I recently attended a Bob Dylan tribute night that completely changed my perception of the croaky folk hero. Here’s my fly-on-the-wall account of the experience, and my new favourite Dylan song from the night: The audience finally erupted with a stirring ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ encore. It had taken until that point to get an eclectic crowd of young’ns (keen to see their folk-rock-singer-songwriter heroes perform in such a classy venue) and greying parents (still trying to work out which one was the Eskimo man) to really let loose in the rarefied atmosphere of the Opera House Concert Hall. With little in the way of expectations, Josh ‘whimsical’ Pyke, Holly ‘pretty’ Throsby, Patience ‘sassy’ Hodgson, Kevin ‘genuine’ Mitchell and Kav ‘Eskimo’ Temperley had finally brought a little Zimmerman flair to a stage so often reserved for more refined tastes.
It began perhaps as awkwardly as the billing might have suggested. Musical director Ash Naylor and his instrumental assistants – otherwise known as Paul Kelly’s backing band – kicked things off with ‘Quinn The Eskimo.’ Aside from confusing the greying demographic even more (which Eskimo?), the band sounded exactly like what you’d imagine a tribute show band might. For much of the first set, the quartet played capably but demurely, as if out of respect to their symphonic surrounds, and Mitchell’s early threat that ‘things could get sexy’ was never really realised. Instead, a veritable smorgasbord of home-grown talent shuffled on and off the stage, plugging in their respective acoustic guitars. The result was a slightly jarring fan-voted mix of Dylan’s extensive back catalogue as a flawless Throsby and her take on ‘Tomorrow Is Long Time’ was followed by a jumpier Pyke version of ‘Tangled Up In Blue’. Hodgson was unreasonably animated and Mitchell did best at channelling authentic Dylan but the hectic rotation scheme was exhausting. Not even Kav the Eskimo, his tight jeans and Elvis dance moves could save the first set with an impressive rendition of ‘Hurricane’ as musical coherency became the first casualty of the night.
You could hardly blame a couple of punters, turned off by the merry-go-round of artists and a band cruising in an Opera House-appropriate safe zone, who left during the 20 minute interval. But somehow, as Hodgson toned down the explosive excitement factor, the band got the memo on Mitchell’s ‘I Want You’ and Kav’s excellent ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’ – now my pick of the catalogue I’m only just discovering – and the faces and styles became increasingly familiar, the night took on an air of proper, immersive tribute. Disjointed solo stints were exchanged for duets and camaraderie. The three others gradually rose to the task to match Kav and Throsby’s obvious early advantage. Lonely wolf whistles were replaced with resounding calls for an encore. To appropriate ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’: How many Australian music icons must a tribute show have, before you can call it a triumph? Five, apparently – and a little warm-up time.
Bob Dylan – Rainy Day Women #12 & 35