It was supposed to be something small, cozy and uncomplicated when it started three weeks ago. Just Bob Dylan and a few friends such as Joan Baez, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Bobby Neuwirth and Ronee Blakely from Nashville touring the United States in a bus they call Phydeaux, playing little halls, rambling wherever they wanted to.
By the time this folk potpourri called The Rolling Thunder Revue arrived at the Convention Centre in Niagara Falls N.Y. for two shows Saturday, it was caught up in its own momentum.
Joni Mitchell and ex-Byrd Roger McGuinn dropped by during the first 3 1/2-hour show to add some spice to the stew, while the Buffalo Bills' O. J. Simpson went backstage at intermission for a chat.
Earlier in the tour, poet Allen Ginsberg called the whole effort Dylan's "act of significance, the actualization of his best fantasies."
GINSBERG WAS RIGHT
And to a certain degree, Ginsberg was right. The concert, which had its genesis at a July 4 show at the Open End club in New York, was like a folkie's fantasy of the '60s.
There was a duet from Blakely and Mitchell, followed by a few songs by Mitchell herself. Neuwirth brought on Ramblin' Jack with Kris Kristofferson's song to Elliott which includes such lines as "he's got a face like a tumbled down shack." Then Elliott, looking like a country Harpo Marx, reminded everyone of Tim Hardin, singing Hardin's If I Were a Carpenter.
Not to be outdone in the reminiscing business, Neuwirth later evoked the ghost of Janis Joplin, singing Mercedes Benz, the song he co-authored with her.
And on and on the old times rolled. Dylan literally leaped out on stage wearing a broad-brimmed hat with flowers and offering two new songs, Isis and Durango, that he co-authored with Jacques Levy, a friend who helped stage the show.
After intermission, Dylan and Baez offered a duet version of The Times They Are A-Changin' before leaving her alone for her song about Dylan, Diamond And Rust, a version of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, and her salute to the old New Left with Pastures Of Plenty.
Then it was Roger McGuinn alone, in duet with Baez, then Dylan again, with A Simple Twist of Fate, and then the finale with the entire cast on stage.
This was Dylan's fantasy, or at least another self-portrait. It was the kind of Dylan show you suspect the singer himself wanted to see. He was considerably more at ease than at his Maple Leaf Gardens appearance with The Band over a year ago. And he was considerably more generous to the audience.
But the fantasy seemed to exist only on the stage. The 8,000 people, almost 1,000 from Canada for the first show (the second was a near sell-out, attracting 10,000) appeared to be removed from it all, watching as it were on wide-screen television.
At the outset of this tour, Dylan and Company didn't want it to become a media event. No advance dates are being announced and no one - particularly newspaper photographers - is allowed to take pictures.
Their plan has worked - perhaps too well. Not only was Saturday's first concert not a media event, it was barely a public event.
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