up-tempo blues like "The Levee's Gonna Break." Dylan brought real passion to these songs, even coaxing a bit of life from his once-expressive vocal cords.

Dylan compensates for his frayed voice by playing to the audience more than he has in recent decades. He used to let his genius as a writer and performer speak for itself, remaining inwardly focused onstage.

Now, he's practically the song-and-dance man he once ironically called himself. He crouches with his guitar; he leans into his organ; he sings to the crowd with arms extended. That's right, folks: We finally get eye contact with Bob Dylan after all these years. No wonder the Overture crowd swooned.

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