The Over- the- Hillith Fair?
Monsters of Mumbling tour?
Call it what you will, but a concert bill comprised of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Van Morrison is the stuff of legends, truly. Thursday (May 14) night's kickoff to the trio's West Coast seven- date tour took place in Vancouver at General Motors Place, where a sold-out crowd spent the night basking in the revelry of their own history.
Morrison was the first to take the stage, and take it he did. Looking like a long-lost Blues Brother in his black suit, fedora, and dark sunglasses, Morrison was surrounded by a crack eight- piece band (including congas, horns, and a Hammond organ) who played an Apollo Theatre- inspired set of tunes. The heat turned up a few songs into his set when he pulled out the familiar "Domino," and continued as he kept the floor- seat fans on their feet through a soulful set of favorites including "Jackie Wilson Said," "Tupelo Honey," "Cypress Avenue," and a straight- outta- Detroit reworking of James Brown's "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World."
Perhaps Morrison's hungry set was a hard one to follow, but Mitchell's performance provided the equally opposite emotional reaction. Her 75-minute set was textually and musically slick, emotionally flat, and sadly self-serving in terms of song selection. Beginning with a jazzy take on "Night Ride Home," Mitchell and her three-piece band maintained that same monotone level throughout the night. Her set -- which included three new songs from her upcoming Taming the Tiger release -- left fans hungry for anything familiar, as they were only barely satiated by reworked versions of "Hejira" and her encore, "Big Yellow Taxi." Ironic, indeed, that the woman who inspired so many of today's female chart- dominators would herself be the least inspiring on the bill.
Third up -- and most warmly received -- was Dylan, who gave to the audience as much as they gave to him. Whether it was his near- death heart ailment last year or time spent performing for the Pope, Dylan was a changed man. Attentive and occasionally downright joyful during his 75-minute set, Dylan played not just to the crowd, but for them. It was not quite as spectacular as his inspired 90-minute Vancouver club show the night before at Rage, but many of the same qualities were there -- from Presley- inspired shimmying to broad smiles during sassy guitar solos -- as Dylan played a host of hits with emotion, attention, and care. Kicking off his set with "Absolutely Sweet Marie," the audience was respectful but not riotous until halfway through Dylan's set, when he pulled out hit after hit to the cheering crowd. Five in a row happened like this: "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Tangled Up in Blue," "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again," "I Shall Be Released," and "Highway 61 Revisited," each true -- but not identical -- to form. Indeed, Dylan's set was not the exhausted one of the recent past, but rather an exalted performance likely to be remembered for years to come.