Feis Festival, Finsbury Park, London
Homesick blues cured for one night
Tuesday 21 June 2011
Seven years after Vince Power's festival of all things Irish did its last jig up London's Seven Sisters Road, the London Fleadh returned to N4 as the London Feis on Saturday night. The thinking, according to an interview with Power in The Irish Times, was that the young men and women kept at home by the roar of the Celtic Tiger were now beginning to drift back into the diaspora.
Alongside sets from The Cranberries, Christy Moore and – who else? – Shane MacGowan was an exclusive date from noted Irish songsmith Robert O'Zimmerman, providing a rare chance for Dylan to play to a youngish audience of non-devotees. The crowd being mainly full of inebriated young things meant that many might not have quite been prepared for the nasal growl that's punctuated the Never-ending Tour for the last couple of decades or so. Or that many of the songs played tonight in a greatest hits set that ranged from "Blowin' in the Wind" to "Tangled Up in Blue" would be rendered in a tricky-to-spot Nashville bar-room jam by Dylan's – as ever – accomplished band of session veterans.
But anyone who's witnessed the singer in action in recent years knew what was coming. And it was far from unenjoyable. He might sing like Stig of the Dump, but how could a set including about a third of the 20th century's rock canon performed by the genius who wrote them not be? But this is Feis, and after 10 hours of waiting in the Never-ending Beer & Toilet Queues, the crowd wanted desperately to sing along, as they had to Christy Moore, rather than to have to turn to each other quizzically before realising at the beginning of each song that, yes, this is "All Along the Watchtower". They took the decision out of Dylan's hands by the encore, singing the Highway 61 Revisited version of "Like a Rolling Stone" over the top of the singer's own "Huwduzitfeeeel".
If that makes the set sound combative, far from it. The recently turned 70- year-old looked to be enjoying himself as he bounced between electric harp, guitar and his near-retirement weapon of choice, his keyboard. Saying nothing to the crowd beyond introducing his band, Bob finished the gadzoiking encore – "Rolling Stone"/"Watchtower" /"Blowin'" – walked to the front of the stage, opened his arms with a cheeky "who me?" gesture and took his white Boss of the Plains hat with him into the moist London night, leaving the woozy audience sure of little other than the fact that they'd had a chance to witness a true legend at work.
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