ROCK / REVIEW: The grumpy duo: Andy Gill on Bob Dylan and Van Morrison at the Finsbury Park Fleadh
In the event, audience expectations were more than rewarded: this was one of Dylan's good gigs, where his seat-of- pants approach paid handsome dividends despite his frequent attempts to bamboozle his band with erratic strumming and questionable singing. Dylan long ago embarked upon a policy of never singing the same song the same way twice, with widely variable results. On 'All along the Watchtower', the extreme nasality of his delivery acts like a kind of natural vocoder, a bizarre sound which has the perverse but welcome effect of reclaiming the song from Hendrix's version.
His 'Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again' is a wild sub-operatic fantasia, and when he's joined by Morrison for a duet on 'The Irish Rover', flash-bulbs popping madly as rock's grumpy brothers come together over the same microphone, they appear to be singing in different keys. It's more hit-and-miss even than the Johnny Cash duet on Nashville Skyline, closer to Ornette Coleman's experiments in harmolody (which, roughly translated, means everyone playing whatever they want, with no regard for conventional harmonic relations).
When it works, though, this approach can transform a song, breathing new life into it. It's the vocal equivalent of off-road driving and it makes Dylan probably the premier extempore artist in popular music.
But it requires a band with uncommon alertness and sensitivity, able to switch styles mid- song and stretch out to fit any of Dylan's off-the-cuff alterations. And at the moment, he has such a band, equally at ease with a big fat Z Z Top boogie-style version of 'Maggie's Farm' or a country-rock 'Mr Tambourine Man' which heads off down Mexico way like his Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid soundtrack.
Mostly, though, the band favours the twin-guitar attack associated with the Allman Brothers or, more pertinently for Bob, with the Grateful Dead. When John Jackson's fluid, Jerry Garcia-styled guitar break sidles past Bucky Baxter's pedal-steel guitar and the gentle funk-rock backing of bassist Tony Garnier and drummer Winston Watson on a well-nigh unrecognisable 'Tangled Up in Blue', you're left thinking that this, surely, is how the dreary Dylan & the Dead album ought to have sounded.
Even Dylan, playing mainly electric guitar, gets to dash off a spikily effective solo on a version of 'Watching the River Flow' that's been reimagined as a Flying Burritos-style hill-billy hoedown. It looked more fun than usual for him, too.
Earlier, Van Morrison had brought his new, more relaxed approach to the proceedings, starting well with a jaunty 'Not Feeling It Any More' but then dissipating the mood with a succession of generic blues vamps. These would be fine for a small smoky club but were just whisked away on the wind here.
Morrison all but turned things round again with the concluding 'In the Garden' but overall it's clear that when the day is drizzly and overcast, Van's not really the man to brighten things up.
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Jack the Ripper: Scientist who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'
- 2 Ebola outbreak: What is bushmeat – and is it to blame for the disease that has killed thousands?
- 3 Star Wars memorabilia called a 'bit of plastic' on Antiques Roadshow by Fiona Bruce valued at £50,000
- 4 Meet Thea, Norway's 12-year-old child bride
- 5 Russell Brand might seem like a sexy revolutionary worth getting behind, but he will only fail his fans
Breaking Bad season 6 is still not happening
Downton Abbey review series 5, episode 5: Period drama falls disappointingly flat
Doctor Who, Flatline - review: Clara isn’t half bad as the Time Lord
Alfred Hitchcock's unseen Holocaust documentary to be screened
X Factor 2014 results: Chloe Jasmine and Stephanie Nala sent home
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Sorry Judy Finnigan – Ched Evans is no less sickening than an alleyway rapist
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Workers 'could be forced to pay £5 a week' to get benefits
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Amal Alamuddin calls for the return of the Elgin Marbles from Britain: 'Injustice has persisted for too long'