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Rock legend trio makes for great show   Print

by Ken Barnes
USA Today
May 19, 1998

Three legends, one show, no concessions.

Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison played for 18,000 baby boomers, aging hippies (reformed and orthodox) and their offspring Saturday at the sold-out second stop on their West Coast mini-tour (4 stars out of four). They could've coasted on their crowd-pleasers; instead, they triumphed (not for the first time) by doing the unexpected.

Morrison, attired as an Amish gangster and backed by an eight-piece band plus longtime vocal foil Brian Kennedy, stuck to his standard soul-revue format, though his 16-song opening set largely steered clear of his classics.

One of rock's consummate singers, Morrison can do this kind of show in his sleep; fortunately, he chose not to, displaying unusual animation and occasional whimsy. Highlights included an exuberant Not Feeling It Anymore and a heartfelt Frank Sinatra tribute - a fingerpopping hipster's swing through That's Life.

Early in her 14-song set, Mitchell cited a first-night review chiding her for avoiding older material - then played a mix of tracks from her less-acclaimed '80s/'90s albums, songs from her forthcoming Tame the Tiger album, and a few obscure tunes from the late '70s (Harry's House from The Hissing of Summer Lawns, a hypnotic Amelia and the title track from Hejira).

Her only nods to audience expectations were a tossed-off Big Yellow Taxi (one verse sung Dylan-style) and a rapturously greeted encore of Woodstock.

Playing electric guitar in her usual otherworldly tunings, backed by bass, drums, and pedal steel guitar, she was spellbinding; she hasn't lost a step, and she still writes rings around the new generation of angst-strumming female pretenders.

Dylan came out with guitars blazing: In the course of a revelatory 14-song headlining set (Morrison headlined the following evening), he elongated familiar songs with protracted electric jams, striking guitar-hero poses in his natty mariachi cardsharp Western outfit and projecting his sheer joy in playing. With a four-piece band, he transformed If You See Her, Say Hello into a Creedence-style scorcher, while the pedestrian '80s track Silvio became a raging riff monster. A mid-show acoustic set ranged from a faithful version of the Rev. Gary Davis/Dave Van Ronk folk standard Cocaine Blues to a Tangled Up in Blue hoedown fueled by dueling guitar and mandolin.

Skipping concert warhorses like All Along the Watchtower and Like a Rolling Stone, he showcased three songs from his Grammy-winning Time Out of Mind album. Testifying to the new material's strength, one of these, a ghostly Sick of Love, was the night's most riveting performance.

The three rock icons, boasting a collective century and more on the concert stage, united once, late in Dylan's set, to perform I Shall Be Released. It wasn't exactly the Three Tenors: Mitchell missed her cues and most of the lyrics, while Dylan and Morrison sounded more like the Budweiser frogs.

A touching moment, to be sure, but more symbolic of the evening was a lighting effect earlier in Dylan's set that projected gigantic silhouettes of the artist and his band on the scrim behind the outdoor stage. This was indeed a night of giants.

 

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