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Concert for Bangladesh;Bob Dylan: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration

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Before MTV killed it off, there was the concert film. It wasn’t only a record of an event. It was a way for a fan to share in something larger than a one- shot night of noise and glory-a means of connecting to the rock community at large. When you went to the movies to see a midnight show of Monterey Pop, you knew other kids around the country were doing the same, and that was in itself a validation of the music and your love for it. The problem none of us foresaw is that these time capsules of adolescence might look kinda silly in the gray light of adulthood. Concert for Bangladesh (1972, Paramount, G, $19.95) certainly does: Just rereleased on video (and remastered), it’s a faded and cracked snapshot of the era’s rock gods in the flush of power. The recent Bob Dylan: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration (1992, CMV, unrated, $39.98), just released on tape, is a time capsule in reverse: Built on the Bangladesh model, right down to the same Madison Square Garden and some of the same stars (Dylan, George Harrison, Eric Clapton), it’s a streamlined, high-tech extravaganza that does its best to catch the emotional high of the old concert films. Watching the two videos back-to-back is like bringing a yearbook to your high school reunion: The transposition of ”then” and ”now” sheds a very weird light on both. …It’s hard to believe the Bangladesh show was once considered a musical watershed on the order of Woodstock. True, organizer Harrison was at a post- Beatles peak with his All Things Must Pass album, but such songs as ”Beware of Darkness” and ”Wah Wah” sound in concert like the scoldings of a moralistic crank. Other performances don’t hold up either: Leon Russell’s ”Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood” medley is smug fake blues, and even Dylan’s acclaimed four- song acoustic set seems a tad perfunctory. As for good intentions, the concert, accompanying record, and film raised close to $9 million dollars for UNICEF, and even if legal snafus kept the money in escrow for a decade, that’s a lot better than nothing. Yet the lack of context at the event-Why are people in Bangladesh starving, George? How can we stop it from happening again?-shows ’60s utopianism at its woolly-headed worst. The film satisfies itself with a few interspersed shock-value clips of starving refugees, and here’s Harrison’s complete exegesis on the subject from & the song ”Bangla Desh”: ”Such a great disaster/I don’t understand/But it sure looks like a mess.” Well, that explains everything. In fairness, Harrison has disavowed this film; in his 1980 autobiography, he calls it ”not well done” and ”just stupid.” No argument here. Due to foul- ups, only one of the four stationary cameras delivered usable footage. The result is a paradox: an immobilized movie. The technicalities of filming were clearly secondary to Harrison and company. In those pre-video days, the live experience was far more important. By comparison, Bob Dylan: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration was conceived of as a TV event first. Crisply shot on video as an Oct. 1992 pay- per-view special, it has since been resold to PBS and become a CD, and now is showing up as a 31 4 hour, two-tape package. The motives couldn’t be more different, either. The evening was planned first to honor Dylan and second to make Columbia Records a pot of money. On the surface, it’s a neat concept: Round up well-known musicians of all genres (except rap, which could have been interesting) and let ’em rip on tunes by the man who almost single-handedly turned the pop song into a personal statement. There are catches. One is that Bob Dylan was, is, and always will be his own best interpreter; those frenzied knots of lyrics demand his oracular yowl. Also, the gala-tribute treatment is all wrong for this guy, flying in the face of Dylan’s disregard for the mainstream and leaching his songs of irony. Faced with that dilemma, most of the performers choose to embalm their selections or, more sensibly, rework them to fit their own strengths. At best, that results in Booker T. & the MGs’ watertight R&B version of ”Gotta Serve Somebody,” and Clapton turning ”Don’t Think Twice” into a molten blues. At worst, you get Lou Reed depending on a TelePrompTer to get him through ”Foot of Pride,” and George Harrison delivering ”Absolutely Sweet Marie” in a tuneless yawp. Only three performers capture the scalding defiance that made Dylan matter in the first place. Neil Young detonates ”Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and ”All Along the Watchtower” with the frenzy of a brilliant student dismantling his master’s work. Sinead O’Connor-booed off the stage in much the same manner that Bob Dylan himself was booed at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival-spits Bob Marley’s ”War” right back in the jerks’ faces. And there’s Dylan, of course, whose version of ”It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” crushes nostalgia without a glance. His voice is a caustic whine now, and he throws away lyrics as if daring us to invest them with meaning. All that matters to him is the song’s relentless drive and the cold, gorgeous web of acoustic guitar. But as he snarls the climactic lines-”If my dreams/ Could be seen/They’d probably put my head/In a guillotine”-suddenly we become young again, and not with the coziness of remembered youth but with the real stuff: dread and anger and exhilaration. In that moment, and that moment only, the noise and glory of the concert film lives. Concert for Bangladesh: C- Bob Dylan: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration: B

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