Before it was so rudely interrupted, Bob Dylan’s annual touring regimen took on a recurring pattern, playing the same towns the same times of the year. His last time in Washington, D.C. was the first week of December 2019. The final show in that leg of the campaign that he never called the Never Ending Tour looked like it may well have served as his last live performance ever as the pandemic raged on, closing venues for more than a year and a half, wiping out touring schedules for more than a year as Dylan, deserving a break after so many years of service, was entering his ninth decade.

But a brief month-long tour materialized despite all odds (and during a brief clearing in the gloom of COVID variants) and here was Dylan, back in D.C. at the Anthem during the first week of December 2021 closing the latest leg of his tour, selling out the place at 80.

With the latest handful of subtle but tasty musicians behind him, Dylan emerged from the shadows a couple of minutes before the 8 o’clock start time, suggesting an early bird special. The ensemble remained in shadows or silhouette for much of the show, which depended on dim footlights and illumination of the curtain folds behind them. 

And when they all shambled to a start on an unrecognizable “Watching the River Flow,” it seemed like Dylan, behind a big upright piano, was sputtering to keep up, the river’s flow having gotten away from him. His voice was a froggy growl, as if frayed at the end of the tour, the timing all wrong. Things didn’t much improve on the next song announcing his intention to forge his own direction despite expectations, “Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine.”

It seemed like it was going to be a long night.