Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bob Dylan 38: 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration

Good As I Been To You got a major promotional push by arriving three weeks after Columbia’s mightily hyped star-studded concert event of the season. Officially titled The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration, today it’s best known as Bobfest, as dubbed by Neil Young halfway through his solo spot.
It was a nice idea: bring a bunch of old and new artists together to pay tribute to the old bastard, and if they were already Sony artists, all the better. The eventual VHS included most of the pay-per-view feed, but for the LP and CD versions, some moments weren’t included, like George Thorogood doing “Wanted Man”, Sophie B Hawkins’ pointless cover of “I Want You”, and a tune each from Eric Clapton and George Harrison, likely to squeeze it all onto two discs. (We also don’t get to hear Sinead O’Connor being booed offstage into the arms of Kris Kristofferson, adding further insult to her injury.)
The show had its ups and downs, beginning well with John Mellencamp with Al Kooper for “Like A Rolling Stone”, then putting his own Appalachian spin on “Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat”. Stevie Wonder prefaces “Blowin’ In The Wind” with a spoken intro about the current election, Eddie and Mike from Sony golden boys Pearl Jam do “Masters Of War”, and Tracy Chapman (remember her?) is allowed “The Times They Are A-Changin’”.
The backup band for most of the night was Booker T and the MG’s, augmented by Jim Keltner and G.E. Smith, providing both consistency and familiarity, even when people chose less-than-familiar tunes. Lou Reed’s spit-fueled take on “Foot Of Pride” makes one think the song was written just for him, and Willie Nelson does a nice job on “What Was It You Wanted”. That sets up a string of guys with questionable voices—Kristofferson, Johnny Winter, Ron Wood—before Richie Havens and the Clancy Brothers raise the bar. The heavenly Sony trio of Shawn Colvin, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Rosanne Cash are placed out of original sequence.
They saved most of the big guns for the second half, and that’s where most of the chills come from Neil gets more attention for “All Along The Watchtower”, but it’s his version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” that really shines. Clapton’s version of “Don’t Think Twice” has a phenomenal solo and George does a terrific “Absolutely Sweet Marie”. The O’Jays manage to trump what’s left of The Band, and then Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers come out to dominate. The gentleness of “License To Kill” gives way to the crowd-baiting of “Rainy Day Women”, and who else could back Roger McGuinn for “Mr. Tambourine Man”?
The man of the hour came out alone for “Song To Woody”, which apparently had sound problems, causing its exclusion. But we do get “It’s Alright, Ma”, and then an astounding “My Back Pages”, where the verses are handled in order by McGuinn, Petty, Neil, Bob, Clapton and George. An obligatory mass chorus of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” was to end the night, but Bob got the last word by himself with “Girl From The North Country”.
As with most of these affairs, Bobfest has endured as more novelty than notable, particularly considering how he filled the decades since. An upgraded edition for Blu-ray coincided with a reissue of the CD, adding two songs from rehearsals: another blazing Clapton take on “Don’t Think Twice”, and Sinead O’Connor doing the song she was scheduled to do. “I Believe In You” sounds even more fitting today, the lyrics mirroring her own public image.

Bob Dylan The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration (1993)—3
2014 Remastered Deluxe Edition: same as 1993, plus 2 extra tracks

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