"You don't have to ask me how I feel about this town," Bob Dylan shouted at his sold out Madison Square Garden show last night. "Most of these songs were written here and the ones that weren't were recorded here."
It was indeed Dylan's night to celebrate his return to New York, the city where he became famous and that still resonates in his best song lyrics. In front of a crowd that included Debra Winger with husband actor Arliss Howard, singer Phoebe Snow, Chris Rock, Jimmy Fallon, Kevin Bacon, Ellen Barkin and Ronald Perelman, New Yorker editor David Remnick, Kate Pierson of the B52s, and the ubiquitous Sheryl Crow, Dylan stomped through a two hour plus set with a fury and won the night handily.
At 60 years old he appears on stage in a pinkish colored suit, wearing aviator sunglasses and snakeskin cowboy boots. He is sartorially splendid. His band is tight and smokin' all the way through: Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton on guitar, David Kemper on drums, and Tony Garnier on bass make for an exceptional rock combo that swings and chops in all the right directions.
Dylan, of course, is promoting his newest album, Love and Theft, which is undoubtedly headed to the Grammy's for a Best Album award this year. It will be unprecedented for the previously asocial singer, whose Time out of Mind album won the Grammy two years ago.
To that end, he sang eight songs from Love and Theft including "Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum" and the heartbreakingly beautiful anti-war song "Lonesome Day Blues" which includes the lines: "I'm going to spare the defeated, boys, I'm going to speak to the crowd/I'm going to teach peace to the conquered, I'm going to tame the proud."
It's a song that was written well before Sept, 11, but how apropos.
Other highlights from the show included "Things Have Changed," "Like a Rolling Stone," "Just Like a Woman," "Rainy Day Women #12 and #35," "It Ain't Me Babe," "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," "Tangled Up in Blue," "Forever Young," "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" and "All Along the Watchtower."
No one would expect Bob Dylan to be better than most other acts in rock right now. But there it is: he's a killer, he's original, and all of today's singers could learn a lot from him. His voice is shot, granted, but his musical instincts couldn't be sharper. On "It Ain't Me Babe" and "Don't Think Twice," for example, his harmonica playing actually substituted for the voice, transforming each song from its original version into gritty blues grooves.
A great night, and one that wouldn't have been complete without Dylan's befuddlement meeting new pop stars from all walks of life backstage. One such youngster was completely unknown to him, another shrieked after they met him and received his "cold fish handshake." Dylan is many things, but he is not the life of the party. He told pop icon Phoebe Snow, "I know you. I have your old albums." To which she replied, without missing a beat: "I only have old albums."
Pulitzer Prize winning author William Kennedy (Ironweed), his wife Dana, Angela's Ashes writer Frank McCourt and his wife Ellen are all on their way to Havana in a few days.
The occasion? The Havana Film Festival, which begins Dec. 3. Apparently these two hearty couples are not afraid of flying these days, and god bless 'em.
Kennedy told me at the premiere of Edward Burns's Woody Allenish comedy Sidewalks of New York that he has a new novel coming out in January called Roscoe that continues the saga of life in Albany. Kennedy is also hoping that Burns will be able to make good on his promise to film his novel, Legs. Burns told me that's his plan, too, "depending on how well Sidewalks does."
Meanwhile, Big Night actor/director Stanley Tucci, who plays a nasty so and so in Sidewalks is still developing another Kennedy novel, Billy Phelan's Greatest Game, for the big screen.
In case you missed it, Warner Bros. revised its box office figures for Harry Potter yesterday. They overestimated by $3 million.
Harry Potter is nevertheless a big hit and one that saves the bacon of many Warners execs. The next question though is what else can they do? I am told by several sources that Frank Darabont's Jim Carrey movie, The Majestic, is pretty much a wash. Advance word is not good. Darabont also directed The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption.