When Bob Dylan meets the masses at a rock festival, news he’s gone electric hasn’t always arrived, let alone his music’s ongoing 21st century renovation.
Legitimate complaints that some nights his lyrics are inaudible are at least rebuffed in his only 2012 UK show, sung in his gutted growl with committed art. He plays odd, dominant keyboard riffs at his superb band’s heart, and dances across the stage during 2001’s “High Water”, an apocalyptic hoedown for hard times he follows with “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, in which conservative country music reframes his 1962 vision of nuclear nightmare. Others start dancing during “Spirit On the Water”’s lovely, Tin Pan Alley-style tune. On a “Ballad Of A Thin Man” sung with mind-melting echoes and “Like A Rolling Stone”, his old acid spite has become compassionate. This is beautiful, surprising, spacious music, composed in this form tonight.
Earlier on Saturday, as one of Dylan’s many acolytes, Patti Smith, tears open Van Morrison’s old R&B tune “Gloria”, she leans still, coolly holding a pose, then dives back into the song. Ian Hunter’s sandblasted voice sings his 1970s band Mott the Hoople’s rejuvenating anthem “All the Young Dudes”, during which Mott guitarist Mick Ralphs spirits in to solo.
During what feels like a homage to simpler early festivals, other veterans include George Clinton’s 17-piece Parliament-Funkadelic, re-energised along with their leader, unrecognisable with short hair and a blue Harlem kingpin’s suit. Sunderland’s Field Music offer exacting skinny white funk and fraternal harmonies, while fellow citizens the Futureheads jerk as if electric-shocked by slammed chords. Ray Davies sings “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” with pumped up punk antagonism to conformity. Friday’s happily challenging headliner Peter Gabriel conjures “Biko”’s prophetic, apartheid-licking flames, and Jung’s struggle with self-consciousness in “The Rhythm of the Heat”.
Among Sunday’s more recent stars, Richard Ashcroft decides “Bittersweet Symphony” is about “the demonisation of the white working-class”, flaying the Tories and the cuts, cracking his strong voice and reducing The Verve’s greatest hit to rubble, to bring it alive. Thoughts that Sunday headliner Suede’s Brett Anderson will be soberly middle-aged are scotched as he leaps into the crowd, wanting to be grabbed and adored. A new song, “For the Strangers”, needs work, but “Animal Nitrate”’s tale of council house gay sex retains its dirty, tough vigour, as Suede close this low-key, high-quality festival.
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