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Dylan takes audience on a tour through rock 'n' roll history   Print

by Candace Murphy
San Jose Mercury News
May 20, 1998

Hey, this Dylan fella may have something here.

No, really, stick with me on this one. Give this guy a few bookings, maybe an interview with Jesse Camp, that guy who won that MTV veejay contest last month, and he might really turn some people on to his music.

OK, so I exaggerate. But 24 hours before this writing, the most respect I ever gave Dylan -- hey, did you know he's Jakob Dylan's dad? First name's Bob, I think -- was my oft-requested "Lenny Bruuuuuce . . . is . . . deeeeeeeaaaaaddddd," imitation.

I'm changing my tune. Dylan -- that's the elder Dylan, remember -- turned in a brilliant 75 minute set of vintage American rock 'n' roll Tuesday night at San Jose Arena. He recrafted the classics "Masters of War" and "Forever Young." He turned "Tangled Up in Blue" into a rollicking, harmonica-driven, 10-minute jam. He reminded us of the weird guy who painted "Soy Bomb" on his chest and crashed Dylan's Grammy Award performance by soldiering through the rhythmically militant song he played that night, "Love Sick."

Displaying influences as disparate as '50s rock and bluegrass (he covered Roy Marcum's bluegrass tune "Stone Walls and Steel Bars"), Dylan's session felt like a tour through a rock 'n' roll history book.

I came prepared to mock. When artists are touted as lyrically driven, I'm tempted to urge the performers to stop the charade, bag the instruments, stop by the local Koffee Klatch and give a poetry reading. That a fellow bathed in a spotlight to the left of the stage was translating the evening's proceedings into sign language didn't help.

Neither did Joni Mitchell, whose set made me feel like I was there for the punch-line of a joke but had missed the set-up. "Night Ride Home" was fine. "Slouching Toward Bethlehem," based on on a poem by W.B. Yeats, was fine. "Hejira" was fine. But there were no big musical departures. Just one lyrically based ethereal dirge after another. Her high moment was the terrific Dylan imitation she threw into "Big Yellow Taxi."

Van Morrison, on the other hand, was terrific, though inexplicably he had to open the night in an arena not fully darkened. A proud follower of his work (and not the "Hey, I've got brown eyes!" sorority gal type) for some time, I was pleased that he played "Days Like This," a jazzed-up "Cleaning Windows," and "Burning Ground." Best of all though, was "That's Life," Morrison's tribute to the late Frank Sinatra.

Like Dylan, and even Mitchell, Van did it his way.

 

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