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Friday, 27 May 2016 |
Bob Dylan 75th Birthday Salute
What better way to celebrate Bob Dylan’s 75th birthday than have a group of Melbourne’s most talented musicians and singers come together to put on a show. But this is no ordinary show. You have the likes of Shane O’Mara, guitarist extraordinaire, playing like there was no tomorrow. There is also James Black on keyboards. Who has not seen his exceptional keyboard and versatile guitar playing skills on RockWiz. Ben Weisner whose fabulous drumming provided the beat for the night and kept everyone tight. Ben Franz was playing pedal steel guitar and locked in a corner of the stage. Though he was not easy to see, you could definitely hear his beautiful melodic slide and country style arpeggios coming through. The talented Jen Anderson on violin was a real treat and stole the limelight a couple of times throughout the evening. Almost forgot to mention that the highly accomplished Steve (Demonic Dudley Moore) Hadley was on bass and all over the fret board with his perfectly executed bass lines.
It has to be said and without wanting to state the obvious, that throughout Bob Dylan’s career his songs, prose and poetry, set to music, has for decades had a profound influence on popular culture. So it is not surprising that many of this country’s very best musicians would want to pay homage to a man who has had some inspiration and influence on their craft.
If any of you are familiar with Uncut, the English music magazine, you will have noticed that they regularly feature Bob Dylan on the cover. From time to time they also release a Dylan tribute CD with their magazine ie; Dylan songs performed by well known contemporary artists. They do this because their sales go through the roof every time they do. The demand for anything Dylan is still there. He is relevant today because his words and music are timeless.
Obviously with a Dylan repertoire spanning 37 studio albums, it is going to be difficult to choose a set of songs. What to choose - early folk, later electric, his gospel stuff? There is always going to be a problem when you have too much to choice.
The art deco Memo Music Hall in St Kilda is a great place to hold this type of event. The stage with it’s red velvet drapes, fog machine and varied lighting effects, can easily set the mood and colour for any type of song. This evening, patrons were seated around small tables which had a lit candle in the middle, turning the hall into an intimate and cosy place to be. There was standing room towards the back of the hall near the bar. Here the crowd starting to sing and dance towards the end of the evening.
The show was fashionably late to start and Van Walker was first on stage. He began with the words; “Happy Birthday Bob” and began with the song, “You Ain’t Going Nowhere”. Played in a jingle jangle 12 string guitar type sound with some nice lap steel guitar thrown in. Now Van is a big man with a big voice. This was evident in his second song, "It’s all Over Now Baby Blue". This was a crowd favourite and incorporated the finger picking guitar playing of Shane on his green Fender Telecaster. A guitar solo combining Shane’s electric guitar, mixed in with Ben’s lap steel, was out of this world. Probably one of the best versions of this song that I have heard.
Next came Angie Hart with a well performed version of "I’ll Keep It Mine", a touching and moving folksy Dylan song with Jen playing a crying violin and James playing a lovely melody on piano. This song was an out-take from one of Dylan’s earlier albums and I am not sure whether the audience would have preferred a song that they knew and could identify with. Angie also sang Angelina with an almost bluegrass sounding arrangement. I said almost bluegrass because it is hard to describe - folk, electric, mandolin sounding guitar. Very nice indeed.
Simon Bailey came up next on stage to sing “Sarah” and “Most Of The Time”. “Sarah” was sung in a Dylanesque style with Rebecca Barnards’ beautiful vocals backing him up. Simon’s version of Most of the Time nailed this song pure and simple. With his somewhat raspy voice and haunting guitar melody accompaniment, which at times included high pitched squeals, was a winner and acknowledged by the audience as such.
"Make you Feel My Love" performed by Sime Nugent was touching to say the least. Before he started to sing his next song there was a shout from the audience and Sime quickly responded with; “a heckler already”. He then went onto sing; “If Not For You”. This song was definitely a crowd pleaser but in my mind it’s the “Obladi Oblada” of Dylan songs.
