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Why Bob Dylan rarely plays his hits live

Bob Dylan


Why Bob Dylan rarely plays his hits live

Bob Dylan is one of the most prolific songwriters of all time with more than 600 songs written during his career which has spanned more than six decades. But he is not only known for being an avid writer, he also is an avid touring musician. Dylan has been always on tour since he started and continues to perform every year.


But unlike many successful artists, Dylan doesn’t like to perform his biggest hits and when he does play them it’s usually with a different arrangement. But why does Dylan rarely play his hits live? Rock and Roll Garage tries to answer that question, since the man himself doesn’t talk often with the press.

Why Bob Dylan rarely plays his hits live

The career of a musician always starts from their love for music and the need to transform in words and melodies their feelings and opinions. The need to be creative and make music is their veins. Is the best thing they can do, it’s the best way they have to express themselves. Obviously, if they are lucky enough to create music that a lot of people like, they will eventually become rich and famous too.

Some artists are able to have more success than others but no one can be successful in all their careers and keep releasing best-selling albums. So after experiencing success there are two types of artists. First those who will keep playing their biggest hits live and in the middle of the setlist put a few b-sides and new songs. Most bands and artists are like that because they want to have the biggest crowd possible in their concerts and of course, to give the fans what they want. That’s why groups like The Rolling Stones, for example, continue to play to sold out stadiums all these years.

But there are artists like Bob Dylan for example, who achieved so much in their careers and really are not interested anymore in that kind of situation. The Folk Rock artist could be playing easily to sold out stadiums if he had kept playing all his hits live in the same arrangements they were recorded and heard by millions of fans worldwide. But although the musician kept touring all these decades, he wasn’t interested in that. The message we believe there is behind the way he plans his concerts is that he wants to show the fans what they might not know or what they should pay attention to.

Bob Dylan is much more than a few hits

Even people who have no idea who he is might have already heard songs like “Mr. Tambourine Man”, “Like a Rolling Stone”, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” many times. But most people who go see him already know all the words and chords to those songs for decades. So besides fulfilling his need to play tracks from his catalog that are not always known and showing them to the fans, Bob wants to show he is much more than a few hits.

That is certainly one of the reasons why touring is still such a fun thing for him. Like Paul McCartney, Dylan doesn’t tour because he needs money or fame. Musicians from that level are long past that. They keep doing it because it’s in their veins. Their lives are made of music and to continue to feel alive, they need to keep doing that even in their 80s.

Of course, groups and artists who weren’t so successful like Dylan couldn’t do such a thing. Because almost no one would show up at their concerts. But Dylan doesn’t need to worry about that. So he keeps giving people what he had given them all these decades: original music.

Analyzing his 2023 setlist

If we analyze one of his 2023 setlists, we can see that he played songs from many different eras of his career but none of them were big hits. He also performed almost the entire album “Rough and Rowdy Ways” released in 2020.

The only song from his most recent record that he didn’t play was “Murder Most Foul”. But that was expected since the track is simply 16 minutes long. So the setlist tells us again that Dylan wants to show the fans live that there is more to his work. The new work and songs that maybe not everyone paid attention on old albums.

Bob also doesn’t allow the audience to use their cellphones or cameras to record the shows. It might sound something unthinkable these days, but he wants them to be there, paying attention to the music. He wants them to be part of the show and join the experience of live music.

One of his 2023 setlists

  1. “Watching the River Flow” (Single – 1971)
  2. “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine” (Blonde on Blonde – 1966)
  3. “I Contain Multitudes” (From “Rough and Rowdy Ways” 2020)
  4. “False Prophet” (From “Rough and Rowdy Ways” 2020)
  5. “When I Paint My Masterpiece” (Made famous by The Band – 1971)
  6. “Black Rider” (From “Rough and Rowdy Ways” 2020)
  7. “My Own Version of You” (From “Rough and Rowdy Ways” 2020)
  8. “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” (John Wesley Harding – 1967)
  9. “Crossing the Rubicon” (From “Rough and Rowdy Ways” 2020)
  10. “To Be Alone With You” (From Nashville Skyline – 1969)
  11. “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)” (From “Rough and Rowdy Ways” 2020)
  12. “Gotta Serve Somebody” (From Slow Train Coming – 1979)
  13. “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You” (From “Rough and Rowdy Ways” 2020)
  14. “That Old Black Magic” (Johnny Mercer cover)
  15. “Mother of Muses” (From “Rough and Rowdy Ways” 2020)
  16. “Goodbye Jimmy Reed” (From “Rough and Rowdy Ways” 2020)
  17. “Every Grain of Sand” (From Shot of Love – 1981)

I'm a Brazilian journalist who always loved Classic Rock and Heavy Metal music. That passion inspired me to create Rock and Roll Garage over 6 years ago. Music has always been a part of my life, helping me through tough times and being a support to celebrate the good ones. When I became a journalist, I knew I wanted to write about my passions. After graduating in journalism from the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, I pursued a postgraduate degree in digital communication at the same institution. The studies and experience in the field helped me improve the website and always bring the best of classic rock to the world! MTB: 0021377/MG

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