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In this Jan. 12, 2012, file photo, Bob Dylan performs in Los Angeles. Dylan was named the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in a stunning announcement that for the first time bestowed the prestigious award to someone primarily seen as a musician. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

I checked my arithmetic twice, because the result seemed impossible. But it was true. The first time I saw Bob Dylan was 50 years ago. Yep, a half-a-century. And, you know, we both seem to be in pretty good shape, considering all that’s happened since then.

Bob has recorded dozens of albums, played thousands of concerts around the world, been awarded a Nobel Prize, sold his catalog of music for something like $300 million, etc. And I’ve done stuff too.

It was a thrill when Bob walked on stage in that hockey arena in St. Louis in ‘74. He was already a superstar.

And it was a thrill on April 1 when he took a seat at the baby grand piano in the center of the Saenger Theatre stage almost exactly two years after his previous visit.

Now a legend by anybody’s standards, at 82, Bob sounded strong. That being said, enunciation is still not a priority. And he has not gained a newfound respect for conventional syllable breaks and such. Nor does he seem terribly concerned if anyone is listening.?

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Bob Dylan appears at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans, April 1, 2024

It follows that it’s not always easy to make out all the words. Imagine if the person on the microphone at the drive-up window at Burger King was a gruff, rural Midwesterner who also happened to be a genius lyricist and composer. That’s more or less what a Dylan concert is like.

There are no big video screens, no backdrop and no colored lights changing with the mood. Visible behind one of the most remarkable artists of the past century, stood three aluminum ladders, a big equipment crate, and a sublime black wall crossed with sprinkler pipes.

Bob’s band was perfectly good but not in the least ostentatious. They laid down a country-swing foundation, and sometimes playfully chased around after Bob’s idiosyncratic piano playing and harmonica assaults. And that was that.

Now, don’t for a second think that any of this is a criticism. Au contraire, it’s pure adoration. Bob — I call him Bob, ‘cause we go way back — is utterly, unalterably authentic. Back in '74, he wrote: “In this age of fiberglass, I’m searching for a gem.” Bob, buddy, in an age of increasing artificiality, YOU are the gem.

The concert started with Dylan’s classic “Watchin’ the River Flow.” I suspect he selected that number because it allowed him to kick off the show wryly, with the line “What’s the matter with me, I don’t have much to say.” Bob always has lots to say.

Most of the songs were from his newish album “Rough and Rowdy Ways.” These are long, lush epics, splattered with phrases like Jackson Pollock splattered paint. In these tunes, Dylan touches on everything from Frankenstein to Anne Frank, to fast cars, to Julius Caesar to the Muse Calliope. It can be really hard to keep up.

So it’s a relief that he mixes in a few old faves that many of us memorized long ago. But here’s the thing: you can’t just sing along in your head, because Bob sometimes changes the words. Not just a few words, lots of words. Whole passages of “When I Paint My Masterpiece” and “Serve Somebody” were brand spankin’ new.

Including the Hank Williams tune “On the Banks of the Old Pontchartrain” in the setlist was perfect. Honestly, I’d never heard it before. (According to setlist.fm, this was the first time Dylan has ever performed it at a concert.)

Do you think that maybe Dylan’s “Key West: Philosopher Pirate” was dedicated to the late Jimmy Buffett? I mean, it seemed dreamy, but somehow sad too, right? The song was already recorded before Buffett died, but Dylan may have known the time was coming. Or maybe, you know, it was just about Key West. That’s something my friends and I talked about after the show. There was lots to talk about.

The show was the first time I’d ever been to a concert where they prohibited the use of cellphones. Here’s how it worked. You gave somebody your phone at the door. They dropped it into a small sack called a Yondr pouch that they snapped shut with some sort of electronic lock. Then they gave your phone back. At the end of the show, they unlocked your bag and freed your personal device.

Listen, nobody’s more married to their iPhone than me. But I gotta tell you, it was pretty cool to watch a show without all the little glowing screens winking and blinking around you. They didn’t have any such thing back in 1974 and we got along just fine, didn’t we, Bob?

Dylan closed with one of his old hymns, “Every Grain of Sand.” He stood up, faced the audience, sort of bowed and was gone. Prescheduled encore? Nope.

Email Doug MacCash at dmaccash@theadvocate.com. Follow him on Instagram at dougmaccash, on Twitter at Doug MacCash and on Facebook at Douglas James MacCash

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