The ‘Best Fest’ travelling homage generator has rolled into Dublin to celebrate the music of Bob Dylan and along for the ride come Travis frontman Fran Healy and not one but two Strokes in the shape of Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi, plus Boz Scaggs, Cathy Davy, Paul Noonan, Gemma Hayes, James Vincent McMorrow, Jape, Cast of Cheers, Jerry Fish, Butch Walker, Heathers and a few others. An impressive list, no doubt, and each here to interpret a Dylan track in much the same way the man himself seemingly re-interprets them each time he performs them live.
Nearly each and every performance, accompanied by ever-steady NYC natives the Cabin Down Below Band, is kept afloat by virtue of it being an instantly recognisable and resonant song. His effectively pathological aversion to recreating his past work on-stage in anything approximating its recorded state has infuriated some, all the while solidifying his genius to a great many more. So hearing them performed by other people possibly doesn’t carry the same incendiary switches as the work of, say, the Beatles or David Bowie, but nonetheless these songs are given some wonderful treatment whilst never losing Dylan’s essence.
Not all the songs or performers match the heights of Jerry Fish’s ‘Serve Somebody’, or Boz Scaggs’ ‘Memphis’. Nor James Vincent McMorrow’s astounding take on ‘Stuck Inside a Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again’. Fran Healy, Jape and Conor and Neil Adams all give decent performances but fail to either utilise their chosen tracks’ inherent magic nor inject any of their own. Similarly, Gavin Friday uses every performance trick in the book to mask a below par performance; a lot of pointing, crouching, attempting to seduce the crowd with personality rather than musical nous.
In what has become the staple of ensemble shows these days the full compliment of performers re-join the house band for the show’s finale of ‘I Shall Be Released’ and ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. The former providing a nice touch in its resemblance to Dylan’s own appearance at the most famous of ensemble performances, The Last Waltz. In fact, in much the same way that the Band’s 1976 magnum opus allowed the guests to perform without ever overshadowing the sum, the performers at Dylan Fest seem to take delight in being able to interact and intermittently take centre-stage without ever being the focal point. This is more about Dylan’s music than any individual or personality, including that of the man himself. And even if the arguably all-too-sudden arrivals and departures of each guest may have allowed a greater number of songs to be performed, quick-fire turnaround means that no one guest outstays their welcome. Conversely, however, it deprives the crowd of a few more moments with those true show-stealers – McMorrow, Scaggs, Fish and Ruby Amanfou.