What a difference two years make.
Montclair’s The Outpost in the Burbs hosted a Bob Dylan tribute concert two years ago, and put together another one on April 20. Two of the acts were the same: The Kennedys (Pete and Maura Kennedy) and Lucy Kaplansky. Three were different: James Maddock, Bluebirds of Paradise (Ari Hest and Chrissi Poland) and James Mastro. Only five songs (“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “All Along the Watchtower” and “Like a Rolling Stone”) were performed at both shows.
Of course, a big song turnover is to be expected due to the changes in lineup, and the vastness of Dylan’s catalog. But a bigger change, perhaps, had to do with the flavor of the songs that were chosen — a change that, perhaps inevitably, reflected the times that we are living through.
Unlike the March 2016 show, this one took a strongly political turn in its second set. Maura Kennedy kicked it off with “License to Kill,” with a few words changed in order to evoke the February shootings in Parkland, Fla., and the current anti-gun movement. Mastro followed with a taut, tense and utterly revelatory version of “Political World,” a rarely performed track from Dylan’s 1989 Oh Mercy album.
Kaplansky responded with Dylan’s most enduring political anthem, “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” And, a few songs later, the show peaked with a stunningly urgent duet by Kaplansky and Maura Kennedy on another classic from Dylan’s protest years, “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.”
All of the performers stayed onstage throughout the entire show, and frequently added backing vocals, guitar strumming and percussion to each other’s songs — just joining in, basically, when the spirit struck them. Pete Kennedy, Mastro and Maddock often added guitar solos, as well.
The show ended with group versions of three of Dylan’s most famous songs: “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Mr. Tambourine Man” (featuring The Byrds’ shimmering folk-rock arrangement) and “Forever Young.”
It was obviously not a greatest-hits type of tribute, though. One of Maddock’s songs was a stately take on “Is Your Love in Vain”,” from Dylan’s 1978’s Street Legal album (Maddock also performed two Dylan love songs that suited his own casually soulful style well, “Buckets of Rain” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”). Mastro opted, in one of his slots, for the dour “Congratulations,” from the first Traveling Wilburys album.
Bluebirds of Paradise performed the most recent Dylan song: “Make You Feel My Love,” an earnest ballad from his 1997 Time Out of Mind album. As Poland mentioned when introducing it, it’s a song that has been covered so many times — by Adele, Kelly Clarkson, Garth Brooks and others — that many young people don’t even realize it’s a Dylan song.
The song was the evening’s best showcase for her strong, pure voice. Her partner, Hest, didn’t sing much lead during the show, but the one verse he sang on “I Shall Be Released” was another show highlight.
Overall, it was just a magical show: One of the best of the many I’ve seen at the Outpost, over 30 years of going to shows there.
The performers seemed to really relish it, too. Kaplansky, perhaps, said it best, posting on her Facebook page, yesterday: “Had the best time singing Bob Dylan songs last night at Outpost in the Burbs with a bunch of great musicians. I had never in my life performed ‘Positively Fourth Street’ and ‘The Times They Are a Changin’ and was genuinely transported by the brilliance and power of both songs. Reminded my why I love to sing in first place. I might have to start performing them in my shows.”
Here is the show’s setlist:
“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” The Kennedys
“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” James Mastro
“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” Lucy Kaplansky
“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” James Maddock
“Make You Feel My Love,” Bluebirds of Paradise
“Chimes of Freedom,” The Kennedys
“Congratulations,” James Mastro
“Positively 4th Street,” Lucy Kaplansky
“Buckets of Rain,” James Maddock
“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” Bluebirds of Paradise
“License to Kill,” The Kennedys
“Political World,” James Mastro
“The Times They Are a-Changin’,” Lucy Kaplansky
“Is Your Love in Vain?,” James Maddock
“Handle With Care,” Bluebirds of Paradise
“A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” Maura Kennedy and Lucy Kaplansky
“All Along the Watchtower,” James Maddock
“I Shall Be Released,” Bluebirds of Paradise
“Mr. Tambourine Man,” Ensemble
“Like a Rolling Stone,” Ensemble
“Forever Young,” Ensemble
And here are some videos:
James Maddock: “All Along the Watchtower”
Bluebirds of Paradise: “Make You Feel My Love”
The Kennedys: “Chimes of Freedom”
James Mastro: “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”
Lucy Kaplansky: “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”