Reflections on Dylan’s performance at White House Civil Rights concert

Bob Dylan book jacket.for twitterThere’s been a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking going on surrounding Bob Dylan’s performance last night at the White House Civil Rights concert, with one English critic calling it the “worst” of the evening.

I think the arrangement of the song was really beautiful. I loved the spare acoustic trio. Bassist Tony Garnier, who has been with Dylan for two decades, of course drove the song. Who was the pianist? I love the repetitive, circular phrase he came up with – it really put the song in a whole different place, musically – a bit of modern pop with a hint of jazz.

I think Dylan wasn’t unsure of when to play guitar, as some have suggested. If you listen without watching (at the Bob Dylan Examiner) then you can really hear how he consciously chooses when to play. It’s a lot like a jazz trio in that sense. In any case, this has become Dylan’s playing style in general; it’s not much different from how he plays in his own concerts.

As for Dylan’s voice, sure, to anyone who hasn’t heard him since he recorded “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” he probably sounded awful. But to anyone who has been keeping up with him all these years, especially lately, he actually sounded great — he sang more melodiously than usual, he was always on key (Dylan NEVER sings off key), and he sang with particular conviction last night and original phrasing.

I do have one other question though (besides “who was the piano player?”).

Did it seem to you like Dylan was preparing to play a second song when a bunch of security guys swooped to the stage and pretty much led him off before he could start playing?

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13 Responses to “Reflections on Dylan’s performance at White House Civil Rights concert”

  1. kevin c says:

    That English writer is an asshole. Cluless jerkoff.

    The arragement was beautiful, the singing spot-on.

  2. jean-marc says:

    right Seth ! Bob never sings off key and some so called Bob’s cats or whatever! should open their ears and listen to the music and to his voice !!!

  3. Chris Wood says:

    Dylan sounded great. Incredible, moving performance nostalgic AND full of hope. IMHO.

  4. Ray H, Bournemouth, England says:

    That a a very good version of the song , he did it as if it was an old English Madrigal, and it also swayed like a sea shanty,trust him to find a new special way to sing it again

  5. Seth Kulick says:


    I agree with your comments about Dylan’s singing and also about
    the piano. It really added to
    the performance. Bob’s singing verged on the sort of staccato-type
    thing he’s been doing in concert, usually to a ridiculous degree for
    a verse or two on some songs. But here he only verged on it and
    never went too far with it. Very effective I thought.

    And yes, there was definitely something weird going
    on at the end as far as whether he was supposed to play another song
    or what. Another question is what happened to Bob for the finale of
    Lift Every Voice and Sing ?

  6. Alan Berg says:

    You got it just write Seth. The piano ‘dance’ was the key, other than Bob’s voice ‘dance.’

  7. drp says:

    My understanding is the concert was pushed ahead a day because of the snow and they wanted to hurry everything up. He was ready to play another song but because of time constraints they “suggested” he get off NOW. A bigger question is what happened in the middle of Smokey Robinson singing “People Get Ready”, they stopped in the middle and started over. That was odd, I wasn’t paying close attention at the time so I didn’t see what precipitated that.

    All in all I thought it was one of the best performances Bob has put on in a long time. Remember the ’91 Grammy Awards (I think it was the Grammys) when Nicholson introduced him, Bob came out and rambled aimlessly, then ripped up an almost unrecognizeable “Masters Of War”? Actually, that was very cool.

  8. Mike says:

    Well done Bob. I saw “Jack Frost” on the credits at the end but missed what it was for- what was that?

  9. Louis Solnicki says:


    A great review of Bob’s performance!! To me, he appeared like a troubadour from ages past. He wore what seemed like a doublet and a white scarf around his neck. He sang tenderly and forcefully with conviction. I agree that the arrangement was like a madrigal — the 3/4 time was interesting, accentuated by the base. I was startled to see him — I had to look twice–because PBS did not mention that he was appearing. I was also startled and so pleased to see the lovely and gracious Joan Baez. And I wonder,the romantic that I am, if Bob and Joan finally had a schmooze back stage after all these years and whether or not they left together…..

  10. Buddy Deal says:

    The piano player was a session player from LA named Patrick Warren.

  11. Donna says:

    The beautiful lyrics are just as relevant now as when he wrote them. It was a wonderful performance.

  12. Bob was exceptional and stole the night. Half of the performers there would not have been there or would not have been enlightened if not for Dylan’s voice in the 60’s. How we all forget. Bob is a true bluesman in the tradition of Robert Johnson and Blind Willie McTell. His vocals eminate the long and rough journey that he has been on forever. The arrangement of the song with Tony was amazing. Even to this day people love to throw stones at him. Leave the guy alone if you cannot understand his talent.

  13. j murray says:

    Great performance by Bob. All these years later, he’s still the
    best – a true American treasure. Fitting that he should perform at the White House for the first African American president at a Civil Rights function. Bravo, Bob!

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