Seeing Dylan at Saigon South

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Under a beautiful night sky, the legendary Bob Dylan performed to a sparse audience on the RMIT campus in Ho Chi Minh City.

With tickets selling for more than the average monthly wages in Vietnam, the audience in attendance appeared little different from what one would find at a Dylan show in Malibu, California. Blonde hair and blue eyes were everywhere, along with the occasional dreadlock as the city's international community enjoyed a Monday night out.

The Vietnamese in attendance, particularly the women, were dressed more for a club night in stylish skirts and stiletto heels, while the Westerners dressed from casual to counter culture.

Dylan was preceded by a medley of tunes by the late Trinh Cong Son, accompanied by powerful saxophone riffs. The audience, especially the Vietnamese, applauded enthusiastically as the lines for overpriced beer, potato chips and pizza grew with each passing number.

Appearing with his now trademark western hat and tight band, Dylan opened with a perhaps ironic "Jesus is coming," a tune out of his "religious phase." Moving from piano to guitar, he covered the somewhat cynical "It Ain't Me Babe." The raspy voice and new treatments of old tunes made it difficult, even for the experienced Dylan hand, to determine which song was being sung.

Alternating between classics and more recent tunes (from a strong "Highway 61" to a struggling "Lovesick"), the outstanding sound system made the music, and the rustiness of his 70-year-old voice more evident.

Soon after Dylan came on stage, large numbers of Vietnamese concert goers wandered away from speakers and back to the beer line.

Although Dylan's public relations staff requested that all guests, including VIPs, sit on the grass, the lines between the upscale VIP ticket ($150) and the masses was clear and separated by a fence. Swaying at a Dylan concert seated at a table being plied with food and drink was just a tad inconsistent with his philosophy of equality.

While the Back Street Boys concert commanded audiences of 30,000 despite higher ticket prices, Bob Dylan's show was far from a sellout.

Yet, for the Vietnamese who attended and the expats, it was a chance to see a legend whose words and poetry continue to resonate decades after being penned. As one young man from New Jersey said, "I am not a fan but the guy was important and who knows if I will ever get to see him again."

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