Bob Dylan’s 77th birthday was celebrated with a kinetic reimagining of his 1963 solo concert at New York’s Town Hall. Titled Tomorrow Is A Long Time, the May 24 event produced by Hal Willner and Town Hall featured a slew of talented guests — among them: contemporary performers like The Milk Carton Kids, Emily Haines and Teddy Thompson, 60’s survivors like Geoff Muldaur and Bob Neuwirth, poetess Anne Waldman and savvy stage performers like Gina Gershon, Steve Buscemi and Bill Murray — and followed the original concert’s set list, providing ardent, idiosyncratic musical settings for Dylan’s songs with barely a hint of nostalgia. Musical Director Steven Bernstein and the Town Hall Ensemble led the tribute, which was filled with humor, social commentary and an impressive range of musical styles.
While Dylan’s original concert was a solo acoustic affair, the brawny Town Hall Ensemble contained a number of amazing musicians including bandleader Bernstein on trumpet, Wilco-guitarist Nels Cline, keyboardist Marc Cary and violinist Zach Brock. Enjoying a full assortment strings, horns and a badass rhythm section, the Ensemble infused the varied guest performances with funk and Latin rhythms, playing jazz, soul and rock as well as some more traditional folkie terrain.
In terms of songs, when Dylan performed at Town Hall in 1963 he was about to release his second album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” and was already playing iconic tunes like “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “Masters Of War” as well as less-remembered compositions like “Highway 51” and “Seven Curses”
Setting an eclectic tone, the Town Hall Ensemble opened with an instrumental version of “Ramblin’ Down Thru The World” that showcased the formidable guitar skills of Cline. From there it was off to the races with Haines tackling “Bob Dylan’s Dream” and Laurie Anderson putting her particular spin on “Talkin’ New York.” Singers Lisa Fisher and Teddy Thompson came together for a stunning duet on “Ballad Of Hollis Brown.”
Dylan’s old confidant Bob Neuwirth sang the obscure composition “Walls Of Red Wing” and Geoff Muldaur performed a straightforward version of “Boots Of Spanish Leather.” In between those two veteran performers, Steve Buscemi (pictured below) gave his crowd-pleasing all, emphatically inhabiting the “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” with appropriate urgency.
Peter Wolf brought his rock ‘n’ roll panache to “Hero Blues” and acknowledged that as a young obnoxious kid from the Bronx, he remembered swigging cough syrup while taking the D Train to go see the original 1963 Dylan concert. The Milk Carton Kids had the honor of singing “Blowin’ In The Wind” and Teddy Thompson returned for a great performance of the stridently anti-war song, ‘John Brown.”
Joan Wasser exhibited commanding star power singing “Tomorrow Is A Long Time,” and Lisa Fisher closed the first set with a dynamic rendition of “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.” Ms. Fisher received a standing ovation and is certainly one to watch.
The second set was even more eclectic, with singer Mark Kozelek riffing confidently through “Who Killed Davy Moore?” and writer-musician Greg Tate ranting righteously on “Seven Curses.” NRBQ pianist and singer Terry Adams ripped though “Highway 51” and The Milk Carton Kids supported none other than Triumph The Insult Comic Dog for an incendiary routine segueing into “Pretty Peggy-O.”
A fetching Gina Gershon knocked everyone out singing “Bob Dylan’s New Orleans Rag” while accompanying herself on the Jew’s harp. Bill Murray, along with Joan Wasser, charmed his way through “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” while Waldman enlivened “Hiding Too Long” with old-school grace.
Although the show concluded on a commanding note with Kozelek singing “With God On Our Side” and Haines closing with “Masters Of War,” it was the final act of Neuwirth reading his old pal’s epic poem, “Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie,” that reminded everyone in the room about the importance of celebrating the work of a legend one more time.