Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell spend a night in the Garden
It was like old times when Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell shared the bill in a rare concert appearance Sunday evening in New York City. But it was hardly a night of '60s nostalgia. More than three decades into their careers, both artists are experiencing a creative renaissance in 1998: Dylan’s "Time Out Of Mind" won a Grammy this spring, and Mitchell’s jazzy "Taming the Tiger" has just been released to some of the strongest reviews of her career.
Dylan headlined the Madison Square Garden show, and used his 85 minutes on stage as he has for years: to reinvent his songs. Backed by a tight four-piece band, he gave "Tangled Up In Blue" a low-country feel, complete with mandolin. He roughed up his vocal phrasings on the "Blonde on Blonde" classics "I Want You" and "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again." And as a change of pace, he even performed a ballad by French crooner Charles Aznavour, which he prefaced by saying, "I usually only sing this when I’m alone." Many in the sold-out crowd of 19,000-plus roared their approval. And they kept roaring through blistering versions of "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35." Dylan's voice was as strong as it's been in recent memory, and he even seemed to enjoy the spotlight, dancing and waving to the crowd. "I used to play here and I never appreciated it," he said somewhat ruefully. "But you better believe I do now."
Mitchell opened her hour-long set with "Big Yellow Taxi" and closed it with "Woodstock." But in between, she transformed the massive arena into an intimate jazz club. Backed by bass, drums, guitar, and trumpet, Mitchell's beautiful soprano voice worked through songs from her less commercial albums of the past two decades. It was a brave move, and one that she managed to pull off. Rather than call out for her hits, the crowd became lulled by the intricacy of her lyrics and the sincerity of her singing. When Mitchell reached the poignant line in "Woodstock" that goes "I don't know who I am/But life is for learning," one couldn't help feeling that she knows exactly who she is but has kept right on learning nonetheless.