IOWA CITY — If the Bob Dylan who performed Wednesday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena had been the singer in a Bob Dylan cover band, he probably would have been booed off the stage in a matter of minutes.
While it pains me to criticize one of the greatest and most influential rock musicians of all time, Dylan's voice has deteriorated to the point that he's on the brink of tarnishing his legendary mystique.
Of course, Dylan, 66, always has been known for his unconventional voice. But back in his heyday, his nasally drawl had just enough melodic charm to appeal to a wide range of listeners. These days, though, Dylan can't really even sing. He mumbles and growls out lyrics in a phlegmy, throaty voice that distracts from the quality of his material.
The audience, which filled less than half of the arena's available seats, didn't seem overly impressed with Dylan, either. Although most of the crowd stayed for the duration of Dylan's two-hour set, a light trickle of patrons began to leave after only a few songs, and even more began filing out as Dylan entered his second hour on stage.
Dylan, backed by a five-piece band, started his set with two of his usually lively trademark songs, "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 (aka "Everybody Must Get Stoned") and "Don't Think Twice, it's All Right." Unfortunately, Dylan's scraggly voles didn't allow him to convey the ironic joyfulness of the former or the emotional sensitivity of the latter.
As the show progressed, Dylan sounded best when playing songs that were hard-rocking ("Highway 61 Revisited") or purposely menacing ("Masters of War").
Unlike his voice, Dylan's harmonica playing hasn't deteriorated, and some of the best moments of the show were when he blew a few chords.
In stark contrast to Dylan was high-profile opener Elvis Costello, an iconic and legendary rocker in his own right. The 53-year-old Brit played a solo 45-minute set that absolutely sparkled with emotion and intensity.
Costello himself always has had a bit of an unconventional voice, albeit much more conventional than Dylan's. Costello's faux-baritone howl, now with a touch of maturity, sounds even better than it did when he made his debut back in 1977.
Switching off between an array of acoustic and electric guitars, Costello furiously strummed through his short set, playing many of his greatest hits: "Alison," "Veronica," "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?"