Review: Dylan turns back time with Petty, the Dead
By John Petric
The Columbus Dispatch - July 3, 1986

AKRON -- The Akron Rubber Bowl colorfully exploded back in time as tens of thousands of tie-dyed rock fans celebrated one of the most unusual stadium shows of the '80s.

Troubadour of the '60s, Bob Dylan, who is using Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as backup, and psychedelic relics, the Grateful Dead, have paired themselves for a limited summer tour consisting of only four outdoor stadium dates.

It's as strange a formula as it looks but it works -- to varying degrees of success.

Mixing a legend like Dylan (who is struggling to sell records these days) and Petty (a certified platinum pop/rock phenomenon) with the Dead, (figureheads of the remaining hippie subculture) makes for a very interesting evening, indeed.

Dylan, Petty and the Heartbreakers came on at about 5:40 p.m., rocking some unknown tune like ringing a bell. I'm not sure what it was because the sound was very bad in the upper deck where I sat.

I suspect the song might have been a new tune, though the chorus did sound like Dylan was repeating the words "Purple rain, purple rain." I doubt if he was, but who knows?

I wasn't even sure that was Dylan up there because he was at least 100 yards away.

After a half-dozen more unintelligible songs (because of the lousy sound), I took it upon myself to find new and better seating. So it was off into Dead-head land that I went: a swirling mass of long hair, gingham dresses and tie-dyed clothes. And Grateful Dead T-shirts, headbands, stickers and banners everywhere. It was so tribal, a regular love-in.

I just wanted to hear and see Dylan and Petty, which I did.

It was Dylan, by golly, and the sound was much better on the field, which is where I ended up. Borrowing binoculars, I scoped out Mr. Tambourine man himself.

He was dressed in black kneehigh motorcycle boots, leather pants, a black vest and fingerless leather gloves (black and black). Harley-Davidson Dylan appeared tan and fit.

His face certainly had to have had some makeup applied.

He sounded great, his nasal voice much stronger and at times huskier than I've ever heard him before.

His phrasing on some songs was annoying, as on the classic Positively 4th St. But Masters of War, I and I and the encore of Knockin' on Heaven's Door were powerful, nothing short of stunning.

One new song in particular was breathtaking and that was When the Night Comes Falling Down. Dylan's four female vocalists pushed the song into a dynamic range that Petty, Dylan and the Heartbreakers couldn't have done themselves.

Petty played his hits between Dylan's electric and acoustic and then electric sets. Refugee, Spike and Don't Do Me Like That had the crowd a bit more up than did Dylan's stuff.

Heavy metal Bob returned, and the troupe slammed into a surprisingly true-to-the-original version of Rainy Day Women #18 and #35 -- you know, the song that goes "everybody must get stoned."

And get stoned they did, but 40,000 kids high on pot is a much more mellow crowd than, say Buckeye Lake Music Center's 20,000 drunken ZZ Top fans.

I saw no fights, little staggering and lots of dancing. One man was arrested for taking his clothes off.

Deadline prohibited a review of the Grateful Dead. But I'm sure they put the Rubber Bowl in its own orbit.