Shadow Kingdom: The Early Songs of Bob Dylan, review – a live-streamed concert and a devotee’s dream

Virtual gig saw Dylan unearth early career deep-cuts, many of which haven’t been played live this century

Mark Beaumont
Monday 19 July 2021 13:01
<p>Bob Dylan during his ‘Shadow Kingdom’ live-stream</p>

Bob Dylan during his ‘Shadow Kingdom’ live-stream

“Dylan’s first broadcast performance since 1994,” went the hype, but it looked like a relic from five decades earlier. Like his own languid version of Goodnight Sweetheart, Bob Dylan’s debut live-stream saw him take a selection of early career deep-cuts back to a monochrome rum shack in 1940s Alabama, backed by a masked, melancholy bluegrass band and watched by tables of disinterested cowboys and soul girls.

A notorious re-interpreter of his own material, Dylan applied the intimate, amorphous atmosphere of last year’s late career masterpiece Rough and Rowdy Ways to the more acerbic melodies of his youth, some not played live this century. The effect was akin to the sophisticated covers albums he’s been releasing for much of the past decade, except these standards were his own.

Those expecting a gig experience were disappointed; these were pre-recorded set pieces, with Dylan jump-cutting between outfits and the band often struggling to mime to backing-tape improvisations. But the tone – sultry, delicate, time-broken – was evocative and touching; the sharp-edged attack of the Sixties and Seventies versions had given way to a contented surrender, Dylan even sucking his harmonica like a bourbon glass.

“Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I’ll Go Mine)” took on a genteel acoustic menace; “Forever Young” arrived harpsichord-light. “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” became a minimalist stand-off between tension and quietude, and this version of “Queen Jane Approximately” was more husky serenade than nagging nasal text barrage. By the lowdown southern blues of “Watching the River Flow”, the shack was jumping.

Give it 20 years, this kid could go places.

‘Shadow Kingdom’ streams via Veeps until 11.59pm on 20 July; tickets can be bought here.

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