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Mark Kozelek, Bill Murray, Laurie Anderson & more paid tribute to Bob Dylan @ Town Hall (pics, video, review)

As the lineup for last night’s Bob Dylan tribute at New York’s Town Hall began to take shape, it was fair to wonder how it might all play out. Names like Nels Cline, Peter Wolf, Laurie Anderson, Natalie Cressman and The Milk Carton Kids were familiar and appropriate enough, but exactly where were Steve Buscemi, Bill Murray and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog going to fit into the evening’s plans?

Leave it to the show’s producer, Hal Willner, who’s made a career of tribute shows and albums. With the help of Town Hall artistic director M.A. Papper, eclectic doesn’t even begin to describe the ensemble he pulled together for “Tomorrow Is A Long Time,” a celebration staged on Dylan’s birthday that reproduced, song for song, the emerging bard’s April 1963 concert at the same storied venue.

Fifty-five years ago, Dylan was just getting ready to release his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, with more original songs than the traditional country tunes that dominated his debut effort. Songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “Girl from the North Country” were all performed live that evening, revealing the young Dylan’s unique songwriting abilities.

Since that night, Dylan has sung the same songs countless times but rarely in the same way twice. It was only fitting that last night’s performance, under the musical direction of Steven Bernstein, continued to interpret the Dylan songbook in different directions. With a four-piece horn section, cello and violin, keyboards and the dual percussions of JT Lewis (drums) and Pedrito Martinez (congas), the band moved seamlessly from rock to jazz to salsa and soul, with several highlights worthy of shout-outs.

Tops among them was Brooklyn native Lisa Fischer, a superb artist in her own right who has sung backup and toured with The Rolling Stones, Sting, Luther Vandross and many other high-profile acts. Ms. Fischer appeared early in the program with Teddy Thompson to great applause, but her return to close the first set with “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” was one of the most powerful and moving moments this reviewer has seen this year. In terms of raw emotion, Metric’s Emily Haines’ take on “Masters of War” was a scathing denunciation of the greed and cynicism serving what was then being popularized as the military-industrial complex. Too bad the song resonates as much today as it did 55 years ago.

Surprises included Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek’s intense interpretation of “Who Killed Davey Moore?” and NRBQ’s Terry Adams take on “Highway 51.” Even spoken-word renditions of “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” by Steve Buscemi and “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right” by Bill Murray were better than one might have expected.

Attending a Bob Dylan concert these days is challenging for even his most ardent fans. First-time attendees might rightfully wonder what all the fuss was about, but last night at Town Hall Dylan’s legacy was well served in the hands of talented musicians unafraid of taking chances.

Check out pictures from Thursday night in the gallery above, and find the setlist and a few fan-shot videos below.

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SETLIST: TOMORROW IS A LONG TIME (Songs from Bob Dylan’s 1963 Town Hall Concert)
Ramblin’ Down Thru the World
Bob Dylan’s Dream (with Emily Haines)
Talkin’ New York (with Laurie Anderson)
Ballad of Hollis Brown (with Lisa Fischer & Teddy Thompson)
Walls of Red Wing (with Bob Neuwirth)
All Over You
Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues (with Steve Buscemi)
Boots of Spanish Leather (with Geoff Muldaur)
Hero Blues (with Peter Wolf)
Blowin’ in the Wind (with The Milk Carton Kids)
John Brown (with Teddy Thompson)
Tomorrow is a Long Time (with Joan Wasser)
A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall (with Lisa Fischer)

INTERMISSION

Dusty Old Fairgrounds
Who Killed Davey Moore? (with Mark Kozelek)
Seven Curses (with Greg Tate)
Highway 51 (with Terry Adams)
Pretty Peggy-O (with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog & The Milk Carton Kids)
Bob Dylan’s New Orleans Rag (with Gina Gershon)
Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right (with Bill Murray + Joan Wasser)
Hiding Too Long (with Anne Waldman)
With God on Our Side (with Mark Kozelek)
Masters of War (with Emily Haines)
Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie (with Bob Neuwirth)

THE TOWN HALL ENSEMBLE:
Lakecia Benjamin – saxophone
Ron Blake – saxophone
Zack Brock – violin
Marc Cary – piano
Nels Cline – guitar
Natalie Cressman – trombone
Marika Hughes – cello
JT Lewis – drums
Pedrito Martinez – percussion
Bria Skonberg – trumpet
Ricardo Rodriguez – bass
Marcus Rojas – tuba

photos and review by Lou Montesano

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