Expectations for the recent Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Van Morrison show at the Gorge Amphitheater ranged from sky-high to nil.
The buzz from shows in years past has been that Dylan and Morrison performed as if they were uninspired or inebriated, or both. It seemed to me, though, that the abusive days for these rock/folk stars are over; both artists delivered the goods in a big way at this big Northwest show.
Dressed in a black suit, black hat, and his trademark black sunglasses, Morrison kicked off the evening with a fiery "Domino." The Irishman then led his tight, nine-piece band through several old and new songs, including an extended "Tupelo Honey," a jazzy "Moondance," and a rousing "Fire in the Belly." Before closing his set with "The Burning Ground," Morrison managed to throw in a tribute to Frank Sinatra by playing a booming version of the late singer's signature tune, "That's Life." Morrison proved, without a doubt, that he's on top of his game.
Mitchell was also in peak form, which is astounding since it was her first arena-sized show in more than a decade. Forgoing her usual acoustic sound, the Canadian performer strapped on an electric guitar and played 14 hypnotically soothing songs as pink hues stretched across the Gorge skyline. Backed by bass, drums, and pedal steel guitar, Mitchell unveiled several songs from her upcoming album, "Taming the Tiger," and focused mainly on lesser-known pieces from the '70s and '80s. But Mitchell didn't fail to serve up the occasional classic. She had fun with her hit tune "Big Yellow Taxi" by singing a verse in an obvious Dylan-esque way, and for an encore she opted to go solo and floored the audience with a passionate "Woodstock."
Moments later, Dylan and his four-piece band hit the stage with a scorching rendition of "Absolutely Sweet Marie." Dylan sang with fervor while mixing it up with songs from his latest release, "Time Out of Mind," and several cuts from "Blood on the Tracks." Highlights included a bouncing, bluegrass version of "Tangled Up in Blue," a soulful "Simple Twist of Fate," and a haunting "Love Sick."
Dylan's band was firing on all cylinders as it tore through songs like "Highway 61 Revisted" and "Rainy Day Women," and breathed new life into "The Times They Are a Changin'."
The show in its entirety was stellar, but the pinnacle of the concert came when all three legends graced the stage to sing "I Shall Be Released" late in Dylan's set. Mitchell messed up a verse and Morrison's voice was verging on hoarseness, but it didn't matter -- hearing these musical icons harmonizing on a classic Dylan tune was something you could tell your grandkids.
Expectations may have been mixed going in to the show, but once the last note was played, there was no doubt that these three musicians can still deliver the goods.