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posted 27/05/2019

REVIEW: Bob Dylan Revisited

Bob Dylan Revisited @ The State Theatre 24 May 2019

Reviewed by Phil Fiebig

The promoters of this birthday celebration concert for the world’s greatest living songwriter know a thing or two about the market for nostalgia and tribute shows.  They have or are currently touring shows paying homage to Michael Jackson and Elvis, Joe Cocker and Van Morrison.  And advertised in the State Theatre foyer were upcoming tribute shows to Roy Orbison (a perennial favourite) The Eagles and Credence Clearwater Survival, I mean Revival.

We often judge these shows on the ability of the performers to replicate the artist in both voice and appearance. The Beatles Broadway show “Rain” is the flagship for such endeavours.

But Bob Dylan does Bob Dylan songs best. I mean that in both senses. He’s proven on recent albums, at least to my ears, to be poor at interpreting others’ material, especially the great American songbook. But nobody sings “how does it feeeel?’ like the man who asked the question first.

So it was appreciated that none of the featured singers attempted to copy Bob.  In their own ways, they each brought something new to the stunning Bob Dylan songbook. Some in small ways, others with more ambition.  It was about the songs, not the man.

Australian Idol winner Wes Carr opened the show strongly. He was representing a generation who must look back at Dylan the way that the Beatles observed Cole Porter or George Gershwin.  His “Ballad of a thin man” was a gutsy choice and his harp playing was to be a feature throughout the show.  A reminder of how big a role this humble instrument played in Dylan’s sound.

Wendy Mathews was given some of Dylan’s earliest, most iconic folk songs, (“Blowin’ in the wind”, “The times they are a changin’ “, “Don’t think twice it’s alright”) which were not ideally suited to her powerful voice.

What presence Doug Parkinson has and how loved he still is by the baby boomer crowd. You couldn’t help thinking when he said “How good it is to STILL be here”, that most in the audience felt likewise.  All four of his solo tunes were delivered with conviction, especially “Make you feel my love”, an underappreciated gem from 1997’s “Time out of mind” album.

Glen Shorrock grated. His voice is still ok but he seemed to completely miss the significance of the event, or the man being honoured. He even tried to convince us feebly that it was a coincidence that the show was staged on Dylan’s 78th birthday. Yeah right. And his remark about Neil Diamond lyrics, while fiddling with songsheets on a music stand (“Oh no, that’s next week”) was unbecoming of a man with such a rich musical history. It aint you babe!

The show hit another gear whenever the brilliant John Waters was on stage.    This might seem petty, but until recently, Bob always played guitar when he sang. Which meant he stood still and delivered his powerful messages without visual distractions. John Waters did likewise.  His soulful voice, without mimicking, suited the material best and his choice of songs and arrangements (thanks to guitarist / musical director John Bedison?) were on the one hand the most adventurous and hard hitting, yet true to the spirit of Dylan – “This wheels on fire”, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody” and the night’s tour de force “ The Hurricane” (with relevant images projected on the screen at the back of the stage).

When the five singers assembled on stage for the finale, their spine tingling version of “Hard rain” gave you a sense of the heights the show might have hit with some backup singers earlier in proceedings.  Wendy Mathews in particular soared majestically above the rest of the “male choir”.  At Wes Carr’s urging, the crowd joined in singing along to “Mighty Quinn”.  It was predictably appropriate to finish the tribute with “Just like a Rolling Stone”, most music journalists choice as the greatest pop song ever.

“How does it feel?”

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