Dylan Gives the Capitol Theater Its Mojo Back
Bobby Zimmerman renews an old venue in Port Chester, New York
From 1970 to 1976, the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York hosted rock acts like Janis Joplin (her penultimate show), The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and some of the greatest bands of the era (as well as Pink Floyd). But after moving away from music–the last show was in 1997–the jam is back.
Peter Shapiro, who helped the perpetually sceney Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg become a venue for live music, struck up a partnership with the old theater in Port Chester–designed by Charles Lamb in 1926–to once again host live music. Last night, it was re-inaugurated as a rock hall with a showing by Bob Dylan. Here’s a round-up of the concert.
Although Mr. Dylan’s 35th studio album, “Tempest,” is due for release next week and can already be heard online, he didn’t perform any new songs. But his reworking of older ones was sly and transformative: sometimes backdating the music to well before the original recordings, sometimes viewing his past selves with avuncular pride and amusement, sometimes staring into the abyss, sometimes tempering youthful spite with empathy.
A current Dylan concert is always a matter of shifting expectations. At first his voice sounds impossibly ramshackle, just a fogbound rasp. But soon, at least on a good night, his willful phrasing and conversational nuances come through. While he has — for decades — rearranged many of his songs so that only the words are immediately recognizable, his musical choices aren’t exactly arbitrary. They lead listeners, and Mr. Dylan as well, to grapple with the songs anew.
Oh, and if you’re curious to know how the venue held up:
The Capitol’s interior is once again resplendent in red brocade and gilded painted reliefs; many of the exit signs have Art Nouveau panache. For Mr. Dylan’s concert, with a capacity of 1,835, the orchestra level was standing room, surveyed by a balcony and boxes with a few rows each of steeply raked seats with assured sightlines. The sound, similar to that of other vintage movie palaces like the Beacon Theater and the United Palace Theater in Manhattan, was clear and boomy, with the kind of reverberation earplugs can help correct.
The theater had opening glitches to be worked out — a lobby bar still under construction, box-office slowdowns, confused visitors in search of parking — and one bad practice: waitresses soliciting drink orders from concertgoers during songs, an intrusion. But those are minor; a rock theater that looks and sounds as good as the Capitol is something to celebrate.
Earplugs and rude waitresses. Sounds like somebody skipped the 70s and went straight on the 80s.