Tangled up in corporatism
The Who plus Bob plus Eric Clapton plus no booze in a bleak midsummer Hyde Park equals one damp squib. By Andy Gill
The only way to get round the ban was to pay pounds 200 to get access to the VIP area, where Royal tradition was washed away in a sea of free champers. From my windswept eyrie in row ZZ of the seats, I could see the VIP tent, over whose entrance was strung a banner bearing the corporate sponsor's logo and the mystifying claim "Palace of Rock", wherein such slavering rockbeasts as Virginia Bottomley and the charity's distinguished patron - to whom I overheard one plummy voice refer, with overweening familiarity, simply as "Wales" - could refresh themselves and rattle their jewellery away from the hoi polloi. With no equivalent means of warming up from the inside out, the bulk of the crowd was dependent on the show itself raising the temperature, and this remained steadfastly tepid.
Bob Dylan, with Ronnie Wood augmenting his band, was his usual self, fascinating and infuriating in equal parts. Always contemptuous of his own obligations as a Master of Rock legend, Dylan spends much of his time onstage subverting his own material, rendering some of the most well-known of rock anthems virtually unrecognisable, both to the audience and, at times, to his own musicians, who follow gamely wherever Bob's boot-heels may be a-wanderin'.
Today, they wandered slowly down "Positively 4th Street" and in more sprightly manner through "Silvio" and an encore of "Highway 61 Revisited", while the audience played Spot the Intro. Even spotted correctly, the songs were impossible to sing along with, Dylan twisting his delivery in the most tortuous fashion, flatting most of the melodies in a manner that sounded utterly dismissive of the songs. It was fun to observe, though: I particularly enjoyed the conclusion of "Tangled up in Blue", at whose apparent close the audience applauded, their appreciation tempered with a palpable sense of relief that the band had actually managed to reach the end more or less together. But both parties were blindsided at the last moment, when Dylan decided that what this particular version of the song really needed was another couple of stanzas of harmonica. Like tardy children dithering at the back of the crocodile, the band were belatedly forced to catch up, while the crowd wondered whether they should applaud again at the end, having already done so once.
For The Who's set, the problems of recognition derived simply from the fact that few people outside diehard fans are familiar with the Quadrophenia material, and justly so: long on ambition but short on catchy melodies, this is Pete Townshend's least engrossing group work, with all his favourite chords rearranged in song after song, like anagrams of each other that gradually blur into one bombastic tirade. Gary Glitter tried manfully to inject a little excitement into the proceedings, but despite his efforts, the show never really lifted off as a staged event: the walk-on celebs (Stephen Fry, Trevor McDonald, and Ade Edmondson) generally did just that: walk on, and then stand around at a loose end. Ringo's son Zac Starkey did a decent enough job Mooning around on the drums, though a brief snatch of film featuring the young Keith Moon doing in his drumkit bore sad testament to the distance between the old, anarchic Who and this new, knighthood- hungry corporate entity.
It was right and proper that Eric Clapton should close the show: as always, Eric's performance was well-rehearsed, impeccably played, and presented with excellent sound quality, factors not exactly in abundance elsewhere on the bill. But for all its coherence and dazzling artistry, it was a largely bloodless affair, except for when Jerry Portnoy stepped forward to blow the back off his harmonica. Even the serrated edges of Elmore James's "It Hurts Me Too" were smoothed out in Clapton's rendition: the blues with a Windsor knot at its throat.
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