This week I review an upcoming CD and DVD release of the Bob Dylan 30th anniversary show in 1992 and the Rolling Stones' latest live album recorded at Hyde Park in London last year.
Bob Dylan - "Bob Dylan's 30th Anniversary Concert"
I remember buying the two-CD version of this celebration of Bob Dylan's 30 years of recording back in 1992. The CD really was quite a listen, with all of rock royalty gathered together at Madison Square Garden to pay homage to the man that changed rock and roll and dubbed "Bobfest" by a joking Neil Young.
The star-studded affair was spectacular, with Dylan songs interpreted by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, Lou Reed, the Clancy Brothers, Ritchie Havens, Johnny Winter, Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Ron Wood, Chrissie Hynde, the O'Jays, Eddie Vedder, Sinaid O'Connor, Tracy Chapman, George Harrison and others. Three members of Booker T. and the M.G.'s along with "Saturday Nigh Live" guitarist G.E. Smith and legendary studio drummer Jim Keltner anchor the band with flair.
The concert performance is being released March 4 on both CD and DVD by Columbia Legacy, and it is a treat to listen to different performers - many of them who had collaborated with or were close friends with - the musical bard of our time.
Twenty years later Dylan's now been recording for 50 years and has had a renaissance during the 15 years, recording some of the best albums of his career. But back in 1992 Dylan was coming out of the 1980s, a fairly horrendous decade for him personally, professionally and critically. It also was the beginning of "the never-ending tour" period, when Dylan began touring year-round. He really hasn't stopped since.
It's also a lot of fun to hear these songs performed by others, proving they've more than stood the test of time and are great no matter who sings them.
Some of the performances are pain-inducing - Neil Young's wildy out-of-tune vocals on "Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues" and "All along the Watchtower" - to absolutely sublime, such as Chrissie Hynde's wonderfully reverant and moving take of "I Shall Be Released" and Lou Reed's surprisingly rocking take on the not-so-well known Dylan-penned nugget "Foot of Pride."
The highlight of the evening though has to be Eric Clapton's extraordinary version of "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," which he re-interprets as a blues, complete with shredding guitar solos and passionate vocals. This has always been my favorite cut on this album, and alone makes the evening more than memorable.
I sure the concert was a shot in the arm for Dylan as well after coming out of his worst decade. For that alone we should be grateful for this fascinating show.
The Rolling Stones - "Sweet Summer Fun - Hyde Park Live"
This two-CD, one DVD set of the Rolling Stones last show of 2013 at London's Hyde Park is pretty much what you would expect it to be - nostalgic and a rehash of the band's greatest hits.
But there also are some things you wouldn't expect - the Stones sounding amazing after 50 years, and this obligatory live disc that always comes out after a Stones tour sounding better than any live release of theirs in the past 30 years.
Maybe it's because of being back in London after decades of not being there, but the love of the British people seemed to give the Stones a lift - that and being the last date of their European tour last year, and the band sounding hot and tight. For whatever the reasons, the sounds that made the Stones the most legendary band in the world are here in abundance, with Jagger sounding, well, like Jagger, and prancing around the stage at 71 looking like a 13-year-old girl. I've never seen a guy his age in better shape.
On the other hand, Keith Richards looks like hell, with his small potbelly and craggly face looking like it's been hit by a thousand hurricanes. But he sounds great, and while looking feeble at times, he cranked out the timeless grooves of "Brown Sugar," "Midnight Rambler" and "Gimme Shelter" like he's still having a ball. His vocals on "You've Got the Silver" and "Before They Make Me Run" also sounded fabulous, hitting the high notes with ease, despite a reported three packs-a-day cigarette habit. Ronnie Wood still plays excellent honky-tonk guitar, while Charlie Watts distinctively simple drumming anchors the entire entourage.
There really aren't many surprises, except for a limp run through "Emotional Rescue," a half-assed song to begin with, but by the time the Stones hit a transdecently rocking "Jumpin' Jack Flash" they are playing with the intensity of men less than half their age.
Another highlight is an appearance by former Stones guitarist Mick Taylor, who played his first gig with the band on its legendary concert in the park in 1969.
Fun, intense, goofy, bombastic, joyful and over-the-top, "Sweet Summer Fun" is a gorgeous slice of rock 'n' roll that most young kids just wouldn't understand these days. But for those that grew up on the Stones, it's heartening they can still kick out the jams in their 70s.
It may be only rock 'n' roll, but I like it. A real miracle, and very highly recommended.