I’m Not There | 11.07.07 | New York

Words by: Nick D’Amore

I’m Not There Concert :: 11.07.07 :: Beacon Theatre :: New York, NY

Interpretation is a major theme throughout Bob Dylan‘s career. From his early folkie reinterpreting of traditional songs to quickly discovering his own voice and having his songs immediately redone by others, Dylan’s music has always welcomed different voices. The new movie I’m Not There attempts to portray Dylan as a person and musician that can be represented by various people – men and women, punks and folkies, blacks and whites, talents and amateurs. The I’m Not There concert did not disappoint in a similar spirit (nor does the stellar soundtrack). It was a pretty accurate depiction of all facets of Dylan’s decades-long career, by turns brilliant and uneven, transcendent and basic, raucous and contemplative, full of “greatest hits” and some long-lost gems. On the whole, the show was much like Dylan’s own concerts, with listeners trying to guess within a few notes what song was being played (when not formally introduced) and hearing how songs from his various periods were recast.

The first highlight of the night was My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James ambling on stage to join the night’s house band, Calexico, for “Goin’ to Acapulco,” an absolutely perfect song for James’ clear, soaring vocals. Standing still, hands stuffed into his blue hoodie, James nailed The Basement Tapes tune. After every extended “Yeeeaaahhh,” the crowd roared with delight. James was definitely a tough act to follow, but Joe Henry, backed by Calexico, was up to the challenge, admirably performing “Senor (Tales of Yankee Power).” Also on point was ex-Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan‘s interpretation of “Man in the Long Black Coat,” a good showcase for his gravelly, somber voice. Appropriately, he was dressed in a long, black coat.

Jim James :: I’m Not There Concert
11.07 from Stereogum
The first (and most memorable) of many uneven moments was the Magnetic Zeros, introduced by I’m Not There actor Heath Ledger, doing “All I Really Wanna Do.” It took a while for them to get situated and when they finally did the song was basically a loose, spastic, amusing debacle.

Former Dylan keyboardist, Al Kooper, backed by his Funky Faculty with the Uptown Horns, got the crowd back with an energetic “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.” Sounding like a really good bar band, Kooper lead his Faculty through an R&B-flavored version of the Highway 61 Revisited favorite.

Performing another Dylan classic, Ian Ball and Olly Peacock of Gomez did a terrific interpretation of “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright,” playing a bouncy, catchy arrangement. Another fun version was Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks‘s grooving take on “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” Hicks and his two backup singers, looking a bit like female Blues Brothers, did some cheesy synchronized dance moves that were highly entertaining.

“Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” didn’t get such great treatment from Terry Adams (NRBQ). Lyrics went by the wayside as Adams and his band swerved chaotically through a somewhat jammy but often annoying rendition.

Indie rock was solidly represented with Yo La Tengo, Dinosaur Jr.‘s J Mascis and members of Sonic Youth, who performed rare Dylan gems with varying degrees of success. Playing their two songs from the movie’s soundtrack, Yo La Tengo showed off their versatility, first with a noisy, messy rendering of “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” then drummer Georgia Hubley took center stage for a subdued version of “Fourth Time Around,” providing her unmistakable whispering, droning (in a good way) vocals to the Blonde On Blonde tune.

Bob Dylan
Jim James returned with My Morning Jacket for a “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” similar to the Rolling Thunder Revue version from The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975. MMJ were as energized and powerful as Dylan’s performance 32 years earlier. Mason Jennings followed with a tight, faithful rendition of “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”

Punk legend, John Doe (X) did a spirited version of the Christian-era Dylan, “Pressing On,” which also appears on the film soundtrack. Dressed in an oversized, burnt orange suit, Doe and his four stellar female backup singers sang with conviction, creating a tent-revival vibe within the Beacon Theatre.

The surprise guest of the night was Tift Merritt, who was able to rival MMJ for the crowd-pleaser of the night. The country singer, joined by John Henry on guitar, performed a positively exquisite version of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” Both her guitar and her powerful voice outsized her tiny frame. Merritt was dramatic and dynamic, commanding our attention for the entire song and earning a standing ovation from some of the crowd.

Smooth voiced Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo and his Million Dollar Bashers, which included fellow Sonic Youth member Steve Shelley on drums and J Mascis on lead guitar, performed “Can’t Leave Her Behind.” The band followed with a jangling rendition of “Santa-Fe,” sung by Mascis in his slacker-twang. John Doe joined them for a fantastic version of “Ballad of A Thin Man” featuring Ranaldo on keys and Mascis offering tasty lead guitar accents. Doe was soulful in his delivery of the haunting, surreal song from 1965.

Then, after a night of performances both lame and sublime, The Roots closed the main set with their massive rendition of “Masters of War,” which is quickly becoming legendary. Initially sung to the tune of “The Star Spangled Banner,” the band changed rhythms and styles on a dime, weaving deftly in and out of the Dylan classic and, at one point, segueing into the Band of Gypsys’ “Machine Gun.” The night was capped with a super jam of the oft-covered “All Along the Watchtower” that didn’t sound particularly great but was fun to watch – an apt description of the evening as a whole.

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