The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration
You can make fun of his voice and scratch your noggin about his seemingly dour demeanor, but the one thing everyone seems to agree on about Bob Dylan is that he’s written some of the greatest songs in history. Look at one of his earliest: “Blowin’ In the Wind” is easy on the ears and asks a series of rhetorical questions, searching for answers, in front of your face, or off in a distance, unreachable, blowing in the wind. It was initially called a protest song (a claim Dylan vehemently denies) and performed in earnest by Peter, Paul & Mary. How the then-21-year-old folk singer stumbled upon such a simple, yet profound sense of the times explains why 30 years later in 1992, some of music’s biggest and brightest came together for The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration to honor the songs and the man who wrote them.
Staged at New York's Madison Square Garden on October 16, 1992, The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration was originally issued on CD, cassette, vinyl and VHS in 1993; now, Deluxe Edition double-DVD and Blu-Ray sets with bonus performances and rehearsal footage, plus a double CD with two bonus rehearsal tracks, have ben trotted out by Legacy to relive the day. Of all the all-star concerts the Garden has hosted, this show has to rate as one of the most star-studded. Look at the roster and you’ll see a lot of players who no longer inhibit this planet. There’s George Harrison, making his one and only concert appearance on a U. S. concert stage in the 90s and his last major concert appearance ever. A Dylan fan and close friend, Harrison’s stab at “Absolutely Sweet Marie” is sublime.
The range of performers from that night is staggering when you consider Dylan’s influence. The backing band throughout the show features three members of Booker T. & The M.G.'s, G.E. Smith on guitar, and Jim Keltner and Anton Fig on drums. Not too shabby. Lou Reed goes deep on the obscure “Foot Of Pride,” while Johnny Cash and June Carter kick up dust (with Mickey Raphael filling the gaps on harmonica) for a rousing “It Ain’t Me Babe.” Sinéad O'Connor, who two weeks prior tore up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live, was booed, and opted out of singing “I Believe In You,“ instead singing a highly charged av cappela of Bob Marley’s “War.” Her appearance was struck from the 1993 release, but now it’s on the DVD and Blu-ray Disc, drama and all. A rehearsal of “I Believe In You” has been added to the CD. Frankly, their addition adds little value to a show already brimming with talent. Here are the highlights.
Who would have ever guessed that Stevie Wonder would step up for a joyous romp through “Blowin’ in The Wind.” Johnny Winter comes out and kills on “Highway 61 Revisited,” a song he’s had on his setlist for 40 years. Ronnie Wood follows with a nice and steady rendition of “Seven Days,” which he had recorded on his solo album, 1979’s Gimme Some Neck. Neil Young, who called the show “Bobfest,” makes it look easy, as he, Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn, who had been touring together at the time, tear through a hearty “All Along The Watch Tower.” The Band, with Rick Danko, Levon Helm, and Garth Hudson, give an impassioned performance of “When I Paint My Masterpiece.”
Roger McGuinn sings “Mr. Tambourine Man” and you understand why the version he did with the Byrds will always be the one people remember. That happens a lot with Dylan’s songs: They can easily become someone else’s. The man of the hour eventually asserts his authority, first by himself for “It's Alright, Ma,” then with McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton and George Harrison for “My Back Pages,” followed by “Knockin' On Heaven's Door” with all the show’s participants. Dylan winds it all down with a solemn run through of “Girl Of The North Country.” The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration aptly honors the life and times of a recording artist and performer who continues to shape and question an ever-changing world.
~ Shawn Perry