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Bob Dylan’s Rough and Unusual Ways Tour in Chicago

Bob Dylan sang “I am a man of contradictions” at the opening of his three-night run at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. “And a man of many moods.”

That it is, and on Friday, all points came back to those declarations during a nuanced 110-minute performance that found the iconic artist in a gregarious, enterprising mood. The all-business famous singer-songwriter spoke several times to express his gratitude and even treated the near-capacity crowd to a rare sight: a wide grin that underlined his appreciation.

More importantly, Dylan’s voice was relatively clear; His revived voice still lacked the cramped shrillness and roughness that had been present during countless performances. This is nice too, as it frames most of the arrangements around inventive vocal phrasing and understated piano lines. A talented group wearing shades of black and gray followed his lead, remaining largely in the shadows to give the songs a better chance of hinting, lingering, simmering or hitting.

Refreshed by the addition of Jerry Pentecost on drums, the sharply dressed Dylan and his backing quintet drew heavily from his 2020 double LP “Rough and Rowdy Ways.” They guided through hybrid rockabilly, rural and folk landscapes filled with bloodlust, pain, greed, wrath and power struggles. Dylan, who has long worn a mask, rarely makes his intentions known. But the connections to contemporary situations and issues were impossible to miss.

For good measure and balance, the Minnesota native added a little romance. And, especially for Chicago, a well-chosen pair of blues covers to round out the proceedings. Specifically, “Born in Chicago,” a scathing take on gun violence originally recorded by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Members of this group supported Dylan when he hooked him, polarized his fan base, and transformed popular music. 1965 Newport Folk Festival.

At 82, Dylan continues to provoke and shape. He remains a social scientist and master of unpredictability, the equivalent of analog enthusiasts living in the digital age. Fans who attended their date in Chicago were mailed physical tickets that resembled torn-up drafts kept as souvenirs from events in the late ’80s. There is no visible barcode, they are so small that they fit in the palm of your hand. Additionally, everyone put their phones in sealed bags at the entrance. That’s it for any social media post.

In fact, in an age when any promise of surprise is often derailed by the constant flood of information on the channels, Dylan stands as an outcast determined to preserve the sanctity of surprise. It often takes years before you release a new album. His latest LP (“Shadow Kingdom”) sees the master artist aptly reinterpret 13 of his previous works; a creative method that has guided his concerts for decades.

He published a book last year. It’s not a sequel to his famous memoir “Chronicles: Volume One” (2004), but rather a tribute to songwriting and the practitioners he believes have nailed the craft (“The Philosophy of Modern Song”). This document also serves as an extension of the mindset that has seen Dylan maintain a busy touring schedule. By staying the course and refusing to let the times or trends dictate the circumstances, he embraces the same spirit as the past blues legends and turn-of-the-century troubadours who inspired him.

These values ​​even influenced a few well-known scenes starring Dylan and Co.; each received inside-out treatments that revealed new meanings, angles, and possibilities. Rather than treating favorites like “You’ll Most Likely Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” as sacred classics to be preserved in amber, the singer-pianist treated them like pieces of clay to be molded and tweaked.

“When I Painted My Masterpiece” strayed so far from its original incarnation that it featured several lyrical shifts before conveying the exuberance, color, and mayhem of the open-air European market. Always a sign of this, Dylan jumped up from the piano bench and stood up to press the keys; the transition, combined with his band’s rhythmic shuffling, evoked the exuberant shifts of a community chopping wood in a garage or basement. “I Gotta Serve Somebody” benefited from a similar revision; its basic truths are dispersed among honky-toned accents and call-and-response guitar riffs.

With his right foot visibly swinging beneath the piano, Dylan proved equally commanding and in control of the balladic material. He wandered through “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” unaccompanied until the midpoint, when his band came in and laid out their cheerful boogie-woogie rhythms. The tune soon returned to its slow tempo, the tempo trickery giving way to Dylan’s subtle melody and revealing warmth. As for “That Old Dark Magic”? Dylan had it both figuratively and with a lively interpretation by Johnny Mercer that embraced the pedal steel guitar’s train whistle shriek and the clatter of railroad cars rolling down the tracks.

Aside from the brisk, string-driven tempo of “Goodbye Jimmy Reed,” Dylan favored a thoughtful, thoughtful approach to the richness of his recent material. He trusted his voice and trusted his group to respond to how he lengthened and contracted syllables; emphasized or suspended certain words; he stuck to rhymes or clung to them; and used its rhythm as a percussive tool. Dylan used conversational tones and delivered his lyrics with a cool, deceptively calm demeanor. It could not be mixed and, unlike zig-zagging note sequences and unbalanced time signatures, it would not bend.

Admirable qualities when watching stories involving pirates, braggarts, rogues and ghosts. With a famous smile, Dylan issued threats and declared his revenge. He enjoyed the exaggeration, absurdity and humor in intense detail, imagery, symbolism and insinuation. Legends or parables, riddles or nursery rhymes: stripped-down versions of the fever dream “False Prophet” and the epic “Crossing the Rubicon” blended disciplines; The tenderness in Dylan’s singing seemingly belied the cruelty and distress the narratives implied.

Or maybe the vocalist was just trying to come to terms with the world and his own destiny; this confidence was a sign of experience, erudition, and the recognition of someone who could “see the history of the entire human race.” Dylan made this second statement during the gentle trot of “My Own Version,” in which he name-checks biblical figures like Liberace, Sigmund Freud and Al Pacino.

The black-and-white noir of “I Contain Many” and the elegant invocation of “Mother of Muses” spread with further references, songs dividing the middle between good and evil, need and desire. It’s a messy area and not for the faint of heart or the faint of heart. Dylan, who has researched the human condition for more than 60 years and won a Nobel Prize for his efforts, should know this.

The central message of their tireless travels and curious investigations? Go on.

8 p.m. Oct. 7-8, Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St.; www.bobdylan.com

Bob Gendron is a freelance critic.

October 6 Cadillac Palace Theatre’s set list:

“I Was Born in Chicago” (Paul Butterfield Blues Band cover)

“You’ll probably go your way (and I’ll go mine)”

“I Accommodate Multitudes”

“False prophet”

“When I Painted My Masterpiece”

“Black Horseman”

“My Own Version”

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”

“Crossing the Rubicon”

“Alone with you”

“Key West (The Philosopher Pirate)”

“I Must Serve Someone”

“I Decided to Give Myself to You”

“That Old Black Magic” (Johnny Mercer cover)

“Mother of Muses”

“Goodbye Jimmy Reed”

“Every Grain of Sand”

“Forty Days and Forty Nights” (Muddy Waters cover)

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