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Paying Tribute to ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’

From the troubadour’s poet outlaw era in the ’60s, to his religious southern Baptist transformation, it seems Bob Dylan‘s only constant is change. And last night, to honor Todd Haynes’ forthcoming film and accompanying soundtrack, I’m Not There, an equally eclectic collection of musicians from My Morning Jacket, to Yo La Tengo, to X’s John Doe,all turned out to New York City’s ornate Beacon Theatre to perform thelegend’s songs, many of which have become an integral part of American,if not world culture. Introducing the first performer and film actorMarcus Carl Franklin, who sang “When the Ship Comes In,” I’m Not Theredirector Todd Haynes was evidently nervous, his voice cracking as hedished praise unto the evening’s absent man of honor, Dylan. But as thetunes rolled on, the tension eased as the show took on a friendly, andtruth be told, slightly unorganized worship of sorts.

Soon,the heavy hitters — many which contribute to the soundtrack — arrivedand the crowd’s collective chatter blossomed as hoots and hollersrained down on performances from Calexico, which provided a lyric-less score from the film, and supported a blue sweatshirt clad Jim Jamesas he navigated his thin, yet oxen strong voice through “Goin’ toAcapulco,” nailing the sustained screams in one the show’s clearhighlights. Later, ex-Screaming Trees frontman Mark Laneganlent his deep, rolling tones to “Man in the Black Coat.” Supported byCalexico, Lanegan, aptly clad in all black, was also met with wildapplause.

And big names kept coming; I’m Not Here actor Heath Ledger emerged intermittently, addressing the crowd between gooey slaps of his gum-chewing mouth, Gomez‘s Ian Balloffered a leisurely rendition of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” YoLa Tengo strolled through “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” My Morning Jacketturned up the volume on “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You,” andSonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo and his Million Dollars Bashers, a group comprising SY drummer Steve Shelley and Dinosaur Jr. axeman J. Mascis, acted as a house backing band. John Doetook the mic on “Pressin’ On” and Mascis even sang the rollicking”Santa Fe.” But as with Dylan’s catalogue, the night rolled on, and on,and on, as highlights were separated by many lackluster performances –face it, it’s nearly impossible to really improve upon Dylan’s originals.

Speakingwith Ranaldo, who had a major part in constructing the film’ssoundtrack, the guitarist confirmed the concert was a “very last minutething” incited by Dylan’s management. And the evening’s loose structurewas telling. But the overall feeling was one of creativity andcelebration, most evident in the Roots’ performance. The band, arrivingas three piece — drums, guitar, and tuba — tackled “Masters of War,”initially strumming the politically-charged tune to the melody of the”Star-Spangled Banner,” but soon diving into a fluxing smorgasbord oftime signatures, channeling both psychedelia and punk tempos. Theirinterpretation, albeit sonically murky at points, illustrated the farreaches of Dylan’s music and musicians’ willingness to celebrate it.

“[Dylan]changed the way people look at writing in music,” X’s John Doe prior to the show. Ranaldo, further commenting on Dylan’slasting impression, said: “He has been a significant factor in ourculture…producing cutting edge work for 40 or 50 years now… He’sour Shakespeare.” Indeed: As both performers and fans know, Dylan canbe imitated, but never matched.

We asked: Ascelebrated here tonight, Bob Dylan’s tunes have been covered by anarray of artists. If you could pick one musician to cover any Dylansong, whom would you choose and which song from the Dylan’s robustcatalogue would they play?