Lizzie had a party at the palace for her 50th while Elton John celebrated by frocking up as Louis XI. Fast forward to 2012 and in Sydney a fine group of local musicians became tangled up in Bob Dylan to celebrate the golden anniversary of the genius’s debut. With a picturesque setting in the Opera House plus some more than capable hands and a perfect soundtrack, there was nothing left wanting from this honest and affectionate tribute show.
Musical director, Ash Naylor (Even) played guitar alongside Paul Kelly’s backing band. They kicked things off with a slightly heavier version of “Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)”, one that proved closer to the Manfred Mann hit than Bob Dylan’s own. The flutes were replaced by knotted instruments and there were multiple harmonies before Josh Pyke entered the stage in classic Dylan mode. With an acoustic guitar and harmonica he did a sweet, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”.
Dylan is obviously an influence on Pyke’s work and this was certainly apparent in the pop-like version of “Tangled Up In Blue” and the love-letter-to-your-sweetheart folk of “Just Like A Woman”. Dylan’s romantic side was amplified through the soft and delicate approach that Holly Throsby brought to “Girl Of The North Country”. This talented lady would also spread her wings and pay attention to some of Dylan’s lesser known but no less equal songs. She played “Tomorrow’s A Long Time” to protest against it not being a hit and she turned a few heads in the process.
But it wouldn’t have been a Dylan tribute without “Blowin’ In The Wind”. Kevin Mitchell (AKA Bob Evans) received a round of applause for the smooth, opening chords as these emanated from his fairy light adorned, acoustic guitar. Mitchell’s voice has really come into its own over recent years, it’s often hard to imagine that this is the same guy that had the nasally tones on the Slightly Odway album. Like Dylan, Mitchell was also able to level out the rougher edges in his voice, producing an easy croon on “Lay, Lady, Lay”.
During the first set Patience Hodgson (The Grates) was rather restrained, especially when she tackled “Visions Of Johanna”. But as the music kept coming with “Positively 4th Street” and others, she became more and more animated and eventually cut completely loose with “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. There were moments in the show that were country-esque, which made her resemble Dolly Parton. But her love of indie-punk dancing completely took over the Dylan classic when she flung off her shoes and shimmied and twisted around the stage like a silly yet sexy, possessed femme fatale in red.
Kav Temperley (Eskimo Joe) also did a good job of alternating his performance to suit the different moods for each song. In “It Ain’t Me Babe” the vibe was so bittersweet with the violin fusing well with his warm, choir boy-like vocals that it was hard not to feel your eyes well up. He also had the impressive job of learning eight minutes worth of lyrics for “Hurricane”. But it was the two big numbers in the second half that would’ve been the most daunting initially, although these also proved to be some of the most fun.
For “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” Temperley hammed it up and got the crowd nodding along to the rolling beat while Mitchell and Hodgson jumped into the crowd and played the pied pipers with tambourines to the classic line: ‘Everybody must get stoned.’ “All Along The Watchtower” was different again. The behemoth task of tackling both Dylan and Jimi Hendrix was never going to be an easy one. So while things tonight didn’t reach the lofty heights of the two legends, it wasn’t half-bad thanks to some excellent distorted guitar flourishes reminiscent of Neil Young & Crazy Horse.
The stars of the evening: Pyke, Throsby, Temperley, Mitchell and Hodgson had at times given the impression that they were pinching themselves to be in such a classy venue. They did, however, do a lovely job of performing some cuts solo and occasionally in a duet form. They kept the banter entertaining and funny with tidbits about each other and their own personal experiences and knowledge of Messer Zimmerman. A particular highlight was hearing the three boys (also bandmates in Basement Birds) sing together for “I Shall Be Released” and “Mr. Tambourine Man”, because their harmonies are really sublime.
Paul Kelly’s backing band is an accomplished crew and they did an exceptional job of translating Dylan’s songs for the stage. There were some jarring transitions as the mood switched from fragile as a feather one moment, to a completely feisty rock clout the next but it was all well intentioned and good to hear the music with a modern twist. I am personally no Dylan purist and I’m told the man of the hour isn’t either, so I thought it all to be thoroughly enjoyable.
One thing is for sure; you’d be heard-pressed to find a person who didn’t leave the night without a lot more respect for this talented and prolific writer. There were at least a few murmurs of ‘I’d forgotten’ or ‘I didn’t know’ he wrote that. And it’s fair to say this man has been on a career-long roll, writing so many classic songs- a fact often overlooked because other people have gotten famous from his work.
The only downside of this two hour plus show was that the audience didn’t sing along or dance anywhere near as much as I thought they would. In the rousing encore, “Like A Rolling Stone” it seemed like we finally got there when the entire cast and crowd sang along like one big, happy family. They’d finally managed to get us all on our feet and we were lapping things up.
You could say that it seemed like these things were happening too little, too late but my prevailing memory of the night will be seeing an elderly gentleman stand up from his wheelchair to clap along for a chorus. Now there aren’t many musicians that could claim to work wonders like that but then, there is only one Bob Dylan. So it seems like the man that was once called Judas could actually lay claim to the name “Jesus” because these days he’s working miracles from well beyond Maggie’s farm.
1. Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn) [sung by Ash Naylor]
2. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue [sung by Josh Pyke]
3. Girl Of The North Country [sung by Holly Throsby]
4. Blowin’ In The Wind [sung by Kevin Mitchell]
5. If Not For You [sung by Kevin Mitchell & Patience Hodgson]
6. Visions Of Johanna [sung by Patience Hodgson]
7. It Ain’t Me Babe [sung by Kav Temperley]
8. Lay, Lady, Lay [sung by Kevin Mitchell]
9. Tomorrow Is A Long Time [sung by Holly Throsby]
10. Tangled Up In Blue [sung by Josh Pyke]
11. Hurricane [sung by Kav Temperley]
12. I Shall Be Released [sung by Kevin Mitchell, Josh Pyke & Kav Temperley]
13. Love Minus Zero, No Limit [sung by Ash Naylor]
14. The Times They Are A-Changin’ [sung by Josh Pyke]
15. Positively 4th Street [sung by Patience Hodgson]
16. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall [sung by Patience Hodgson & Holly Throsby]
17. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 [sung by Kav Temperley]
18. Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright [sung by Josh Pyke & Holly Throsby]
19. I Want You [sung by Kevin Mitchell]
20. Subterranean Homesick Blues [sung by Patience Hodgson]
21. Just Like A Woman [sung by Josh Pyke]
22. All Along The Watchtower [sung by Kav Temperley]
23. Mr. Tambourine Man [sung by Josh Pyke, Kevin Mitchell & Kav Temperley]
24. Like A Rolling Stone [sung by everyone]
Originally published on 09 July 2012 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/bob-dylan-tribute-night-sydney-opera-house-08-07-12
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