Friday, November 20, 2009

Two posts in one: Bob Dylan and The Road

I don't get to many concerts beyond the New York Philharmonic. I don't keep up with the musicians and bands I like, so often I find out one of my favorite groups has already passed through New York and I missed them. A few weeks ago my friend Creighton asked a group of us if we were interested in seeing Bob Dylan. I'd seen Dylan twice in the 1990s but not since then. Everyone else wanted to go and I thought it would be fun to see him again with my friends. On Tuesday night we went to the United Palace Theatre at Broadway and 175th Street for Dylan and his band, with Dion (of “The Wanderer” fame) as the opening act. We all skipped Dion's set, except for the last song. Creighton and I chatted in the theater lobby while James and Jessica had dinner nearby. We found our seats just as Dion wrapped up with “The Wanderer.” About half an hour later Dylan and his band came out. He played a few old songs like “It's All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall,” and “Highway 61 Revisited” but with new arrangements. He drew heavily from his albums from this decade, which I don't know at all, but I enjoyed the new songs nonetheless. His voice is gravelly but his stage presence and musicianship on the keyboard, guitar, and harmonica are still formidable. His rendition of “Ballad of a Thin Man” was riveting. Guitarist Charlie Sexton was another highlight of the show, moving effortlessly between rock, blues, and folk arrangements and wailing on all of them. Dylan didn't say a word to the audience until the encore when he introduced the band. He closed his set with “Like A Rolling Stone,” “Jolene,” and “All Along The Watchtower,” which was as energetic as any of the more recent rock versions I know. (The full setlist is here.)

On Wednesday evening my friend Sam invited me to a preview screening of The Road, the new movie based on the book by Cormac McCarthy. Sam is a friend from Deadspin and a location scout for movie productions and he writes A Scouting Life, one of the most fascinating blogs I've ever read. (Start from the beginning if you haven't read it before; the entry on the Native American bar is spellbinding.) The film itself is every bit as powerful and moving as the book on which it's based. The filmmakers captured the novel's bleak environment without CGI or special effects. And the actors' performances were pitch-perfect. Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee seemed like they'd leapt from the pages of the book. Their relationship was so intimate and heartfelt that the room got a little dusty at the end of the film.

After the movie, Mortensen and director John Hillcoat participated in a Q&A session moderated by a writer from Variety. They talked about the entire process, from reading the script and meeting McCarthy to scouting locations to shooting. Mortensen spoke of his relationship with his son and how his experience of being a father helped with his performance. Both he and Hillcoat joked about how the cinematographer would shout and rage when the sun came out, spoiling a cloudy scene. Near the end of the session, Mortensen had a trivia challenge for us, asking us progressively more difficult questions about the movie. The prizes included copies of McCarthy's books, CDs and DVDs, and cookies from a local bakery. One happy cookie winner asked Mortensen to take a bite of the cookie before giving it away, so he and Hillcoat obliged. I should have answered a question about a piece of music in the movie, especially since I'd seen the title in the credits, but I wasn't 100% certain of the answer. And everyone knows I hate to be wrong in a trivia contest. Besides, I didn't want a Noam Chomsky DVD as a prize.

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