VANCOUVER - Whats more culturally relevant - the Seinfeld finale or a Bob Dylan concert?
For the 15,000 baby boomers who filled Vancouver's General Motors Place last night, the answer was as obvious as the hair on Kramer's head. Throw in Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell and it was no contest. It was the triple bill of the decade, the first stop of a seven-city tour winding down the west coast.
It could've been a case of loving them for who they are rather then what they did, but this trio of rock legends - together for the first time since The Last Waltz - delivered a stellar show that lasted nearly four hours. All three 75 minute sets couldve been complete concerts in their own right - Van the Man with his blue-eyed soul, Joni with her provocative songs you need an English degree to fully appreciate and Bob rocking out the hits till midnight, warts and all. All three were brilliant.
Dylan was a pleasant surprise. He displayed real passion last night, from the opening country rocker "Absolutely Sweet Marie" to the last encore, the famous "Rainy Day Women", which brought the crowd to its feet shouting "everybody must get stoned"! Given the amount of fragrant blue smoke in the arena, the sentiment went over well.
It's a remarkable transformation.
Dylan had been in an apathetic fog for years, not seeming to care that he'd written some of the most vital songs in pop history - and then he mysteriously bounced back. Maybe it was his near-death experience last year. Maybe it was the gig playing for the Pope. Or maybe it was winning three Grammy awards. Who knows? Dylan is not one to explain himself.
As he said introducing "Tangled Up In Blue", "There's a story behind this song, but I'm not going to tell it."
With a solid country-rock-flavored band behind him, the highlights were many: The loose groove of "Cold Irons Bound", a boogie-woogie blast of "Silvio", the swampy back-porch feel of "Cocaine Blues", a strange, folky take on "Mr. Tambourine Man" and many more. The crowd ate it up. Dylan may be a terrible singer who can't play a guitar solo to save his life, but he proved last night that he's still a powerful performer, a true original and utterly free of pretention. He is untouchable.
Joni Mitchell lost some of the crowd with her pensive, self-indulgent set, but for those willing to pay attention, she was mezmerising. With a beautiful, smoky voice in fine form, Mitchell showcased many of the songs from her upcoming album, Taming the Tiger, and obscure material from her past.
She played only one hit, "Big Yellow Taxi", which she did solo and introduced as if she was doing everybody a huge favor. "I'll just give this one to you", she said. Impersonating Dylan during the third verse was a nice touch.
As for Van Morrison, the man has to be the best white soul shouter in the business. With a tasty set of 50s-style soul that spanned Astral Weeks to his latest album, The Healing Game, he made the Blues Brothers (which he happened to dress like) look lame. He had help, of course, from a killer eight-piece band that grooved like nobody's business.
Overall, it was an exhaustingly glorious trio of shows that will surely go down in history as the best package tour of the 90s. Condolences to those who decided to watch Seinfeld instead - not that there's anything wrong with it.
BOB DYLAN SET LIST:
Absolutely Sweet Marie
Cold Irons Bound
Positively 4th Street
Mr. Tambourine Man
Tangled Up In Blue
Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again
I Shall Be Released
Highway 61 Revisited
Rainy Day Women
JONI MITCHELL SET LIST:
Night Ride Home
Crazy Cries of Love
Slouching Toward Bethlehem
Just Like This Train
The Magdalene Laundries
Moon at the Window
Big Yellow Taxi (solo)
VAN MORRISON SET LIST:
It Once Was My Life
Fire in the Belly
Send Me Some Lovin
Sometimes We Cry
Jackie Wilson Said
In the Afternoon
Aint That Loving You Baby
Days Like This
Tupelo Honey/Crazy Love
Not Feeling It Anymore
It's a Man's, Man's, Man's, Mans World