Bob Dylan at the United Center

October 29, 2001

''You that never done nothin'/But build to destroy/You play with my world/Like it's
your little toy/You put a gun in my hand/And you hide from my eyes/And you turn
and run farther/When the fast bullets fly.''

Bob Dylan first recorded those words in 1963, when he was 22.

Now, the legendary voice of a generation is 60, but it is doubtful that he ever sang
''Masters of War'' with more passion than he did at the United Center on Saturday
night, and those lyrics remain just as relevant as they were on the day they were

Fronting the five-piece group that he correctly called, sans hyperbole, ''the best
band in the land,'' Dylan continued riding an incredible decade-long high that has
found him consistently delivering the most gripping performances of his career, in
stark contrast to other Baby Boom icons who have long since switched to
autopilot. As he has done at other more intimate venues like Metro and the Park
West, he invested his classics with new energy by reinterpreting them so they were
barely recognizable until the familiar refrains: ''The Times They Are A-Changin,' ''
''It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding),'' ''Gotta Serve Somebody,'' ''Visions of

Jousting with his bandmates and doing the occasional awkward but endearing
soft-shoe dance move, he also clearly relished performing country-blues and
rockabilly material such as ''Mississippi,'' ''Summer Days, and "Forever Young''
from his superb new album, ''Love and Theft.'' (Though in his typically perverse
fashion, he avoided the single and never mentioned the album title.)

Dylan remains wonderfully, vibrantly connected to the all-important rock 'n' roll
present because he refuses to treat his songs as museum pieces, and because he is
still willing to indulge in the give and take of a genuine band as opposed to just
leaning on the backing of talented hired hands.

Switching throughout the set between electric and acoustic modes, he encouraged
his group--lead guitarist Charlie Sexton, multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell,
bassist Tony Garnier and drummer David Kemper--to challenge him and his
listeners, and he did the same.

While the live band arguably missed the organ work of the recordings (Augie
Meyers played the famous Al Kooper/Garth Hudson role on the new album),
Dylan seems devoted to showcasing what should be hailed as one of the greatest
guitar bands in rock history, a claim that was more than justified by the exchange of
fluid and furious riffs through the bravura encores of ''Like A Rolling Stone,'' ''All
Along the Watchtower,'' and ''Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.''

One could quibble with the choice of venue this time out; the upper tier of the
United Center was mostly empty, which means that Dylan could probably have
performed two nights at a more comfortable theater. But the sound was superb,
and the crowd--which was encouragingly divided between twentysomethings and
fiftysomethings, as is common at Dylan's shows--responded with great enthusiasm,
and never more so than during ''Masters of War.''

''How much do I know/To talk out of turn/You might say that I'm young/You might
say I'm unlearned/But there's one thing I know/Though I'm younger than you,''
Dylan sang in that one-of-a-kind croak, delivering the only words that seemed
slightly out of date. ''Even Jesus would never/Forgive what you do.''

Jim DeRogatis, pop music critic