If his performance on Thursday night is anything to judge him by, Bob Dylan is in the process of making one of the biggest comebacks in rock 'n ' roll history. Sure, there are some fans that would argue that Dylan has never left; but in reality, Dylan hasn't been a prominent musical force since his 1975 landmark album, Desire.
Ironically, Dylan showed all the desire and fight of a battling heavyweight champion on this historical night - the first time since The Band's 1976 farewell show, The Last Waltz, that Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan have shared the same stage together.
Die-hard fans of each performer were certainly vocal about their artist of choice throughout the evening, but Dylan was clearly the unanimous winner when it was all said and done.
Van Morrison began the night's festivities at Vancouver's GM Place, taking the stage to a well-received ovation from the crowd. Van The Man proceeded to run through a set of his classics, which ranged from a tight, up-tempo version of Domino to a swinging version of Jackie Wilson Said. His seven-piece band was in fine form, countering Van's stage presence with similar moves of flashy showmanship that brought back memories of vintage James Brown.
Morrison and his crew not only emulated the Godfather of Soul, they paid homage to him by covering his classic ballad It's A Man's World, all the while awash in an ocean of blue stage lights.
Wearing his trademark black fedora and a sharp tailored suit, Van ruled his backing band with an iron fist - calling for and receiving cues on perfect time with flamboyant hand gestures. Morrison, proving why he is one of the world's most respected musicians, tore the roof off with a 75-minute set of classy Irish soul.
After a short change of equipment, Joni Mitchell glided onto the stage and proceeded to lull the crowd into a dreamlike state. With a coastal horizon backdrop and backup players who seemed to have their feet cemented to the ground, Mitchell and her spare songs tended to get lost in the afterglow of Morrison's performance.
She opened her set with a subdued version of Night Ride Home, setting the tone for her seemingly endless set. Though she did play a triple-shot of songs from her moody 1976 album, Hejira - Coyote [sic], Amelia, and the album's title song - it was obvious the crowd was anticipating more accessible songs such as This Flight Tonight and Blue. Unfortunately, they had to wait until her encore to hear anything widely recognizable, a somewhat rushed but nonetheless heartfelt version of Big Yellow Taxi.
Clearly moved by the adoring ovation and a lone red rose tossed at her feet, Mitchell finally broke down with emotion upon completing the first show of her first tour since 1982. Needless to say, it was a set for die-hard fans only.
Mitchell likely suffered from the immense pressure of opening in the shadow of the evening's headliner, Bob Dylan. Though it was billed as an equal-opportunity event, with each performer receiving a 75-minute slot, Dylan was clearly the reason 18,000 fans paid $90 per seat.
The boisterous crowd erupted at the first glimpse of their icon, who strolled out in a makeshift tuxedo with awkward-looking white shoes. For the first time in years, Dylan looked to be enjoying himself - both with his expert new band as well as with his devoted fans. Often a smile crossed his lips during this up-tempo performance, just as it did the night before during his surprise gig at the small Vancouver club, The Rage.
Dylan ditched his trademark acoustic guitar for much of the evening, forsaking his folk roots for his electric sound; the plan worked, and Dylan turned in what has to be one of his finest performances in years.
Despite the up-tempo electric feel of the evening, likely brought on by his crackerjack band of young musicians, Dylan did manage to quiet things down with a melancholic acoustic set of tunes that was highlighted by a mandolin-heavy version of Mr. Tambourine Man. After a brief set of acoustic magic, it was back to the rockers: Tangled Up In Blue, Highway 61 Revisited and I Shall Be Released.
Dylan finally left the stage, but not before an encore that included Forever Young, his new single Love Sick and an absolutely rambunctious version of Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.
When the lights came up, they revealed a crowd that was united by one common bond - Bob Dylan, the legend.