Bob Dylan's Star-Studded "Halftime Show" Gets Deluxe Treatment
Bob Gruen/Columbia Legacy Check out the star power at the concert finale! Why so morose, Sinead?
"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 catalog 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 included 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 mic to deliver "I Believe in You." Upon watching the DVD, though, it 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.