ROCK / Dylan's night that had it all

IT ENDED with a moment of truth and grace, but until then it had been one of the strangest events in the history of rock and roll. The Bob Dylan concert at Madison Square Garden on Friday had just about every mood imaginable, from the beery benevolence of a gold-watch presentation to a tension so extreme that at one point the night threatened to end in violence. In its sudden contrasts and variable quality, at least, it seemed a fitting summary of a long and eventful career.

Conceived by his record company to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his recording debut, the four-and-a-half-hour concert featured Dylan and a host of others performing his songs. Aimed at subscribers to US pay-per-view television, it was the latest stage in the process that began with Woodstock and reached its apogee with Live Aid: a package show for the new global village.

It wasn't easy to envisage Dylan as the centrepiece of such a grandiose project. But he has always been more gregarious than his image suggests, and lately has seemed to find relief in the company of other musicians. By the time the finale came round, there were certainly plenty of friends on stage to join him in a singalong on 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door'.

Who knows what had been going through Dylan's head a few minutes earlier as he stood strumming an acoustic guitar while the verses of 'My Back Pages', his youthful disavowal of guru-hood and political commitment, were sung with faithful accuracy by Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton and George Harrison. Naturally, when he stepped forward to take a verse himself, he made it sound like a completely different song.

By the time he came on stage, the event was already three hours old. It had begun with Booker T Jones singing 'Gotta Serve Somebody' in front of two of his MGs, the guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Duck Dunn - who, with the overactive guitarist G E Smith and drummers Jim Keltner and Anton Fig, formed the rhythm section for most of the guests.

Some of the performances relied on history for their impact. Carolyn Hester supplying high harmonies to Nanci Griffith's version of 'Boots of Spanish Leather' made a moving sight: it was while playing harmonica on a session of Hester's in 1961 that Dylan was spotted by John Hammond, the peerless talent scout. And Hammond's son, the blues singer John Hammond Jr, was on hand to sing Blind Lemon Jefferson's 'See that My Grave is Kept Clean', from Dylan's first album.

There were also moments of pure wilfulness. The young American Sophie B Hawkins, who probably owed her place on the bill to the fact that she shares a record company with Dylan, turned 'I Want You' into a squabble between Rickie Lee Jones and Violet Elizabeth Bott. But the prize for high drama went to Sinead O'Connor, whose arrival met with a ferocious response from that part of the 20,000-strong audience which had not sympathised with her recent protest against the Pope on US television. There was real hatred in their jeers, and her answer was not to sing 'I Believe in You' with the rhythm section, as planned, but to stand alone, clenched and defiant, spitting the lyric of Bob Marley's 'War' over the hostile racket. Eventually she was led away in tears, the consoling arm of Kris Kristofferson around her shoulders. Serves her right, some said, but to others it evoked memories of Dylan himself being booed for a purely musical form of apostasy 25 years ago.

Neil Young came on to re

adjust the mood with noisy, spirited versions of 'Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues' and 'All Along the Watchtower'. Together with Lou Reed's careful version of the difficult 'Foot of Pride', Young gave us the best of the night's straight-ahead rock music. John Mellencamp did tolerably well by 'Like a Rolling Stone' and 'Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat', as did Tom Petty with 'Licence to Kill', but George Harrison and Ron Wood were merely adequate, while Johnny Winter and George Thorogood really needn't have bothered. Oddly, Eric Clapton suffered from being too original: his rearrangements of 'Love Minus Zero' and 'Don't Think Twice' were unnecessary distortions of delicate songs.

Dylan's music has many roots, and some of his sources paid their respects. The sounds of gospel came from Stevie Wonder in a slowed-down 'Blowin' in the Wind' and the O'Jays with a thrilling 'Emotionally Yours'. Nashville was represented by Johnny Cash and June Carter, who turned 'It Ain't Me Babe' into a hoe-down; by Willie Nelson, not shown to best advantage on 'What Was It You Wanted'; by Kristofferson, who delivered 'I'll Be Your Baby Tonight' with unaffected charm; and by Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin and Roseanne Cash, who did a sweethearts-of-the-rodeo act on 'You Ain't Going Nowhere'.

Fitting no obvious category, but entirely successful in their own terms, were Richie Havens with 'Just Like a Woman', Chrissie Hynde with a poised 'I Shall Be Released', and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, a young Seattle rocker who sang an acoustic version of 'Masters of War' with touching respect and commitment. Unlike many of his elders, he didn't seem to be reading the lyric from a teleprompter.

Rumours of appearances by Bono and Springsteen were false, but the biggest holes were left by Joan Baez (who plays New York this week) and Robbie Robertson, whose absence undermined the version of 'When I Paint My Masterpiece' performed by his surviving colleagues from the Band.

But, as his record company used to say, nobody sings Dylan like Dylan, and the old boy, nowadays noted for the unevenness of his concert performances, came up with three winners. His choices were flawless. 'Song to Woody', from his first album, paid tribute to his origins and influences; 'It's Alright, Ma' tapped the pre-election mood; and 'Girl from the North Country', the final encore, had a tender beauty that was always at least as characteristic and important as his famous snarl. If you had tears to shed, this was the moment to let them go.

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham
Downton

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past