Then Lucie Thorn came on to sing “Things Have Changed” and I believe it was one the highlights of the evening. The band was sensational and again, an extraordinary guitar solo as well superb drumming and keyboard playing was on show. It was something special. Perhaps it was Lucie’s unique gutsy voice or her performance on stage. She periodically holds up her red Guild semi-acoustic guitar at 90 degrees - with the guitar neck reaching higher than her head. Pure class act and the crowd loved her.
After a thirty minute break, Lucie Thorn & Suzannah Espie opened the second set with "Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)". Some have called the lyrics as pure genius. I have heard many renditions of this song by various artists. Unfortunately, I was not sold on tonight’s version and I believe that Lucie and Suzannah failed to make it their own. When you don’t own something it’s going to be hard to sell. Let’s not underestimate the enormity of what was being undertaken here. Señor is a huge song and doing a harmony version was always going to be fraught with difficulty. Good try.
Suzannah went on to sing “One Too Many Mornings” and “Tangled Up In Blue”. Her first song was given a country and western feel while “Tangled Up in Blue” drew cheers from the crowd at the start and end of the song. Some nice finger picking guitar playing and nice bass runs played their part in making this song a crowd pleaser.
Next came Charles Jenkins and what a sensational voice for Dylan songs. Singing “Not Dark Yet”, a sad song with ambient guitar sounds at times, made it a truly moving experience to behold. The stage was bathed in a blue light during this song, adding incredible atmosphere. Charles sang an upbeat version of “Visions of Johanna” with a drawl, extending certain vowels and giving it a Dylan like charm. This song had everything; dueling guitars, heavy drum beats, strong bass riffs which received an extended applause at the end.
Then came a touching solo performance from Rebecca Barnard & Shane O’Mara with their version of “Boots Of Spanish Leather”. Sometimes less is more and with only two performers on stage the audience were quiet and still throughout the song. This was a serious love song being given serious treatment. In her interpretation, Rebecca was wailing at times as if the pain of it all was too much and Shane’s finger picking on the guitar, arpeggio style, gave the song a sadness that only the loss of true love can bring. Brilliant absolutely brilliant. Hey, I think these two may have been a couple at one stage?
Lisa Miller with her country style and twang sang two songs, “Let Me Standing” and “Maggie's Farm”. The latter being a sing-a-long favourite with the crowd and played in a Johnny Cash style similar to “Jackson”. James playing a honky tonk piano solo added to the crowd bobbing around in their seats. Most people knew the words to this song and sang along with Lisa.
The last act was Gallie with two great Dylan numbers to perform. Firstly, he sang “Hurricane” and his performance was remarkable. What was even more remarkable, is that he remembered all the lyrics to the song. I noticed he almost got tongue tied a couple of times but he pulled it off like a true professional he is. Now here is where Jen Anderson almost steals show. This song calls for a violin solo and what a solo it was. Jen not only gets the violin to sound like it does on Dylan’s "Desire" album but better. The solo goes on for a while and she is bobbing and weaving high and low on stage and the audience is truly gob smacked. What a performance what a talent. Rebecca is also in on this performance and her backup vocals are truly amazing. Yes like this song says, they could have been “champions of the world” and they were.
Gallie’s next song is Dylan’s “Forever Young” from Bob’s "Planet Waves" album. This was a great sing-a-long-number to end the show with. A crowd pleaser and those in the audience standing at the back, were all waving their arms in the air and singing along. By this time, there has been over two and half hours of performances and the show had come to an end.
A standing ovation was given. Sime Nugent came out on stage to perform the encore and to sing “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”. Alone with his guitar, Sime sang and played the song true to the folk style which began Dylan’s career back in 1962. This was a great way to end the night.
Whoever thought of putting this band together with these vocalists to commemorate Bob Dylan on his 75th Birthday should be commended. The band was truly amazing. The performers were exceptional and the venue was great. What a treat for local music lovers. This show should go on the road - it’s that good.
If you want to hear the very best that Melbourne (if not Australia) has to offer in live music, then go down & get some of this music in you. It will make you feel alive. Even if you have never really been into Dylan, you owe it to yourself to see this show. By the time you read this, the current performances will have probably finished. So if there are no more shows, scream, shout, make a fuss, until they put on more performances. Talent like this must be showcased.
Credit: All photography by Arty Rich
Fan footage via YouTube:
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