The show was hyped by some as "the holy trinity" of singer-songwriters.
But last Thursday's launch of the Bob Dylan-Joni Mitchell-Van Morrison tour at GM Place -- the only Canadian stop on a seven-date West Coast road trip that wraps up tomorrow night in Anaheim, Ca., -- fell somewhat short of that billing.
Mainly because Dylan, on the biggest roll of his career yet with three recent Grammy wins, simply blew away his tour mates.
No doubt Dylan was bolstered by his rare club show at the 1,100-seat venue The Rage the night before. Grown men were close to tears (really) as he and his four-man band ripped through a positively jubilant 15-song, hour-and-a-half set. He came back for three encores.
Normally, I'm one of a handful of people taking notes at a concert, but in this case I was surrounded by dancing Dylanheads shouting out song titles, screaming "Bobby!" and high-fiving each other.
Dylan, meanwhile, was as cool as they come. Dressed in a retro-suit and bolero tie, he was clearly in the mood for jams and his own extended guitar solos. He delivered such classics as Tangled Up In Blue and It Ain't Me Babe, the revved-up rocker Silvio -- while weaving back and forth with his knees knocked -- or newer songs like Million Miles and Love Sick.
When it finally came time for the show-ending Rainy Day Women #12 + #35 and its singalong chorus, "Everybody must get stoned," the audience had to be physically removed from the building. I suspect many of them returned the following night at GM Place, where he trotted out further gems like Mr. Tambourine Man and Forever Young.
To be fair to Dylan's tour mates, Morrison, who did his own back-to-back club shows in Vancouver last Friday night, and Mitchell, who hasn't toured in 16 years, were no slouches.
Given the talent on stage, it would have been nice to see the three of them get together at some point. (This did occur during their second tour stop in George, Washington, where Morrison and Mitchell joined Dylan for I Shall Be Released.)
Morrison, in a black suit and tie, tan fedora and sunglasses, opened the GM Place performance
with the bluesy and uptempo The Burning Ground, backed by an excellent eight-piece band including keyboardist Georgie Fame and falsetto-voiced backup singer Brian Kennedy.
He had the toughest slot of the evening, since people were just filing into the stadium when his performance began at 7:30 p.m. sharp. But given his unpredictability as a live act, he proved to be a real showman, performing such oldies as Domino, Jackie Wilson Said and Tupelo Honey-Crazy Love. The real revelation was his breaking into laughter during his "tribute" to James Brown with the song It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World.
Following Morrison's upbeat performance proved difficult for Mitchell, whose decidedly somber set of new songs like Crazy Cries Of Love and Slouching Toward Bethlehem and older obscurer material didn't exactly light the venue on fire. Especially for those people who were continually shouting out requests for Big Yellow Taxi. (She finally acquiesced during the encore with the proviso: "This one's kind of rusty, we'll see what happens.")
Still, Mitchell proved herself to be an accomplished and confident live performer, backed by a three-piece band and a mood-setting backdrop of the island landscape of Sechelt, B.C, where she owns a home.
Looking youthful with her blond hair cut short, Mitchell opened her set with Night Ride Home from her 1991 album. Hips continually swinging while she played jazz-inflected chords on her electric guitar, Mitchell was also chatty between songs, welcoming "transplanted Saskatoonians."
So far, there are no upcoming appearances in Toronto planned for either Dylan, Mitchell or Morrison, despite Mitchell's new album, Taming The Tiger, due later this year, and Morrison's own double CD of rarities and unreleased tracks, The Philosopher's Stone, hitting stores on June 16.