by Mike Corrigan

Lately, it seems, every time BOB DYLAN puts out an album of new, original material, the early reports, at least, all read pretty much the same: "The best Dylan album in years." "His best effort since Blood on the Tracks." "Dylan is back." And so on.

Dylan is back? Back from where? Did he ever go away? Well, yes and no. (He's definitely on his way back to Spokane to kick off his new U.S. tour with his exceptional touring band at the Spokane Arena on Friday night.)

Few performers have had as much impact on popular music as Bob Dylan. I'm not engaging in gross hyperbole here. In fact, I can't think of a single figure who's been more influential (if you can make a convincing case for someone else, you're welcome to my job).

A transplant from Hibbing, Minn., to New York City's Greenwich Village coffeehouse scene, circa 1960, Dylan made an almost immediate impression on the folk music intelligentsia with his heartfelt and mature playing and singing in the talking blues style of his role model, Woody Guthrie. By the time he released his first album a year later, however, Dylan had emerged as a true original, an artist with the potential to both energize and popularize folk -- and to transform rock 'n' roll as well.

After a brief stint as folk's darling and heir apparent, Dylan pissed off the purists and surprised everyone else by unveiling a new, electric approach to his music at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Then, the floodgates opened.

The next couple of years were arguably the most creative of his career. Out of this period came three great, classic rock albums (Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde) and one magnificent, revolutionary single ("Like a Rolling Stone") that together, forged a new destiny for rock.

"Like a Rolling Stone" was a landmark recording that changed the perception of what a rock 'n' roll song could be in three fundamental areas. First of all, at more than six minutes in length, it was twice as long as anything else on radio at the time, shattering the limitations of the three-minute single. Secondly, the searing tone and gritty yet strangely romantic depictions of urban street life that form the song's narrative represented a genuine quantum leap in rock songwriting. And finally, Dylan's voice itself -- gravelly, nasal and decidedly not pretty-- established a new paradigm for vocalists. That is, you didn't necessarily need a great voice to be a great rock 'n' roll singer.

But Dylan's long career has been punctuated by failure and frustration as well. Over the next two decades, whether by design or gross miscalculation, the artist managed to confound even his most steadfast supporters with albums that varied in quality from brilliant (John Wesley Harding, Blood on the Tracks) to dreadful (Self-Portrait, Slow Train Coming).

Dylan's fire and brimstone rants during his "born again" phase (on Slow Train and its follow up, Saved), were, for many, reason enough to write him off completely (his association with Christian fundamentalism, however, was short-lived).

In the modern era (post-punk, post-grunge, post-whatever), Dylan has frequently demonstrated amazing resiliency, stamina and relevance. His latest album, Love and Theft, is full of refreshingly stripped-down, original electric blues songs that veer from wild organ-accented romps to sweet, poignant ballads. "Mississippi," in particular, is wonderful, revealing -- through Dylan's craggy, time-ravaged vocals -- the songwriter at his most vulnerable, self-aware, honest and human.

Embarking on his fifth decade as a performer, Bob Dylan is today the rarest of birds: an extraordinary artist and seasoned veteran who still has something worthwhile to say.

Bob Dylan and his band perform at the Spokane Arena on Friday, Oct. 5, at 8 pm. Tickets: $32.50 and $42.50.

Call: 325-SEAT.

Monsters of rock

The stale haze of cigarette smoke lingering in my apartment Sunday morning was testament to the fact that the ROCK NESS MONSTERS had been there the night before. But despite the fact that they display the same boundless energy offstage as they do on, my neighbors had no complaints; the Rock Ness Monsters were complete gentlemen.

Known for their very loud, mostly instrumental tunes, the Rock Ness Monsters' sound is something like what the Ramones might have come up with had they grown up in So. Cal. instead of Queens: poppy, hard rockabilly-infected instrumental surf punk. The quartet boasts an originality that few bands can easily match, particularly in Spokane. Their music resembles early Makers, Los Straightjackets, a rough-up version of the Ventures. They play Wednesday at the Quarterhorse.

Although the Rock Ness Monsters could be considered a punk band, they make damn sure they take their music (whatever you want to call it) to a different level.

"We play punk that you can twist to," insists guitarist Buzz Fadeley.

Formed about two years ago after a chance meeting in gym class, the Rock Ness Monsters have evolved from a high school all-ages band to one of the premier live acts in town. Over the past year, they've played all over the city and beyond and have just released their first CD (recorded in drummer Nate Mooter's haunted barn!) entitled (appropriately enough) 14 Lo-Fi Songs.

Their appeal is obvious, especially live, where they are best enjoyed. Their stage show is red-hot, and their "we-don't-take-ourselves-too-seriously" attitude exudes coolness.

Now let's meet the Rock Ness Monsters: Drummer Nate Mooter is the resident punk, if there is such a thing in this outfit. He's multi-talented -- playing guitar as well and singing most of the leads (when there are vocals). He seems to be a natural entertainer and is completely at home in front of a crowd. He's also pretty wild and obnoxious on stage, routinely destroying his drum set (almost always prematurely) as the band's finale.

Guitarist Scott Rickard possesses a Beatle cut and a fetching stage persona. He's also an amazing songwriter. He thinks of music mathematically and has created a kind of color-wheel chart of scales (that I can't even begin to understand). His band mates are endlessly amazed by his songwriting abilities.

Bassist Pat Flynn sports a tall, classic greaser pompadour. As the quiet one, Pat stands silently playing his bass as he scans the crowd. And just like a character from Footloose (or maybe The Donny & amp; Marie Show), Flynn struggles to wrest and maintain his creative independence from a set of over-protective Mormon parents.

Guitarist Buzz Fadeley is the baby of the band at 17. Because musicians must be 18 or older to play in bars, Fadeley's parents attend the band's gigs, whooping, applauding and snapping photographs.

Going from high school to the real world has proven to be a snap for the band as they are generally misunderstood by their peers. They've also suffered gibes due to their instrumental rock inclinations. They were even docked points at the recent Bobfest (the citywide high school band talent contest) due to "no vocals."

What does the band have to say to all this? In characteristically concise form, the Rock Ness Monsters sound off.

"It's not like we're not prepared," explains Mooter about the band's lack of vocals. "We do it on purpose. We actually wrote vocals to some of the songs, but it just sounds better without them."

"We're not a jam band," adds Fadeley. "Our songs are all written."

"When you play music, you shouldn't have a purpose," Rickard says. "You should just f--ing rock."

-- Kari Tucker

The Rock Ness Monsters play at the Quarterhorse on Wednesday, Oct. 10, at 9 pm. Cover: $3. Call: 456-3778.

Northwest Winterfest @ Spokane County Fair & Expo Center

Fridays, 5-8 p.m., Saturdays, 4-8 p.m. and Sundays, 3-6 p.m. Continues through Jan. 1
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