"Thanks Bob! Thanks for having Bob Fest!" Neil Young enthuses at one point during his set at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert.
And though methinks that the October 1992 show at Madison Square Garden paying tribute to the Bard of Hibbing was due more to the planning of Columbia Records than the honoree himself, the megastar-studded event found a wide swath of performers covering Dylan's deep songbook.
It was capped off by a solo and collaborative set from the man himself, and now available again in a 2CD/2DVD-Blu-Ray Bob Dylan: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration -- Deluxe Edition (Columbia/Legacy). As VH-1's Bill Flanagan offers in the liner notes, what "could have been a last waltz instead turned out to be rock and roll's greatest halftime show."
And indeed, at a fete that might have been a career-capper for most artists, Dylan -- unpredictably as usual -- instead has gone on to make vital new music and performed hundreds of shows on his Never Ending Tour in the ensuing 20-plus years.
It's a testament to Dylan catalogue that this show could bring together artists from so many disparate genres. Just a sampling included classic rock (Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, George Harrison in his last major performance), rock (John Mellencamp, Chrissie Hynde), blues (Johnny Winter), soul (Stevie Wonder, the O'Jays), folk (Richie Havens, The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem), country (Willie Nelson, Johnny & June Carter Cash) and some then-young upstarts (Tracy Chapman, Eddie Vedder, Sinead O'Connor; more on that chick later).
Standouts include some who had already recorded Dylan on their own records (Nelson's "What Was It You Wanted," the O'Jays' "Emotionally Yours," Winter's blistering "Highway 61 Revisited"), reinterpretations (Chapman's emotive "The Times They Are A-Changin', Clapton's "Don't Think Twice It's Alright"), and the occasional fun surprise (Wood on a ramshackle, Dylan-sounding "Seven Days"; Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rosanne Cash and Shawn Colvin teaming up for "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere"). And, of course, Neil Young was great.
But there are few misfires, like Wonder's sometimes-shrill "Blowin' in the Wind" and Lou Reed's rambling "Foot of Pride"; kudos, though, for picking such an obscure and challenging track.
When it was over, though, the biggest news item to emerge was Sinead O'Connor's non-performance. Fresh off the heels of her controversial Saturday Night Live appearance, when she ripped up a photo of John Paul II, she was showered with boos upon stepping up to the mike to deliver "I Believe in You." Upon watching the DVD, though, it's doesn't seem quite the avalanche that was reported. Shades of Dylan at Newport '65?
But instead of taking keyboardist Booker T. Jones' musical cue to start the song and silence her critics, O'Connor stood stone-faced and pissed off, seemingly basking in the negativity. She then launches into an a cappella rendition of Bob Marley's anti-racist song "War" (which she did on SNL) and leaves the stage, abruptly and seemingly in shock.
It's a compelling piece of unexpected theater, and so off-kilter that Dylan himself probably appreciated it most.
Later, Dylan himself appears like Marley's ghost to offer "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" before leading once-in-a-lifetime all-star jams on "My Back Pages" and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." And looking at that lineup onstage (see the picture at the top of this article), you'd be hard-pressed to duplicate the sheer music wattage.
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And while Dylan's solo "Song to Woody" was lost to a technical error, he does return for a just-me-and-my-guitar "Girl From the North Country," ending an epochal evening.
The DVD includes 40 minutes of additional footage not broadcast originally, including behind-the-scenes footage, interviews and three performances, the best of which is Booker T. and the MGs on "Gotta Serve Somebody." The CD includes Mellencamp's "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" and sound-check tracks from Clapton and O'Connor's "I Believe in You," finally released after all these years.
I screened the DVD at friend and fellow Dylan aficionado Mace Wilkerson's home theater with a huge screen and stereo system at his house, aka "Maceland." I highly encourage you find a friend who has a home theater to watch concert DVDs with.
This release is just the latest of Dylan's archival releases and -- though of more recent vintage -- this one benefits from technical improvements over the original release. Now...how about that Blood on the Tracks "Bootleg Series" or Rolling Thunder and Gospel tour DVDs, Bob? Pretty please?
And just think...Dylan's 60th anniversary concert should only be eight years away...
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