It’s been a historic week in downtown St. Paul, particularly at River Centre and the Xcel Energy Center, which kicked off the week with two concerts from Madonna, who Saturday night encouraged her fans to vote for President Barack Obama and to defeat the anti-gay-marriage amendment.
Tuesday night, River Centre played host to the state DFL victory party. The wee-hour celebration of Obama’s win and the defeat of the anti-gay-marriage amendment spilled over to the Capitol steps Wednesday evening, where a thousand or so revelers basked in an OutFront Minnesota-organized victory party that brought speeches from activists, organizers and politicians.
“This fight started in 2003 when my esteemed colleague Michele Bachmann started this effort. After 10 long years, we’ve settled the question now,” said state Sen. Scott Dibble, who was flanked by friends, family members, and the august backdrop of the Capitol building and dome. “We invite you to step out of the shadows of misunderstanding and fear, and open up your hearts.”
Love was all around. Signs and banners dotted the crowd, proclaiming, “Dreams Come True,” “Thank You, Minnesota!” and “God Bless Everyone Everywhere.” Before the speakers took the stage, the Pet Shop Boys’ “Winner” pulsed over the P.A. with the salient missive, “This is the moment we’ll remember every day for the rest of our lives/Time may rush us hurt or love us/But on this day we have arrived.”
“Tonight we close the chapter on ‘No’ and open the chapter on ‘Yes,’” said TakeAction Minnesota Executive Director Dan McGrath, to a spontaneous chant of “Yes, yes, yes!”
Amidst the cheers, the mood at the Capitol was one of pervasive relief, shock and low-grade elation. A similar weariness was palpable across the way at the X, where Bob Dylan returned to perform for the first time since his election-night concert at Northrop Auditorium in 2008. Plenty of well-worn “Vote No” and Obama T-shirts hung on fans, and conversations about the legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington and Colorado abounded, but for the most part there was only an unspoken sense of history being made.
“I was up on the Iron Range last night because my nephew won for state rep of 6B,” said singer/songwriter/author Paul Metsa.
“I bumped into a guy who I went to the Dylan show with in 2008 and he said, ‘I didn’t understand a word [Dylan] said or a song he sang, but I’ll never forget who I was with on that night and where I was.’ And in a way, four years later, that’s what last night and tonight is like.”
For his part, Dylan and his ace band played like a bunch of train robbers who tumbled out of a freight car to provide spiritual respite to the river town, weary and beaten up after a long uncivil culture war. Animatedly and passionately playing grand piano and harmonica, Dylan seemed intent on living up to his decades-old description of himself as not an icon of American music, but as “a song and dance man” put here to entertain the troops.
With his loose-limbed cowboy marionette stage demeanor, the 71-year-old Dylan came off like a student of Marcel Marceau and DEVO, and employed ragtime, rock, blues, and an overall post-war jazz jauntiness to rework tunes such as “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” and “Tangled Up in Blue.”
“A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” was a stark reminder that despite the good news for some, all is not well, while “Summer Days” encouraged full hearts in even the direst of times. As expected, the notoriously between-song banter-free Dylan said nothing about the election, or anything else – unless you count his staccato reading of “Things Have Changed.”
“People are crazy and times are strange/I’m locked in tight I’m out of range/I used to care but,” he croaked, and then, with an exaggerated cackle, sang, “Things have changed.”
That they have. Wednesday night, one only needed to stroll through downtown St. Paul to hear how much.