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Dylan Plays his Masterpieces

Bob Dylan's virtual concert was his first performance since December 2019

Bob Dylan coming virtual to you from a smoky basement Speakeasy, just off Main Street, USA, circa 1930’s. The women in the audience were in cocktail frocks and the men sported fedora hats. The band wore masks. And that was the giveaway.

For this was no Supper Club concert from times past, but music in the post(ish)-pandemic digital world. Viewers paid $US25 to a streaming provider called Veeps and in return got Shadow Kingdom – The Early Songs of Bob Dylan.

The very-stylised, choreographed production lasted less than an hour, with the Octogenarian playing 13 songs. It had all the hallmarks of being prerecorded - there were never enough close-ups of Bob to show whether his lips were in sync. But who cares? At around two dollars a song, it was worth every penny.

For Dylan and his band – Alex Burke, Shadzad Ismaily, Janie Cowen, Buck Meek, Joshua Crumbly - were simply majestic with slow, bluesy renditions of songs largely from the sixties & seventies. They began appropriately with “When I Paint My Masterpiece” and, as might be expected, ended with “It’s all Over Now Baby Blue” (or just “Baby Blue” as labelled by the full-screen caption.)

In between there were monochrome images of the great man – mostly standing stage-left on a wide shot which not only featured his backing band but various audience members sometimes sitting, sometimes prancing, but always either drinking or smoking. It might have appeared a little contrived, or even corny, if had not been for Dylan.

Sometimes there was a guitar draped over his shoulder, but mostly it lay idle as he swooned over the appropriately old-fashioned microphone. At times, he played his trusty harmonica, no better than on a stunning interpretation of “Queen Jane Approximately” – from his ground-breaking album Highway 61 Revisited.

Equally impressive was the treatment of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” another track from the same 1965 classic release. As Bob uttered the famous refrain I started on burgundy/But soon hit the harder stuff, the camera panned across to a bunch of “club members” each with a bottle in hand.

By the time he got to his famous anthem “Forever Young,” Bob was sporting a white jacket, his frizzy hair whitened by a spot-light. By now he was in sweet synchronisation with his band, really in the groove as he lifted his hands off the guitar to clinch his fists and proclaim: May your heart always be joyful/May your song always be sung/And may you stay forever young.

And for a man of eighty, he was indeed practicing what he has long preached.

Paul Cutler

Editor - Crossroads

Americana Music Appreciation


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