By Mark Guarino
“The winds in Chicago have torn me to shreds,” Bob Dylan sang Monday and obviously people cheered. They knew what it felt like, being at the Park West, just steps from the Lakefront on a chilly March night.
Dylan closed out his four-night stay in Chicago at the venue, giving fans a chance to see the 62-year-old up close. The first of his sold-out residency was at the Aragon Friday and shows downsized from there, moving from the Riviera to the Vic and ending at the Park West. Although the theatre’s capacity is 750, an eyeball estimate of Monday’s crowd looked to be closer to a thousand. Even though doors opened at 6:30 p.m., fans began lining up by mid afternoon. By the time Dylan hit the stage, the crowd reflected what would be expected of a 40-plus year career: high school kids, their boomer-aged parents and one baby just months old dressed in a tie dyed jumper.
This was not the first time Dylan chose to get intimate in Chicago. His show at Metro in 1997 is now the stuff of legend. He returned to play the Park West in 1999.
Of the four shows this weekend, Monday was the longest by one song. The two-hour, 18-song set featured songs he neglected to play the previous nights plus new arrangements of time-honed chestnuts.
Dylan stayed behind his keyboard for a majority of the night, leading his band strictly by eyesight and a slight wave of the band. He held back interacting with the crowd until “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” where he sang through a smile and turned to the crowd for its famous refrain, “everybody must get stoned.”
His band was the bent on the blues. Guitarists Larry Campbell and Freddy Koella (a recent addition on this tour) worked together to submerge songs with a thick swampiness while bassist Tony Garnier and drummers George Recile and Richie Hayward (on loan from Little Feat) beefed up the rhythm. “High Water (For Charley Patton)” was played with a toughened physicality while “Watching the River Flow” — a Dylan rarity from 1971 — was stripped-down 12-bar blues.
The band got versatile many times, shifting backwards and forwards throughout Dylan’s lengthy catalog. The earlier acoustic renderings of “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” were met later with “Bye and Bye,” a homage to 20’s swing and “Summer Days,” a rockabilly romp. Rather than sticking with the routine that comes with playing the latter endless times on tour, Dylan looked to be constantly engaged as if making it up as he went along. At one point mid-song, he instructed a roadie to pick up a guitar to fill out the sound and directed the band through several shifts.
By night’s end he faced the crowd, swaggering and jabbing his fingers left and right, as if saying just because he’s called a legend, don’t think he’s not still restless.