His face was smeared with white grease-paint, his lips and nose were red. He was an electric Picasso clown who said every song was a "true story."
"Listen carefully," Bob Dylan told the 16,000 people at last night's four-hour long Maple Leaf Gardens concert, to be repeated tonight.
And who didn't? For his Rolling Thunder Revue, soon to end its two months of wandering in New York, was something of a folk circus in which many of the side shows might have occupied the centre ring.
There were four songs by Joni Mitchell, each an emotional strip without any tease. Then some vintage Woody Guthrie from the equally vintage Ramblin' Jack Elliott, who looked, as one song ran, as if he had "been lived in too long to tear down."
There was Ronee Blakley, from the film Nashville, looking like an actress playing a part. And Roger McQuinn [sic], Gordon Lightfoot, Bobby Neuwirth and the English guitarist, Mick Ronson, conjuring up letter perfect solos at the drop of a tune.
And there was Joan Baez, a dark angel in duet with Dylan in his gypsy rags, her very dark dignity filling the hall. Elton John was backstage up to intermission. And David Clayton-Thomas dropped by.
But most of all, there was Dylan.
He ended the first half of the concert, his knees and waist bent as he leaned toward the microphone, crackling out new songs like Durango and Isis in his saw-toothed voice.
As he began and ended the second half with his friends, first Baez, then, as the thunder rolled to a close, with everyone on stage.
His last Toronto concert, also at the Gardens but backed by The Band, was a moody affair.
Last night he was caught up in the whirl around him (the excellent band swelled at times to eight members), a jiving, romping Petroushka in baggy blue jeans dancing at his own fair.
Suddenly, it was easy to remember the little rooms you were sitting in when you first heard the warning from the song, "and you who philosophize disgrace." You could remember the people you were with, the hunger and unease you felt and, even stranger, the sense he was saying it all for you.
For he was saying it all again last night.
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