Bob Dylan in Total Command in 2016 Desert Trip Set

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Dylan and his band performing at Desert Trip in Indio, CA, on October 7, 2016

Dylan and his band performing at Desert Trip in Indio, CA, on October 7, 2016

Billed as the concert of a lifetime, Desert Trip Indio saw 75,000 attendees descend upon the Empire Polo Fields — the site of Coachella and Stagecoach — for the first of three nights of what’s incomprehensibly mind-blowing classic rock lineup. By the time dusk hit on October 7, 2016, and the beer was flowing and the cocktails consumed, Bob Dylan (the only American on the bill) started the first night off with a blistering bang.

Dylan, whose performances in recent years have been checkered at best, tore through a career-spanning set that featured a little bit of everything. Opening with “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” the bard had fans screaming “Everybody must get stoned” and from the jump, was in total command.

Watch Dylan’s Desert Trip opener

Unlike his generally stripped down headlining shows, Dylan used the Desert Trip stage to project vintage black-and-white archival footage and some other seemingly political imagery, or maybe stuff that the singer/songwriter thought was cool. Either way, the randomness of what appeared on-screen confused audience members, who could be heard grumbling about what he was trying to do.

As has been the norm with his sets, Dylan had nothing to say to the crowd. Instead, his 16-song set did most of the talking. Instead of potentially turning off attendees (read: boring) with songs from his two Frank Sinatra-inspired albums, the 75-year-old dug deep. Cuts like “Early Roman Kings” from 2012’s Tempest, the tour debut of “Lonesome Day Blues” and the dusted-off “Ballad of a Thin Man” demonstrated that Dylan can still weave curveballs into his sets.

Watch Dylan perform “Ballad of a Thin Man”

Otherwise, highlights included the slightly tweaked version of “Tangled Up in Blue” that featured alternate lyrics that Dylan junkies have on their Blood on the Tracks bootlegs, a whirlwind “Highway 61 Revisited” and a somber “Make You Feel My Love.” While the last song may be known for its covers by Billy Joel and Adele, Dylan’s version had a sincere twinge that continues to land it on his list of most unheralded songs.

Related: Expecting Rain… Meeting place for Dylan fans

His one-song encore of “Masters of War” was the only time Dylan appeared to make any kind of political statement. The scathing ode to the military-industrial complex felt at home with the boomer lot, but said more to Dylan’s viewpoints potentially on what’s to come in the next month than many probably realize.

Dylan (in white hat, at piano) and his band onstage at Desert Trip, October 2016

Dylan (in white hat, at piano) and his band onstage at Desert Trip, October 2016

Bob Dylan Desert Trip Setlist
Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
Highway 61 Revisited
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
High Water (For Charley Patton)
Simple Twist of Fate
Early Roman Kings
Love Sick
Tangled Up in Blue
Lonesome Day Blues
Make You Feel My Love
Pay in Blood
Desolation Row
Soon After Midnight
Ballad of a Thin Man

Masters of War

Watch Dylan perform “Desolation Row”

Related: Review of the Rolling Stones’ opening night Desert Trip set

By the time the fireworks display erupted later in the night during the Stones‘ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” smiles were aplenty, and even as the traffic issues that plagued the event from earlier in the day continued, fans left the dusty venue buzzing about how Neil Young and Paul McCartney could possibly top an epic day one.

Another video from Dylan’s set…

Dylan is in the midst of his “Rough and Rowdy Ways” tour. Tickets are available here and here.

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Daniel Kohn

2 Comments so far

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  1. DPAM
    #1 DPAM 8 October, 2020, 13:41

    Find me a Dylan concert, let alone a bunch, that have been ‘checkered’ since 1991 – over 25 years and 1000 plus shows ago. What a hackneyed way to start the article.

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  2. don't mess with the kid
    #2 don't mess with the kid 7 October, 2021, 11:49

    I had just seen Dylan perform at Red Rocks and traveled to Indio to see Dylan and the Stones who I’d never seen live. I was approximately 3000 miles from the stage and had to watch the big screens. Midway thru the second number, the camera shooting the show were turned off and a series of old Dylan videos replaced them. Which sucked.

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