Bob Dylan's return to the arena circuit unfortunately marks the end--at least for the time being--of an almost decade-long period during which one could regularly see him perform in relatively intimate venues. It's an indication of the long-faded legend's recent surge in prestige.
The current Dylan renaissance was sparked by last year's raw-nerved Time Out of Mind, the artist's best album since the mid-'70s, and continues with the riveting, just-released Live 1966: The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert, recorded on his groundbreaking first U.K. tour with the band that would later become the Band. The second half of the '90s have found Dylan once again reinventing himself as a live performer, touring with an ace backing combo and delivering his classics with renewed passion, after several years of indifferent and/or incomprehensible concerts.
Fellow seminal singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell--whose challenging but uncommercial '80s and '90s work has led to an involuntarily low profile in recent years--is also in the midst of something of a comeback. Her current return to live performance coincides with her new visibility as the widely acknowledged spiritual godmother of Lilith Fair--too many of whose constituents fail to grasp the subtlety, insight and ingenuity that continues to make Mitchell a significant artist.
Her new album, Taming the Tiger, gracefully expands the electric, jazz-inflected direction she's been pursuing since the mid-'70s, and Mitchell has emphasized that segment of her body of work in recent shows she's played with Dylan. There's no telling how well her new material's subtle shadings will translate in the cavernous Garden, but those who've witnessed her recent shows give her high marks, so the faithful probably won't be disappointed.
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