"I'm Not There": In Concert, NYC
Thu, 08 Nov 2007 16:21:22
In I'm Not There, director Todd Haynes has achieved what many have long dismissed as unachievable: a great Bob Dylan biopic—and he's done it by rifling through the library of aliases that the artist formerly known as Robert Zimmerman has thrown his audience over his long career. It's the way to do it, because Dylan has always been seriously unserious, not only about the legitimate influence that we can expect an artist to wield, but about the very validity of such concepts as identity and meaning.
Weighty stuff, for sure, so let's boil it down to brass tacks: If you're going to cover a Bobby D song, you best play it both serious as a heart attack and with a big old wink. Which is exactly how a whole supergroup of musical artists did it on the film's "as inspired-by" soundtrack and last night at New York City's Beacon Theater—everyone from My Morning Jacket to The Roots to Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo to a now-graying J. Mascis.
The best acts nailed Dylan's terrific sincerity as well as his whimsy: X frontman John Doe pitched the Born-Again era "Pressing On" to the rafters Percy Sledge-style; Mark Lanegan and Calexico sang "Long Black Veil" with the right ratio of sugar to salt; Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks turned out a "Subterranean Homesick Blues" with grind-and-twist choreography that emphasized the song's rarely acknowledged R&B bump; and J. Mascis and Ranaldo went to town on "Can't Leave Her Behind" with all the zeal of boys playing along in their parents' basement. Cat Power, who appears on the soundtrack, proved a no-show and the recently lagging Yo La Tengo didn't really bring much to "I Wanna Be Your Lover," but Mason Jennings' version of "The Times, They Are A-Changin'" as well as Ball and Olly Peacock (of Gomez)'s "Don't Think Twice It's Alright" reminded us all that the songs will keep inventing themselves far longer than even Dylan himself does.
For, as in the case of the film, Dylan himself seemed oddly absent from last night's show; his name was rarely even invoked. His pomp and circus were nonetheless everywhere to be found, and it was The Roots who best captured that essence in their rendition of "Masters of War": a howled-out, screw-you borne of indignance and comic theater complete with a huge silver tuba.